Tuesday, August 6, 2013

TSA VIPRs back in the news

The Transportation Security Administration's VIPR (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) teams were introduced publicly a couple years ago with flashy checkpoints along Interstate highways.

But after public reaction seemed to go mostly negative, and VIPR personnel apparently had culture clashes with local police agencies, the TSA quietly pulled back on its VIPR operations.

However, being in the shadows doesn't mean they've gone away.

The New York Times notes VIPR teams are still out here, expanding, and as controversial as ever:
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. T.S.A. records show that the teams ran more than 8,800 unannounced checkpoints and search operations with local law enforcement outside of airports last year, including those at the Indianapolis 500 and the Democratic and Republican national political conventions. 
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. 
T.S.A. officials would not say if the VIPR teams had ever foiled a terrorist plot or thwarted any major threat to public safety, saying the information is classified. But they argue that the random searches and presence of armed officers serve as a deterrent that bolsters the public confidence.
Do bureaucrats really believe the BS they peddle about boosting public confidence?

An December 2011 editorial in the Orange County Register used other terms to describe VIPRs:
To us, this sounds like something more like the Stasi secret police in the former East Germany, in which citizens spy on one another. “Your papers, please!” should not be a command Americans hear, and fear.
As the Register noted, VIPRs appear to be little more than political theater; something designed to normalize the behavior of a police state.

The TSA is now more stealthy in how it operates its VIPRs, but that doesn't mean they're less a threat to liberty. Consider one of Webster's definitions for the word vipera vicious or treacherous person. I suspect it says a lot about the mindset that created the TSA VIPR model.

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