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VIPR Teams: Not new. Still effective.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013
Orlando VIPR 2009

Orlando VIPR

There has been a lot of attention lately on TSA’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) teams. With that attention comes a fair amount of misinformation.

We wanted to take this opportunity to set the record straight: TSA has not expanded the scope of VIPR teams.

Following the 2004 Madrid train bombings which killed 191 people and wounded 1,800 more, TSA developed the VIPR program to help out law enforcement when needed. Since then, the teams have been deployed at the request of local, state, and federal law enforcement to support their efforts and enhance the security presence during specific alert periods or major high-profile events.

For example, those who attended a Presidential Inauguration or a Super Bowl may have seen the VIPR teams at Union Station or a local transportation hub.

The exact makeup of VIPR teams is determined jointly with local authorities and program stakeholders and can include Federal Air Marshals (FAMs), Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs), TSA certified explosive detection canine teams, Transportation Security Inspectors (TSIs), Transportation Security Specialists – Explosives (TSSEs), security and explosive screening technology and radiological/nuclear detection capabilities all working together to safeguard the traveling public.

In today’s environment of evolving threats, deploying VIPR teams provides an effective and visible deterrent to anyone planning an attack, especially against high-profile and highly visible targets.

TSA's mission, supported by the United States Federal Air Marshal Service, has been and remains to protect the nation’s transportation network. VIPR teams are an important part of TSA’s multi-layered approach to keeping the traveling public safe.

Here are a few past blog posts regarding the VIPR program.

Bob Burns
TSA Blog Team

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Submitted by Anonymous on

You people are ridiculous.

Submitted by Anonymous on

If the TSA's mission is to protect the nation’s transportation network, why is there nothing beyond airport screening reported in your Week In Review blog post? Isn't there anything worth reporting which encompasses the full scope of your mission? We'd like to know that our money is being used wisely, but the cost/benefit of VIPR and other such programs is a mystery because I can imagine the costs but never get to hear you gloat about the weekly successes.

Or, you could rename the blog post to TSA Airport Screening Week In Review.

It's interesting that your link to "multi-layered approach" says nothing about VIPR nor anything beyond airport operations. Even the graph on that page is "Layers of U.S. Aviation Security" (note the word Aviation and not Transportation)

Submitted by Call Me Mom on

Less than a decade is still "new" in my book. I also consider the TSA to be in egregious breach of the Constitution. My rights are unalienable-including my right to be secure in my person, papers and etc. When we allow the breach of those rights in order to be "safe" from terrorists-it means the terrorists have won.
The very nature of the nation envisioned by our founders is violated by the TSA. The sort of martial law powers claimed by various executive orders and given outright to the WHO are anathema to freedom.
We are to be a nation of self reliant, personally responsible individuals who look out for our own protection. Law enforcement is to work with the input of the people doing their duty- not with the input of government spying or unwarranted, unethical and unconstitutional searches and seizures. The very existence of this agency is shameful in my opinion.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Effective? I think not. If you think they are, please show evidence for one single terrorist caught by this team.

Submitted by Adrian on

Can you share any data to back up the claim that VIPR teams are "effective"? How does the TSA measure the effectiveness of VIPR deployments?

Submitted by Susan Richart on

"...the teams have been deployed at the request of local, state, and federal law enforcement to support their efforts and enhance the security presence during specific alert periods or major high-profile events."

Somehow or another, I don't think that is quite true. Either TSA tells local law enforcement that its VIPR teams will be present whether they are wanted or not, or TSA just shows up unannounced.

I wonder what it's like to believe 24 hours a day, 365 days a year that there are terrorists behind every bush. It must be emotionally draining.

screen shot/DHS OIG

Submitted by Anonymous on

On what grounds do you claim these teams are "effective"?

Since your agency is not law enforcement, is anyone obligated to let TSA staffers outside an airport search them and their property?

Submitted by Anonymous on

The "beautiful" thing about this is for you guys, no matter what happens, you get to justify your existence?

Nothing happens? Well see, what you're doing is working! Great job all around?

There's an attack? Well, obviously we need new powers to stop another one from happening!

Meanwhile, the rest of us are the proverbial frogs in a pot of boiling water.

Submitted by SB on

Mr. Burns, attacks against railways go back decades.

You needn't even look overseas: in 1994 a guy firebombed a NY subway car, burning scores of riders.

A year earlier a guy shot up a LIRR train, killing six.

If VIPR teams are so essential to keeping our trains safe, it's fair to say than in the three years TSA existed before they were created, your agency was putting every single train and subway rider in this country at dire risk of injury or death every time they stepped aboard a rail car.

Or, perhaps VIPR teams really aren't so essential after all.

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSA said, "In today’s environment of evolving threats, deploying VIPR teams provides an effective and visible deterrent to anyone planning an attack..."

PROVE the effectiveness of VIPR. TSA did not bother to include a cost-benefit assessment of whole body scanners in their NPRM earlier this year, but TSA can serve the public better moving forward by providing a cost-benefit assessment for VIPR. When an agency is spending millions of taxpayer dollars, it is obligated to show taxpayers that the money is being spent on effective programs, and I have yet to see any proof that VIPR is effective.

Submitted by Steven Frischling on

A quick point of info here

A) The TSA's first VIPR Teams were created just prior to Christmas 2005, in response to the March 2004 train bombings in Madrid

B) VIPR Teams were created independent of local and national transportation security and law enforcement agencies

C) Significant friction existed when VIPR Teams were first created and were ultimately banned from Amtrak stations until some details were ironed out.

