Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response team

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Coast Guard petty officers on a VIPR team at the Portland International Marine Terminal, Maine

A Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response team, sometimes Visible Intermodal Protection and Response (VIPR) is a Transportation Security Administration program. Various government sources have differing descriptions of VIPR's exact mission. It is specifically authorized by 6 U.S.C. § 1112 which says that the program is to "augment the security of any mode of transportation at any location within the United States". Authority for the program is under the Secretary of Homeland Security. The program falls under TSA's Office of Law Enforcement/Federal Air Marshal Service.[1] TSA OLE/FAMS shares responsibility for the program with the Office of Security Operations and Transportation Sector Network Management.[2]

The VIPR teams detain and search travelers at railroad stations, bus stations, ferries, car tunnels, ports, subways, truck weigh stations, rest areas, and special events.[3][4][5][6][7] They also can deploy to deal with CBRNE/WMD (chemical, biological, radioactive, nuclear, and explosive weapons of mass destruction).[8] They also inspect ships, containers, and vehicles.[9]


The GAO says VIPR was prompted by the 2004 Madrid train bombings.[10] The program started up in December 2005.[11] The program was first created to work in a "non-aviation environment".[12][13] Bad initial planning caused "strained relations" with local law enforcement.[14][15] In July 2007 VIPR teams carried out controversial operations in several cities for the holiday weekend (see below). In June 2007 VIPR began working in "aviation environments".[13] In 2007 TSA reported there had been 84 missions in 18 months; as of 2011 TSA was conducting about 8,000 VIPR operations per year.[16] As of 2013 VIPR had an annual budget of $100 million and was growing rapidly.[17]

Notable special events they have worked include the Presidential Inauguration, the Special Olympics, the Democratic National Convention, NFL games[18][citation needed] and others.[19]

After the 2013 Los Angeles International Airport shooting TSA moved some of its 37 VIPR teams from surface-transportation settings to airports, according to TSA Administrator John Pistole.[20]


Different sources provide different statements of purpose for the VIPR teams. Here are a few definitions given by various sources, most of them government officials:


  • "Augment the security of any mode of transportation at any location within the United States." [12][21]
  • "These teams serve as a kind of force multiplier for transit agency security efforts."[22]
  • "To develop the capability to enhance security outside of aviation"[23]
  • "[Enhance] agency resources during special events."[11]
  • "Augment local law enforcement agencies"[8]

Presence and detection

  • "Provide a random, announced, high-visibility surge into a transit agency"[11]
  • "[Provide] an increased visible deterrent force for all modes of transportation for homeland security."[8]
  • "Provid[e] a visible, unpredictable presence in a mass transit environment."[1]
  • "[Help] create a calm atmosphere and sense of overall protection by their overt presence and coordination." [11]
  • "[Work] seamlessly with local law enforcement to provide deterrent presence and detection capabilities, and an unpredictable layer of security"[11]
  • "Highly visible operation to help detect and deter any suspicious or dangerous activity in various modes of transportation".[24]
  • "To covertly detect potential criminal terrorist pre-attack surveillance and other suspicious activity"[25]

Terrorism and emergencies

  • "To patrol aviation, rail and marine facilities nationwide as a counterterrorism measure"[26]
  • "[Develop] interagency response tactics in the event of a terrorist attack"[8]
  • "Enhance the coordination of local and federal agencies during an emergency"[27]
  • "[Prepare] to respond to a large-scale incident such as, a terrorist attack or natural disaster"[27]


  • "To sort of invent the wheel in advance in case we have to, if there ever is specific intelligence requiring us to be here, this way us and our partners are ready to move in at a moments notice"[28]
  • To detect "threats to national security as well as immigration law violators"[28]
  • "Seek out illicit radiological sources that may present a threat to the public".[29]
  • "Ship boarding and inspection; container/cargo inspection; port employee vehicle inspection checkpoints; and vehicle inspection checkpoints for truck and passenger vehicles"[9]
  • "VIPR teams are an essential part of protecting highway transportation vehicles and other critical infrastructures."[6]
  • X-ray trucks for "explosives, weapons, anything unusual", "radiation, explosives, and drugs". Perform "safety inspections"[30]


VIPR team setting up a checkpoint at the Mississippi Port of Gulfport, 2009

Personnel may include the following:

