In what appears to be a growing trend, TSA agents were seen conducting screenings at an Iowa campaign event for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday.
An attendee at Romney's speaking event at the Koch Brothers farm tweeted a photo of TSA personnel in black jackets gathered near a security checkpoint. It is unclear whether the agents were checking bags or performing full-body pat downs.
While the TSA is primarily known for conducting invasive security screenings at airports across America, TSA sightings at campaign events are not unprecedented. TSA agents were spotted inspecting belongings of people attending a Romney event in September, and screeners were also seen performing security duties at a Paul Ryan campaign stop in August. In addition, TSA agents provided security assistance to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
The incursion of TSA personnel at political rallies appears to be an extension of the VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) program that has been implemented over the last few years. According to the Los Angeles Times, TSA VIPR teams conducted over 9300 security checks in 2011 at bus terminals, train stations, highway stops and other areas outside of airports. Despite the thousands of searches, not one person stopped by the TSA has been charged with attempted terrorism.
Could this be what TSA head John Pistole was referring to when he told USA Today in 2010 that he wanted "to take TSA to the next level"? One thing is certain: the agency is now working in areas that have nothing to do with transportation.