D) VIPR was created to supplement security in a "non-aviation environment", while saying within the TSA's Mission to "Protect the Nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce." The use of VIPR Teams at the Super Bowl and Presidential functions is due to internal human asset shuffling within the Department of Homeland Security , although its presence at sporting events has been questioned.

E) The TSA is not supported by the Federal Air Marshal Service, the FAMS is directly part of the TSA and has been since the 16th of October 2005. FAMS falls under the TSA's Office of Law Enforcement.

Happy Flying!


Submitted by RB on

Bob you claim that TSA's VIPR teams are "Still effective".

What evidence supports this claim?

What has this expensive expenditure cost taxpayers and how many terrorist have these "VIPR Teams" identified, intecepted, or arrested?

Surely TSA ,with over 65,000 citizen paid employees, can show that each program being ran by TSA is cost effective and meets stated objectives.

Submitted by Anonymous on

This seems like the kind of thing the Founding Fathers risked their lives to prevent. I understand the need for safety, but where do we draw the line? The TSA has already been searching train passengers, stopping vehicles on highways, and searching bus passengers. Are they going to stop bicyclists and pedestrians? Walking is a form of transportation.

I accept that I will be searched at the airport. You better have some serious probable cause or a warrant to search me on the road.

How many terrorists have the VIPR teams caught versus people caught for things unrelated to transportation security, such as drug possession or outstanding warrants? It seems like this is a great way to conduct warrantless searches, which is prohibited by the 4th Amendment.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Love the semantics TSA uses:

TSA has not expanded the scope of VIPR teams.

The scope has always been overly broad.

Bob, why don't you give us the amounts budgeted and spent for VIPR teams from 2005 and 2012?

This post is just another example of why we have to be wary of anything the TSA says.

Submitted by Laura Monteros on

I think one of the things that is upsetting is the name. It conjures images of SWAT teams storming homes and public places with automatic rifles and battering rams.

Why not something less hostile and antagonistic?

Submitted by Anonymous on

What attention has there been lately on VIPR? Has there been some recent media coverage, or an incident involving VIPR? Please provide some documentation as to this "attention".

Lacking that, it appears this is just another PR post of the "look how good and important we are" variety in an attempt to boost the TSA's image.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Since VIPR's and TSO's aren't LEOs, can I refuse to answer their illegal lines of questioning until a LEO is present?

Submitted by Anonymous on


Why did you censor my post?

I asked a simple question, and provided some factual information.

Apparently the TSA is afraid of simple questions and factual information.

Submitted by Susan Richart on

"Anonymous said...
What attention has there been lately on VIPR? Has there been some recent media coverage, or an incident involving VIPR? Please provide some documentation as to this "attention"."

This thread was put up in light of a fairly recent report in the NY Times, in part:

"Some T.S.A. officials told auditors that they had concerns that deploying VIPR teams to train stations or other events was not always based on credible intelligence.

The auditors also said that VIPR teams might not have “the skills and information to perform successfully in the mass transit environment.”

Mr. Pistole said the agency is now retraining VIPR teams based on recommendations in the report and is working to increase the public’s knowledge about them."

screen shot/DHS OIG

Submitted by RB on

To the person who said VIPR's and TSO 's are not LEO's you may be wrong. Federal Air Marshalls make up these teams and they are LEO's and they are armed. I fail to see how any LEO can make a stop without reasonable suspicion or probable cause.

VIPR means snake, snakes trying to destroy our freedoms. I say "Don't Tread On Me".

Submitted by Anonymous on

Get off our trains.

Submitted by Wintermute on

Anonymous said...
"Since VIPR's and TSO's aren't LEOs, can I refuse to answer their illegal lines of questioning until a LEO is present?"

And, once there is a LEO present, STILL don't answer until your lawyer is. Or had that right been taken away, too? Hard to keep track these days...

Submitted by Anonymous on

Shameful. The TSA should be disbanded. If a person decides to protect their self with a lawful weapon that should be allowed, but you guys are anathema.

As Ben Franklin said: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Submitted by Anonymous on

Your vipr teams are useless. They never have and never will catch a "terrorist."

Submitted by Anonymous on

According to all I've read, VIPR team searches are illegal. The legality of administrative searches that appear to violate the 4th Amendment rests tenuously on two 9th Circuit Court cases, US v Davis and US v Pulido-Baquerizo. BOTH of these rulings pertain only to travelers in an airport environment. How do you transfer these court rulings OUTSIDE of an airport? The rulings only apply to the airport and ONLY as you cross the threshold into the "secure" area by means of a TSA check point. These court rulings do not include other mass transit centers. In fact, the legal wording in both these cases are for travelers seeking to fly. The wording in these rulings specifically includes the words “airport” and “fly.”

I hope someone eventually sues your pants off.

Submitted by Car Service on

I believe they are effective. More needs to be done though however.

There is plenty of evidence to show how effective they are.

Submitted by Artist Frequent... on

I have to say that the TSA's new expedited lines are wonderrful! Thank you for finally limiting the amount of clothing you have to remove, letting your laptop stay in the carrier, leave liquids bag in my suitcase, and keep shoes on! It has made it so much more slick and gets you through the line so quickly.

Oh, and for those that don't know the "rules of flying", isn't that what blogs like this, Google, travel agents, and even telephones are used for? Sorry, no excuse. When I have had questions, as I did tonight, even though I fly at least monthly, there are still some items I have questions on, such as the one I was trying to find tonight: Can I pack a can of spray paint in my checked luggage? I am guessing so, as it didn't specify contents, just aerosols, so I should be fine.