Music festivals now within TSA’s reach
A New York Times article has shed light on a Transportation Security Administration initiative that effects much more than frequent fliers. The T.S.A’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response squads – or VIPR teams – are a different breed of security force, employed to foil terrorist attacks at locations beyond airport security lines. Tasked largely with random security sweeps at such locales as train stations and bus depots, according to the article, transportation hubs are not the only place VIPR teams are turning up:
With little fanfare, the agency best known for airport screenings has vastly expanded its reach to sporting events, music festivals, rodeos, highway weigh stations and train terminals.
The article went on to describe the VIPR teams:
The teams, which are typically composed of federal air marshals, explosives experts and baggage inspectors, move through crowds with bomb-sniffing dogs, randomly stop passengers and ask security questions. There is usually a specially trained undercover plainclothes member who monitors crowds for suspicious behavior, said Kimberly F. Thompson, a T.S.A. spokeswoman. Some team members are former members of the military and police forces.
Started in 2005 in response to the Madrid train bombings, the VIPR initiative has grown from 10 teams in 2008 to 37 teams last year. Though created specifically as a counter-terrorism tool used in concert with local law enforcement, with data on terrorist activity classified, the program has most publicly succeeded in minor busts made through random bag searches and screenings.
Though the program has come under fire for the use of warrantless searches, the agency’s administrator John Pistole has stated the VIPR teams are being retrained to address some of the concerns, and affirmed that the security of transit users was the program’s goal.
“Our mandate is to provide security and counterterrorism operations for all high-risk transportation targets, not just airports and aviation,” said John S. Pistole, the administrator of the agency. “The VIPR teams are a big part of that.”
Source: New York Times