Special tools may include

  • nuclear and radiological detection equipment[4][26]
  • long range camera systems[8]
  • helicopters (UH-60 Blackhawk)[8]
  • emergency vehicles[8]
  • reconnaissance aircraft[8]
  • Coast Guard patrol boats[8]
  • Mobile drive-through x-ray detection machine, for explosives, weapons, and drugs[30]
VIPR team capabilities [1]
group Visibility Behavior Detection Domain Familiarity Arrest Authority Explosives Detection Screening
Transp. Sec. Inspectors yes some yes no no no
Transp. Sec. Officers yes some some no no yes
Behavior Detection Officers yes yes some no no yes
Federal Air Marshals no (covert) yes some yes no no
Canine teams yes some yes no yes no
Transit Police yes some yes yes no no


FY2009: $30 million, 10 VIPR teams[34]

FY2010: increase of $50 million, for 15 surface transport VIPR teams [35]

FY2012: $109 million[36]

  • 10 aviation teams
  • 15 surface transport teams
  • 12 new multi-modal teams


2007 Indianapolis bus searches[edit]

In 2007 some Indianapolis bus passengers complained to representative Dan Burton that TSA searches violated their unalienable rights. Burton replied that Al Qaeda was interested in attacking buses and that the Global War on Terror was still on.[37]

DHS Office of Inspector General report (2008)[edit]

This report studies problems at VIPR. It "identified concerns regarding chain of command, unclear missions, and insufficient communication". It noted progress, but said those issues were "undermining agency efforts to advance mass transit security".[14]

It especially discussed the controversial VIPR deployments on the weekend of July fourth in 2007. The TSA gave only short notice the local authorities about the VIPR plans, and did not consult them. This disrupted the plans that local authorities had created to deal with holiday traffic. Local transit officials had to work overtime accompanying VIPR teams unfamiliar with local systems such as rail stations; TSA did not reimburse local groups for overtime. TSA also compromised the anonymity, and thus safety, of Air Marshals by requiring them to wear clothing identifying themselves as Federal Air Marshals. VIPR deployments also caused tensions with transit officials and police unions. After these incidents, TSA tried to improve its communication, including setting up a Joint Coordination Center.[14]

The report also mentions a letter in which the National President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association described the VIPR exercises as "clearly a waste of scarce Federal Air Marshal resources."[14]

DHS Office of Inspector General report (2009)[edit]

This report focused on the role of Surface Transportation Security Inspectors on VIPR teams. It pointed out that TSI's were "underutilized" and their contribution to the VIPR operations was unclear.[1]

House Appropriations Committee Report 111-157 (2009)[edit]

The U.S. Congress House Appropriations Committee wrote a report in September 2009 regarding the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It included a section on VIPR. It specifically quoted from the two DHS Inspector General reports listed above.[38]

The report also noted that TSA had failed to prepare a report on the "performance standards to measure the success of its VIPR teams in detecting and disrupting terrorism", as it had been directed to by Congress previously. The committee also rejected the TSA's request for more funding for rail inspectors because TSA had failed to hire people to fill its currently allocated inspector positions.[38]

Screening of Passengers at Savannah Amtrak Station (2011)[edit]

In early 2011, a TSA VIPR detained and patted down people at an Amtrak station in Savannah, Georgia. The incident became controversial because instead of screening passengers as they boarded trains—the standard procedure—officers were screening passengers as they were getting off trains, presumably after potential terrorists had detonated their explosives.[31] According to Trains magazine, Amtrak Police Chief John O'Connor described the TSA behavior as illegal, in violation of Amtrak policy, and simply nonsensical. The incident led Amtrak to temporarily ban VIPR teams from Amtrak property.[15][17]

DHS Office of Inspector General report (2012)[edit]

