With little fanfare, the Transportation Security Administration has vastly expanded its reach from airport screenings to sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train terminals, reports the New York Times. TSA and local law enforcement officials say the agency’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response squads — VIPR for short– teams are a critical component of the nation's counterterrorism efforts. The squads ran more than 8,800 unannounced checkpoints and search operations with local law enforcement outside of airports last year.
But some members of Congress, auditors at the Department of Homeland Security and civil liberties groups are sounding alarms. The teams are also raising hackles among passengers who call them unnecessary and intrusive. Created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the TSA has grown to an agency of 56,000 people at 450 American airports. The VIPR teams were started in 2005. The program now has a $100 million annual budget and is growing rapidly, increasing to several hundred people and 37 teams last year, up from 10 teams in 2008.