While two-out-of-five Americans are going to try to avoid air travel this holiday season to avoid TSA pat-downs, strip searches and never-ending security line-ups, they might not find comfort in the glimmering Greyhound stations across the US.
Don’t think a bus or train ticket will keep Uncle Sam from making your vacation this year uncomfortable. The Transportation Security Administration says that they are turning up the heat on potential problem-causers by installing more agents in not just airport checkpoints but in terminals for terrestrial traffic as well.
"We are not the Airport Security Administration," Ray Dineen, the air marshal in charge of the TSA office in Charlotte, tells the Los Angeles Times. "We take that transportation part seriously."
How serious? The TSA’s secret counter-terrorism team that tries to topple crimes in transportation centers have run more than 9,000 unannounced checkpoints and other search operations in 2011, and the Department of Homeland Security are asking for an extra $24 million for 2012 to organize even more teams to put in bus stations and Amtrak terminals next year.
Currently the TSA commands 25 “viper” teams — what they call the two-dozen-plus Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response units that conduct the checkpoints from coast-to-coast. The TSA can’t prove that the increase in 2011 did anything to keep crime down on the ground, but George Washington University’s Homeland Security Police Institute’s Frank Cilluffo tells the Times that they need to keep the terrorists “on edge.”
As a result, however, millions of law-abiding Americans that rely on public transportation to get around — whether plane, train or bus— are also being agitated. 93 million residents are expected to use airplanes to get around this holiday season, but more and more Americans are saying they are fed up with the intrusive and questionably legal procedures that the government is conducting to try to thwart terrorism. Even after recent weeks saw a scandal brew out of New York’s JFK International Airport after three elderly passengers complained in just as many days of overzealous pat-downs performed by the TSA, the Administration announced that “the vast majority” of travelers this year can expect to see increased security in airports.
Opponents of the increased security presence don’t see it as a safety precaution, however, and some say that it is only propelling America further into a totalitarian police state.
“This program represents nothing less than a direct assault on the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution,” Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote on Tuesday. “It’s also an exceedingly dumb security measure. But never underestimate the mindless force of a government bureaucracy seeking to expand its power, domain, and budget.”
From a legal standpoint, the TSA fires back that “the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld suspicious-less searches based on the government’s need to ensure the safety of mass transportation,” recalling a handful of court cases that support the fact. That being said, if you feel like a surprise pat-down while waiting for your bus isn’t only out of the question but against the law, the TSA is ready to take you to court and win.