TSA installs undercover agents on Texas busses
Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee held a press conference last week to discuss the details of Houston’s newest initiatives. It is being branded as a program called “BusSafe” and the press release describes it as a necessity for enhancing safety in the city’s public transportation system. Just exactly how they are going about accomplishing that has already attracted its fair share of critics, though.
Under the program launched last week, passengers on busses run by the Houston METRO system will be subjected to random questioning and searches from “counter-terrorism experts” hired by the Transportation Security Administration. Yes, the very same TSA that has become notorious for invasive pat-downs at airports across the country are opening up a new front in their war on privacy, and it’s on Houston’s public busses.
Riders of the Houston METRO won’t be waiting in line for security checkpoints like they do before boarding flights, though. According to the press release, authorities will “ride buses, perform random bag checks and conduct K-9 sweeps, as well as place uniformed and plainclothes officers at Transit Centers and rail platforms to detect, prevent and address latent criminal activity or behavior.” Both local police and undercover TSA agents will be carrying out the city-wide searches.
“If you think you’re going to be a bad actor on buses, get ready. You are going to have a short-lived time frame,” Congresswoman Jackson Lee explained.
And if you think you’re safe from this scrutiny by being outside of Houston, think again. The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County say the searches starting in Houston are part of a national pilot program. BusSafe, it says, may be introduced in cities from coast-to-coast.
Last year the TSA hinted that they could be broadening their reach in the near future. When commenting to the Los Angeles Times on TSA’s plans to start doing pat-downs in bus and train stations, air marshal Ray Dineen put it rather simply: "We are not the Airport Security Administration. We take that transportation part seriously."
At the time, RT reported that the TSA conducted over 9,000 unannounced checkpoints at transportation hubs across the country during 2011. As those searches — literally — board the buses in 2012, the number of people searched appear set to rise.
"I don't want them looking through my bag. I have a lot of stuff in there," METRO rider Dominique Guillory explains in protest to the city’s NBC affiliate, KPRC News. If Congresswoman Jackson Lee and the TSA agents have any say, however, it won’t really matter.
METRO adds that they do not plan on disclosing the routes, dates or identities of undercover officers that have already started searching passengers in Houston.
“We have one of the safest transit systems in the world in Houston,” METRO Police Chief Victor Rodriguez explains in the BusSafe press release. “One way we are able to keep it that way is through the use of deterrents such as uniformed and plainclothes officers patrolling our system and aggressively addressing suspicious and criminal activity.”