Many political TV junkies and casual evening news watchers were more than a little surprised to see the bright blue shirts of agents of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at a recent Paul Ryan campaign event at The Villages in Florida.
They shouldn’t have been.
About 18 months ago, TSA chief John Pistole (pictured, with President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano) told USA Today he wanted to "take the TSA to the next level," building it into a "national-security, counterterrorism organization, fully integrated into U.S. government efforts."
Since that time, the TSA has been showing-up at all kinds of locations, mostly transportation-related mind you, and conducting VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) sweeps, which target public transit related places.
As writer Tara Servatius noted last year in the American Thinker, this sudden rise of the TSA as an all-pervasive civilian security apparatus “make[s] you wonder if we are watching the formation of the ‘civilian national security force’ President Obama called for on the campaign trail ‘that is just as powerful, just as strong and just as well funded’ as the military.”
What is truly remarkable about these security sweeps, Servatius noted, is that they don't just involve federal, state and local law enforcement officials. The TSA brings in squads of bureaucrats from state and federal agencies as well -- everything from transportation departments to departments of natural resources -- and they don't need a specific threat or probable cause to do it, reporters have been told.
Having the TSA cover train stations, bus terminals and other transportation-related facilities has a certain big government logic to it, even to those (like us) who think the mere existence of the TSA is a gross invasion of privacy and a violation of the Constitution.
However, swarming the campaign events of the opposition party -- particularly when the candidate has questioned the need for the TSA -- is another matter.
The TSA is not the apolitical organization the Secret Service strives to be. It is a thoroughly politicized bureaucracy fighting to expand its reach, and a few Republicans in Congress are all that have stood in its way.
What’s more, despite the bad publicity the Secret Service got over the partying of some of its agents on a trip to Columbia, the Service has a long tradition of respecting the rights of protesters and the political opponents of its protectees. Secret Service agents don’t act as the speech or sign police at campaign events and won’t act unless they perceive a threat to the individual they are protecting.
This respect for the constitutional rights of their fellow citizens is hardly the credo of the TSA, whose agents are known for their heavy-handed tactics and retribution against anyone who objects to the way they are treated at the airport.
Only time will tell if the presence of TSA agents at Republican campaign rallies is merely one branch of government helping out the Secret Service during the press of the campaign season -- as other agencies have done in the past -- or a new and chilling harbinger of the liberal police state a second Obama term could bring.