The Washington Post has a front page story on Wednesday on new “Viper Teams” being established by TSA to conduct new surveillance and law enforcement activities. The first two paragraphs:
Teams of undercover air marshals and uniformed law enforcement officers will fan out to bus and train stations, ferries, and mass transit facilities across the country this week in a new test program to conduct surveillance and “counter potential criminal terrorist activity in all modes of transportation,” according to internal federal documents.
According to internal Transportation Security Administration documents, the program calls for newly created “Visible Intermodal Protection and Response” teams — called “Viper” teams — to take positions in public areas along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and Los Angeles rail lines; ferries in Washington state; and mass transit systems in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Viper teams will also patrol the Washington Metro system.
My initial reactions to this story:
1. Any time that TSA expands its efforts beyond aviation and works on other modes of transportation (land and sea, consistent with the ATSA “all-modes” vision for TSA), I say “bravo.”
2. The fact that air marshals will be sharing knowledge about how to conduct surveillance activities with screeners is a good thing, and is exactly the kind of regular ‘knowledge transfer’ that should be taking place across all groups of people working on homeland security.
3. TSA is probably going to take at least a mild political hit for this story; given the air marshal incident last week and the wrongful shooting on the London Underground in July, now might not be the smartest time to put air marshals in the subways…especially if they are armed and still have shoot-to-kill powers (which isn’t clear from the story).
Update: The Post reported on Thursday that TSA has stalled its initial plans as a result of the initial story, which exposed confusion and some reluctance among transit systems about the Viper Teams.