Some TSA officials told the auditors that VIPR deployments were not always based on credible intelligence. The auditors said the VIPR teams might not have the required skills and information to do their jobs.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Effectiveness of TSA's Surface Transportation Security Inspectors, DHS Office of Inspector General, Feb 2009.
  2. ^ 6 U.S.C. § 1112 - Authorization of Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams,, retr May 2011
  3. ^ TSA spot-checks Greyhound terminal, October 23, 2009 By Susan Jacobson, Orlando Sentinel, retr May 2011
  4. ^ a b FAMS in First-Ever N.Y. Tunnel VIPR Operation 2007 Nov 1,, retr May 2011
  5. ^ Boise Welcomes Special Olympic World Winter Games By Dwayne Baird, TSA Weekly 02-16-09. retr May 2011
  6. ^ a b TSA VIPR inspection program targets truck fleets, Jan 31, 2011,, Penton Media Inc, retr May 2011
  7. ^ TSA and NYPD Screening Partnership, April 21, 2010,, retr May 2011
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Ohio Guard participates in multi-state homeland security exercise, Douglas L. Melvin, 2010 ,, retr May 2011
  9. ^ a b c TSA Weekly, Feb. 9-13, 2009,, retr May 2011
  10. ^ Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Management, Investigations, and Oversight, Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives, United States Government Accountability Office, July 23, 2009
  11. ^ a b c d e f Building Security Force Multipliers, retr May 2011
  12. ^ a b Marshals To Patrol Land, Sea Transport, By Sara Kehaulani Goo, with Richard Drezen, Washington Post, December 14, 2005
  13. ^ a b c d e f g TSA's Security Screening Procedures for Employees at Orlando International Airport and the Feasibility of 100 Percent Employee Screening (Revised for Public Disclosure) (Redacted), DHS Office of Inspector General,, Oct 2008, retr May 2011
  14. ^ a b c d TSA’s Administration and Coordination of Mass Transit Security Programs, DHS Office of Inspector General, June 2008
  15. ^ a b TRAINS exclusive: Amtrak police chief bars Transportation Security Administration from some security operations, Don Phillips,, March 3, 2011, retr May 2011 (subscription required)
  16. ^ Statement of John S. Pistole, Administrator, Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, And Craig Fugate Administrator Federal Emergency Management Agency U.S. Department of Homeland Security Before the Committee on Homeland Security, United States House of Representatives May 4, 2011, retr May 2011 from
  17. ^ a b c Nixon, Ron (6 August 2013). "T.S.A. Expands Duties Beyond Airport Security". The New York Times.
  18. ^ McCarthy, Michael (Sep 15, 2011). "NFL wants pat-downs from ankles up at all stadiums". USA Today. Retrieved October 26, 2011.
  19. ^ TSA tests capability of nuclear-detection devices at DIA By Jeffrey Leib, Denver Post, 12/18/2009
  20. ^ Jeff Plungis (17 December 2013). "TSA May Make Special-Tactics Teams Fixture at Airports".
  21. ^ House Report 110-862 - DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY APPROPRIATIONS BILL, 2009, Sep 2008, Library of Congress THOMAS, Retr May 2011
  22. ^ Ports of Delaware Bay, Industry and Public Sector Cooperation for Information Sharing, Anita Salem, Wendy Walsh, Lyla Englehorn, Maritime Information Sharing Taskforce, Dec 2010, via Defense Technical Information Center, retr May 2011
  23. ^ Air Marshals Expand Beyond Planes, Melissa McNamara, Dec. 14, 2005, CBS News, retr May 2011
  24. ^ TSA conducts operation at West Palm Beach Tri-Rail station, 04/21/2011, By: WPTV Web Team, retr May 2011
  25. ^ TSA memo written by Patrick F. Sullivan, quoted in a Washington Post article on 12.14.2005, below
  26. ^ a b Chem-Bio News 21 December 2009, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, retr May 2011
  27. ^ a b VIPR Technology Used at Greyhound Bus Terminal TPD partners with TSA and the Department of Homeland Security to Test Public Transportation Security, Laura McElroy, Tampa Police, February 16, 2010, retr May 2011
  28. ^ a b c ABC ActionNews Tampa, February 16, 2010, Bill Logan. Via Youtube, May 2011
  29. ^ Three-Day National Level Exercise Continues with Successful ‘Rendering Safe” of Improvised Nuclear Device at Los Angeles Coliseum FBI Los Angeles, May 18, 2010,, retr May 2011
  30. ^ a b Counter-Terror Operation Stops Trucks On I-20, WSB-TV Atlanta, Channel 2 Action News, Marc Winne, Richard Belcher, Monica Pearson, John Pruitt, in Douglas County, Georgia, September 29, 2010
  31. ^ a b c d e f Screening of Passengers at Savannah Amtrak Station, 2.26.2011, TSA Blog, retr May 2011
  32. ^ VIPR Teams Enhance Security at Major Local Transportation Facilities, News & Happenings, June 20, 2007, retr May 2011
  33. ^ TSA Weekly, 3-2-2009, retr May 2011
  34. ^ Budget in Brief, DHS, Fiscal Year 2009, retr May 2011
  35. ^ Budget in Brief, DHS, Fiscal Year 2010, retr May 2011
  36. ^ Budget in Brief, DHS, Fiscal Year 2012, retr May 2011
  37. ^ TSA bus passenger searches by Dan Burton on October 3, 2007, retr May 2011
  38. ^ a b House Report 111-157 - DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY APPROPRIATIONS BILL, 2010, Sep 2009, Library of Congress THOMAS. Retr May 2011

External links[edit]