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Newswire: Amtrak vs. TSA

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Posted by kolechovski on Friday, March 04, 2011 7:48 AM

http://trn.trains.com/Railroad%20News/News%20Wire/2011/03/Amtrak%20police%20chief%20bars%20Transportation%20Security%20Administration%20from%20some%20security%20operations.aspx

TRAINS exclusive: Amtrak police chief bars Transportation Security Administration from some security operations

By Don Phillips
Published: March 3, 2011
WASHINGTON — In late February, the Transportation Security Administration took over the Amtrak station in Savannah, Ga., and thoroughly searched every person who entered. None of the passengers got into trouble, but the TSA certainly did — big time.

Amtrak Police Chief John O’Connor said he first thought a blog posting about the incident was a joke. When he discovered that the TSA’s VIPR team did at least some of what the blog said, he was livid. He ordered the VIPR teams off Amtrak property, at least until a firm agreement can be drawn up to prevent the TSA from taking actions that the chief said were illegal and clearly contrary to Amtrak policy.

“When I saw it, I didn’t believe it was real,” O’Connor said. When it developed that the posting on an anti-TSA blog was not a joke, “I hit the ceiling.”

Video of the screening is available at: www.liveleak.com.

O’Connor said the TSA VIPR teams have no right to do more than what Amtrak police do occasionally, which has produced few if any protests and which O’Connor said is clearly within the law and the Constitution. More than a thousand times, Amtrak teams (sometimes including VIPR) have performed security screenings at Amtrak stations. These screenings are only occasional and random, and inspect the bags of only about one in 10 passengers. There is no wanding of passengers and no sterile area. O’Connor said the TSA violated every one of these rules.

A posting in late February to the Transportation Security Administration’s blog, which serves as a public relations tool of the TSA, tried to explain why TSA agents took over the Amtrak station in Savannah. But O’Connor said the “facts” as posted on the TSA blog were incorrect. He said the blog indicated that Amtrak had approved of the operation, but it had not. He called the TSA’s posting on blog.tsa.gov “inaccurate and insensitive.” As of the time this story was filed, the same posting remained on the blog.

A TSA spokesman said he could not elaborate on the blog posting.

O’Connor said he must take some of the blame because he did not more carefully observe what the VIPR teams were doing. He said the TSA had apologized repeatedly to him, but they must agree to firm restrictions before he will consider allowing them back on Amtrak property.

The search was first revealed on the blog gizmodo.com.

However, that blog got it at least half wrong. The TSA did not, as the blog said, funnel people who arrived by train into the station for a search. Instead, the TSA took over the station and posted notes outside saying that anyone who entered would be “subject to mandatory screening.” Those who know the Savannah station realize that it generally is not necessary for anyone arriving or departing by train to go into the station. It is much easier to park the car or be dropped off near the platform.

Therefore, why was the TSA searching only anyone entering the station? It might even be easier to explain why they might have searched everyone. For instance, such questions as, did they have a tip someone was carrying a small atomic bomb? In the end, it is not even possible to discern a reason for what they actually did. Why search only people unfortunate enough to need to enter the station – people who needed to buy tickets, an elderly person who was dropped off and needed a place to sit while waiting, a mom whose infant badly needed a diaper change?

The group involved is TSA’s VIPR operation, which deals with surface transportation. VIPR is short for “visible intermodal protection and response.” It turns out that VIPR has been far more active than imagined. Teams have searched bus passengers all over the country, have done similar things at train stations, and have even blocked traffic on bridges to search trucks and cars. That even included the busy Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Washington.

The VIPR teams were rolled out on Dec. 12, 2005, then promptly pulled back two days later when it turned out that no one had informed numerous local governments. It was a fiasco. Several local jurisdictions said they had no interest and opted out, including the Washington Metro system. But teams, moving slowly, have apparently re-infiltrated surface transportation facilities. Unlike the TSA at airports, these teams have access to firepower. Although the TSA is not allowed to carry weapons, some armed Federal Air Marshals have been switched to ground duty.

One major unanswered question is: why? What purpose is being served other than to justify employment? You will certainly hear more about this in Trains.

 

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Posted by blue streak 1 on Friday, March 04, 2011 7:56 AM

Could this be in response of many persons saying how much easier to get on trains than the present airport hassels? Sort of dummy down all transportation modes? Comments?

