The Transportation Security Administration had quite a year of free publicity in 2011, including headline-grabbing news of agents groping grandmas, fondling supermodels, joking about passengers’ “junk” while virtually disrobing them and pilfering possessions from luggage.
In 2012, the agency is planning to expand its operations at train stations, subway stations, ferry docks and other transportation hubs.
Special TSA teams conducted 9,300 surprise inspections at non-airport facilities in 2011 alone. The Department of Homeland Security is pressing Congress to pay $24 million more for 12 additional roving units next year.
The Los Angeles Times reports that these teams — called “viper” units, with 25 currently operational — drop in at transportation facilities and conduct random inspections.
Not everyone is convinced that the teams are necessary, with critics referring to the operations as “security theatre.”
“It’s a great way to make the public think you are doing something,” Fred H. Cate, a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, told the Times. “It’s a little like saying, ‘If we start throwing things up in the air, will they hit terrorists?'”
In 2011, a variety of libertarian, progressive and tea party advocates vented about the intrusive nature of TSA procedures, also referring to them as “political theatre.”
Upset airport passengers have staged a variety of protests against the agency, with some selecting to remove all of their clothes at airport checkpoints and others plotting mass civil disobedience with a 2010 national opt-out day.
Republican presidential candidate and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a chief congressional opponent of the agency, is sponsoring the “American Traveler Dignity Act,” which would remove TSA agents’ immunity from prosecution for carrying out invasive procedures. In July, Paul called for the TSA to be abolished.
TSA officials told the Times that the mobile “viper” units have not foiled any known terror plot.