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Editorial: In the name of security, a culture of fear

In BearCat nation, every community’s police force has an armored personnel carrier and weaponry designed for war. In bus stations and outside civic centers, citizens are stopped and searched by poorly trailed and minimally educated pseudo-police, some of whom are armed. Those who refuse to agree to be searched in the name of the war on terror are denied entrance or barred from boarding a train or bus.

This is a dystopian prospect more frightening than the thought of another Boston Marathon bombing or even a 9/11 attack, but it’s becoming disturbingly real. The city of Concord is seeking to join the growing number of communities that have accepted homeland security grants to purchase military hardware. And on Tuesday, The New York Times reported on the latest efforts of the Transportation Security Administration, the outfit that makes airline passengers remove their belts and shoes, to step up their patrols of train stations, sports arenas and the like, all in the name of homeland security.

The TSA teams are known as Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response squads or VIPRs, an acronym appropriate for a comic book but not, we think, for federal employees who stage random, unannounced sweeps of public transportation sites. A VIPR team recently swept Union Station in Washington D.C., to the shock of passengers and the frustration of members of Congress who believe that the TSA is simultaneously overreaching and ineffectual. The agency’s director, John Pistole, routinely declines to say whether his agents, who conducted 9,300 unannounced sweeps last year, have actually found explosives or prevented a terrorist attack with their efforts citing – what else? – national security.

We urge New Hampshire’s congressional delegation to take a hard look at the TSA’s enormous expansion and what looks less like mission creep than an attempt to create a national police force. They should also support an effort by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, to prevent the TSA from becoming a defacto national force. Her “Stop TSA’s Reach in Policy Act” or STRIP – an acronym befitting a response to VIPRs – would ban TSA employees who have not completed federal law enforcement officer training from wearing police-like uniforms and badges that lead citizens to believe that they are not really low-paid airport screeners with less training than a small-town cop, but real police officers.

The TSA has swelled from 16,500 employees in 2001 to more than 65,000 according to a congressional report. It has cost taxpayers $57 billion to ostensibly secure the nation’s airports and the agency’s quest to add more VIPR teams to check subways, truck weigh stations, civic centers, bus stations and more will cost billions more, with no proof that society is any safer for it.

The agency believes that its mission to prevent terrorism trumps the Fourth Amendment’s requirement that searches be reasonable and linked to probable cause. Courts have ruled that when it comes to air travel, given a plane’s vulnerability, that’s true. But where are the limits? Is it reasonable to allow federal agents to refuse to allow people to take a train home from work if they decline to allow a search of their briefcase or purse? We don’t believe so.

Something more than money will be lost if the TSA’s expansionism isn’t thwarted. Gone will be the freedom to come and go un-monitored and un-harassed. Yesterday, writing in The Wall Street Journal, journalist Ted Koppel warned of the cost of government’s growing mania for security. “We have created an economy of fear, an industry of fear, a national psychology of fear. Al-Qaida could never have achieved that on its own. We have inflicted it on ourselves.”

We have, and now we must turn back before a common greeting becomes, “Your papers please.”

Things are digressing to the point, one cannot travel any great distance without government inference or 'permission'. I can't go to Canada without governmental approval (Passport), I can't take a cruise without permission, At times, I cant travel south on I93 without permission, and being demanded my papers by Border Patrol. We've effectively swapped positions with cold-war era Europe! Jim, I strongly disagree with your passive thoughts on this problem. If these programs were SO effective... how did the Marathon Attacks happen? I don't want governmental protection to live my life! I don't want to ask permission to leave the country! I want to keep my guns, I want to buy things as I please without governmental interference. I don't want to be stopped in I93 by Border Patrol asking where I've been, where I'm going and be compelled to produce any information if I haven't committed a crime! I don't want my liberties to be sacrificed in the name of security. I don't want my phone records vacuumed up, or my google search history to be searchable by 'The Man'. No thank you! If you are OK with that, you are welcome to move to another country that better suits you.

The question is not how did the Marathon bombing happen but how many Marathon bombings would occur with zero effort to stop them. Terrorist attacks occur every day around the world, but not here in the U.S. every day. I fly a fair amount of time and will be flying next month and I'll wager I have been to Canada more times than you and have never been stopped by I93 border patrol. I just don't think showing a passport or a few extra minutes at a security line is that big of a deal. I don't want our borders totally open so anyone comes in without a check or you may need to carry that gun even more. You can live in some pretend world that everyone goes anywhere and lives happily forever, but that is not this world in this time.

I used to travel regularly to Derby Line, and typically during the month of July and August is when they have the roadblock setup. I find it very offensive to be stopped on my way to be asked for my papers, etc. I don't pretend anything about the perils of our world. But I don't believe there is a boogey man around every corner I need to fear either. And it isn't the border I'm concerned about, it's the road blocks at exit 30/31 on 93... well south of the border!

TSA is poorly run, corrupt and does not focus on how to prevent terror attacks intelligently. They focus on the wrong things. Look at other countries and how they deal with airport security. specifically countries that deal with terrorism on a regular basis. They manage their airports a lot better than we do. Their security is trained on many levels, how to ask questions, body language, and their security starts when you drive up to the airport. By the time you get into the airport, all the security has been taken care of, no taking off shoes, etc. TSA is a bad example of how airport security should be managed.

A few months ago I saw Jared Diamond (author of ""Guns, Germs, and Steel" and "The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?") speak in Portsmouth as part of NHPR's "Writers on a New England Stage series. On taking the stage, he immediately mocked the audience for being afraid of the wrong things. He said that he had already survived the day's most dangerous activity--taking a shower. We are victims of availability cascades. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Availability_cascade

(V)iolating (I)ndividual's (P)rotected (R)ights

I'm not sure fear is the correct word. When I walk across the street I check for traffic in both directions - is that fear or just being smart or diligent in safety. I see the way many people drive while on their cell phones so I therefore know they are distracted. I don't fear walking across the street but it is unwise to blindly step off the curb without looking. On a train or plane one is a captive audience, one cannot just get up and leave if something appears wrong or just not step off the curb. Trains and planes have been shown to be a favorite target for theses very reasons. Can one scientifically prove that the TSA has stopped attacks, possibly not. However I can count on the nightly news the attacks inside the US and the attacks outside the US daily. My count says the US has less...

Where is the Monitor's outrage over the BEARCAT? Is it because the chief demonized groups the editorial board doesn't like that it continues to ignore this? Even the Washington Times ran the story. This paper editorializes instead the TSA. Not a lot of time left before the city counsel meeting to write an editorial on that. Or do you take a certain amount of glee in the thought of the BEARCAT being used at political rallies in the capital city? The First Amendment isn't just for liberal newspapers.

"Is it reasonable to allow federal agents to refuse to allow people to take a train home from work if they decline to allow a search of their briefcase or purse? We don’t believe so." I think this statement is going to make the left readers of this paper disagree.

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