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Posted by jeaton on Friday, March 04, 2011 8:51 AM

 A terrorist sees the sign on the door and enters the station anyway.  "I'll just tell them I have clothes in my backpack." 

 

"We have met the enemy and he is us." Pogo Possum "We have met the anemone... and he is Russ." Bucky Katt "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." Niels Bohr, Nobel laureate in physics

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Friday, March 04, 2011 10:27 AM

This could get right interesting - who's got the higher authority / pre-emptive jurisdiction over the Amtrak station and those inside of it ?  Amtrak is a quasi-governmental corporation of the US government, but I'm not aware that status makes it a "sovereign" or independent of the federal government even as much as the individual states vis-a-via TSA's powers, unless somewhere there's a "Memo of Understanding" or a similar document that does so and spells out who's in charge . . .  What - if anything - does the enabling statute for TSA and any subsequent regulations says about Amtrak ?  Unfortunately, I doubt if O'Connor's opinion or rules, and/ or Amtrak's policy, will trump or negate any of that.  I'm inclined to believe that TSA can do pretty much whatever it wants, even if it's way beyond what has been done before with Amtrak, and especially even if those screenings/ searches turns out to be un-Constitutionally illegal - of course, then TSA alone gets to be responsible for that, too: repeat after me, "Section 1983" violation of civil rights claim . . . Sigh

- Paul North. 

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
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Posted by Norm48327 on Friday, March 04, 2011 5:52 PM

'Bout time we take back ontrol of our country.

Norm

If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.

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Posted by Firelock76 on Saturday, March 05, 2011 8:52 AM

It sounds an awful lot to me that TSA is on a "fishing" expedition, to whit, "just how far can we go and just how far can we expand to justify our existance?"  Just like any other out-of-control bureaucracy.  Stand fast AMTRAK and stand fast  Chief O'Connor!  Don't let them push you around!  It's YOUR road and YOUR property!  You don't want them there, throw them out!

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Saturday, March 05, 2011 9:34 AM

The American people have already tolerated the abusive TSA much longer than I ever thought they would.  Oddly enough, you would probably get more public outrage if you did away with the abusive searches than you do because of them.

Whatever happened to the "land of the free and the home of the brave"?

Dave

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Posted by samfp1943 on Saturday, March 05, 2011 9:40 AM

Phoebe Vet

The American people have already tolerated the abusive TSA much longer than I ever thought they would.  Oddly enough, you would probably get more public outrage if you did away with the abusive searches than you do because of them.

Whatever happened to the "land of the free and the home of the brave"?

Sounds very much like the start of a classic 'Turf War' in the Bureaucratic sense.   The TSA seems to have become the newest' Federal School Yard Bully', throwing it's weight around, til it gets trimmed back by being totally obnoxious to its partner agencies.

 

Sam

 

 


 

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Saturday, March 05, 2011 10:03 AM

Phoebe Vet

The American people have already tolerated the abusive TSA much longer than I ever thought they would.  Oddly enough, you would probably get more public outrage if you did away with the abusive searches than you do because of them.

Whatever happened to the "land of the free and the home of the brave"?

An sad observation that I've made over the years is the sizable number of Americans who would be willing to live in a police state for the safety it would provide.  Many years ago, I met a person who thought that Franco's Spain was great because the police kept everybody in line.

Paul The commute to work may be part of the daily grind, but I get two train rides a day out of it.
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Posted by Firelock76 on Saturday, March 05, 2011 5:24 PM

You know, I'm reminded of the times when I was in the Marine Corps and occasionally someone from outside the command would show up and attempt to throw his weight around, and have to firmly but positively be put in his place by the CO, or one time by me.  Sounds like somethings never change.  To reiterate, YOU'RE the real cop, Chief O'Connor, don't let them get away with this on your beat!

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Posted by zardoz on Saturday, March 05, 2011 6:53 PM

Phoebe Vet

Whatever happened to the "land of the free and the home of the brave"?

It only remains in song lyrics and our memories.

Constitution and Bill of Rights DOA 2011. 

R.I.P.

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Posted by Dakguy201 on Sunday, March 06, 2011 4:37 AM

Let's say I am a terrorist with something really lethal in a backpack.  I arrive at the Savannah station, read the TSA notice on the door, and turn around thus putting the execution of my plans off for a day.  The TSA has managed to shift the risk from one set of passengers to another, but it really has accomplished nothing to enhance the security of the system.

From satellite photos, it appears there is no physical barrier at Savannah to prevent me from accessing the platform without ever having entered the station.  Perhaps I'm smart enough to have previously purchased my ticket and have no need to enter the station.

This is just another example of a bureaucracy mindlessly exercising power just  to convince us they are doing something worthwhile. 

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Sunday, March 06, 2011 5:48 AM

I will choose freedom over the illusion of safety every time.

 "Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once."

from the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.

Dave

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Posted by samfp1943 on Sunday, March 06, 2011 10:54 AM

Phoebe Vet

I will choose freedom over the illusion of safety every time.

 "Cowards die many times before their deaths.

    The valiant never taste of death but once."

from the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.

BowThumbs UpThumbs Up   Semper Fi!

 ( Let Norris and Crandell have a peaceful Sunday! )                    SoapBox

Sam

 

 


 

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Posted by Norm48327 on Sunday, March 06, 2011 12:14 PM

"I will choose freedom over the illusion of safety every time."

I will have to agree with that. Personal safety is what you make it.

Norm

If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.

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Posted by uphogger on Sunday, March 06, 2011 12:31 PM

CSSHEGEWISCH

An sad observation that I've made over the years is the sizable number of Americans who would be willing to live in a police state for the safety it would provide.  Many years ago, I met a person who thought that Franco's Spain was great because the police kept everybody in line.

There's a saying that those who trade liberty for security will have neither.  I still say that the more I see of TSA and Homeland Security, the more it reminds me of the KGB.  But that's just the retired signals intellligence analyst in me talking......now I'm just a locomotive engineer.

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Posted by uphogger on Sunday, March 06, 2011 12:35 PM

Norm48327

"I will choose freedom over the illusion of safety every time."

I will have to agree with that. Personal safety is what you make it.

I have a t-shirt that reads as follows:

Free societies aren't meant to be safe.  They are meant to be free.  Quit being a victim and learn to defend yourself.

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Posted by zardoz on Sunday, March 06, 2011 12:56 PM

One bright spot in all of this--at least the Amtrak top cop was outraged.

Like any street thug or playground bully, they (TSA) need to be put in their place once an a while.

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Posted by erikem on Sunday, March 06, 2011 4:44 PM

One thing I'm wondering about is whether the TSA has done a proper threat analysis of rail passenger safety. I don't recall any stories of bombs placed aboard trains in the US as compared to two US airliners brought down by on-board bombs in the 1950's. It is much harder to hijack a train train than an airliner and even more difficult to use it as a weapon as three of the four planes hijacked on 9/11. Based on the history of the last couple of decades, rail passengers have more to fear from barge pilots and steel hauling truckers than terrorists on board the train.

- Erik

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Posted by Firelock76 on Sunday, March 06, 2011 6:59 PM

In the 39 years since his death the late J. Edgar Hoover has gotten a lot of critisism, some of it justified, some of it just political.  But while he was director of the FBI, especially in its early years, he was very careful not to intrude his organization into local affairs or other areas where it shouldn't have been without a request for assistance.  You see, he knew that many lawmakers were leery of a national  police force, and of an intrusion of federal authority into local affairs.  Would that some federal officials had some of his common sense and probity!  You listening, TSA?

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Posted by schlimm on Sunday, March 06, 2011 8:23 PM

Quite interesting.  Not much criticism around here of either TSA or DHS prior to 1-2009. 

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Monday, March 07, 2011 4:59 AM

I have also been a strong and vocal critic of the USAPatriot Act, TSA, and The Department of Homeland Security since the day they were proposed.

...and I, too, used to work in the intelligence field.

Dave

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Posted by Paul_D_North_Jr on Monday, March 07, 2011 9:25 AM

erikem
  [snipped] It is much harder to hijack a train train than an airliner and even more difficult to use it as a weapon as three of the four planes hijacked on 9/11.

The least flexible form of transportation save the seesaw.
from Trains December 1972  p. 66
I'm not sure if this is the article or not - there might have also been a similar column by the late hunorist Art Buchwald or similar - but the modus operandi was to board the locomotive dressed in a suit and tie and introduce oneself to the crew along the lines of "I'm J.C. Kenefick, President of the Union Pacific, and this is a special test . . . "  Smile, Wink & Grin    

erikem
  Based on the history of the last couple of decades, rail passengers have more to fear from barge pilots and steel hauling truckers than terrorists on board the train.  [emphasis added - PDN] 

Thumbs Up  Thumbs Up  Thumbs Up  Nothing like actual history to inform the decision process.  On the other hand, that limits us to the happenstance of past events - there's not much consideration of possible future actions = "failure of imagination", which is one reason why the 9-11 hijackings and use of the aircraft as weapons wasn't widely forseen or guarded against. 

- Paul North.

"This Fascinating Railroad Business" (title of 1943 book by Robert Selph Henry of the AAR)
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Posted by schlimm on Monday, March 07, 2011 9:26 AM

Phoebe Vet

I have also been a strong and vocal critic of the USAPatriot Act, TSA, and The Department of Homeland Security since the day they were proposed.

...and I, too, used to work in the intelligence field.

Dave:  As a person of integrity, you are one of the exceptions.

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Posted by dharder on Monday, March 07, 2011 12:47 PM

Oooh. This boils my bottom. My biggest complaint about the TSA is the lack of consistency. I used to travel a lot out of Chicago's Amtrak terminal in Union Station. On any weekday morning, more than 100k people pour out of our interurban Metra trains into the city. If you ever wanted to do anything nasty, there's your place. But security there is a joke. I can literally bring ANYTHING I want onto a train.

Now, am I scared? No, not really. What gets me is the inconsistency between airplanes and trains. If we have Homeland Security and the TSA costing +$1 billion yearly to protect only air travelers, that doesn't make sense. IMHO, none of it makes sense because the TSA is as ineffective as other plans. I once got stuck 20 minutes at SFO for a hard, rubber core in my shoes that took 7 people to sort out, stopped the security line for 20 minutes. For shoes. Security Theater, indeed.

Until then I will continue to keep my shoes on and take the train.

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Posted by Zwingle on Monday, March 07, 2011 1:00 PM

This thread is now on the front page of Reddit.

*Edit - It's also now featured on The Drudge Report.

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Posted by nicoleS on Monday, March 07, 2011 1:26 PM

You ask: One major unanswered question is: why? What purpose is being served other than to justify employment? 

I answer- to constructively restrict restrict travel, to restrict privacy in travel by our out of control government. Land of the free?

 

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Posted by dharder on Monday, March 07, 2011 2:28 PM

IMHO we asked for this restricted travel. When someone does something bad to this country, we feel the need to do SOMETHING. If we did nothing, the populace would demand the heads of the government. Do I think the TSA is effective? No. Definitely not. But what was the alternative? What's the TRUE likelihood that planes will be hijacked and slammed into another building? Slim to none. But it justifies a lot of spending (a lot of private-sector spending, mind you).

An aside... I watched "Day One" about the making of the first atomic weapon. It was after Pearl Harbor that we basically decided that we needed to do that, even though Japan was nearly on its knees. But we needed to make them pay.

In this case, we ALL pay. Those who perpetrated that heinous act have won in that not only 5k people died, but the entire public lives in a constant state of fear and in that sense they've done a great number on all of us. But I don't know an alternative. I have to take my shoes off. I have to pay more taxes and airfare. All to give me the "sense of security" which works for many Americans.

Not me.

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Posted by Anonymous on Monday, March 07, 2011 2:34 PM

nicoleS

You ask: One major unanswered question is: why? What purpose is being served other than to justify employment? 

I answer- to constructively restrict restrict travel, to restrict privacy in travel by our out of control government. Land of the free?

 

nicoleS,

Why would they want to restrict travel?

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Posted by EndTSA on Monday, March 07, 2011 4:27 PM

Napolitano has asked congress for more money for 12 more VIPR teams. Obama could stop the TSA patdowns and x-rays any time he wanted to. TSA is under DHS which is under the executive branch. Call your legislators (reps and senators) and ask them why they are allowing this to continue.

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