Summer road hazards your government won’t warn you about

viprWith the frenetic summer travel season just around the corner, here’s a little warning about a road hazard you might not expect: a checkpoint staffed by Transportation Security Administration workers.

The so-called VIPR teams (shorthand for Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response) are special TSA units that search — and sometimes detain — travelers at bus terminals, railroad stations, subways, truck weigh stations and special events such as NFL games and political conventions.

Peter Ireland, an entrepreneur based in Seattle, contacted me after hearing about VIPR teams in Emeryville, Calif., checking random passengers and luggage.

“This agency is out of control,” he told me. “It’s a cancer in the body politic.”

He’s hardly alone in that assessment, or in the suggestion that VIPR teams are turning America into a de facto police state. But the VIPR teams are on such shaky legal ground, and as you’ll see in the video below, many travelers can and do simply ignore the roadside checkpoints because there’s no legal basis for them. (Note: While these aren’t VIPR checkpoints, they operate in a similar way, so I thought they were worth including.)

Annoying and ineffective?

The real problem with the TSA VIPR teams isn’t that they needlessly delay travelers, but that they may be unable to stop a real act of terrorism. Consider the recent “emergency” on a Chicago train, where VIPR agents believed they’d found a dirty nuclear device.

A TV photojournalist who just “happened” to be at the scene captured the whole event, which ended up being a false alarm. Turns out one of the passengers had just wrapped up a medical test, which led to higher isotope readings.

Thanks, VIPR.

By the government’s own reckoning, these teams are useless. The latest Inspector General report questioned the effectiveness of the teams, noting that surface transportation security inspectors are not trained in behavior detection, have no training in passenger screening, are unable to detect explosives, and are not law enforcement authorities.

Ready for your VIPR check?

This upcoming Memorial Day holiday, as you take to the roads and railways with your own family, you may see a VIPR team asking you to pull over and submit to an inspection. I’ll be honest: The activist in me wants to keep driving. But as a practical matter, I pull over, I’m polite to the government employees and I answer all of their question honestly. My family doesn’t want any trouble, and chances are, neither does yours.

But as the inspection station disappears in my rearview mirror, I wonder: When will I say no? When the kids are old enough to deal with Dad getting hauled off and detained? When the TSA agents’ questions get too personal? Maybe when I’m asked to walk through a portable full-body scanner that’s set up along the road?

I think we can all understand having a checkpoint at the border or in front of a military base, but at a random truck weigh station? To check nine-year-old Amtrak passengers as they exit the train in Savannah, Ga.?

Maybe this summer it’s time to say enough is enough.

  • Daisiemae

    I just noticed the picture at the top says Department of Homelamd Security POLICE. DHS employees LEOs? Does DHS have authority to search and arrest people?

    I know that TSA clerks are not LEOs, but what about DHS?

    • EdB

      The air marshals are under DHS now and they are LEO. I have even seen uniformed DHS agents patrolling in Las Vegas like they were LEO. Surprised me seeing them in this context. I thought Las Vegas had their own police.

      • Daisiemae

        I went to the social security office here in NJ and there were two DHS cars parked out front nose to nose. The drivers were talking.

        The cars looked exactly like police cars. The only difference between those cars and our local police was “Department of Homeland Security”printed on the side.

        • Susan Richart

          According to one of my Congresscritters, DHS is buying up ammunition for the use of Social Security investigators. Maybe the DHS cops were there handing out the ammo to “investigators.” (/sarcasm)

          I think I might have asked them what they were doing there.

          • Daisiemae

            I just kept driving. No way I wanted to attract their attention.

    • TSAisTerrorism

      There is a disturbing trend afoot w/ DHS, and I believe this may be just one tiny part of it. We all know of the growing militarization of our police, and we can thank DHS grants for that.

      We had the local sheriff out to talk w/ our Rotary not too long ago. He was quite proud of the fact that his department in a tiny, middle of nowhere, completely insignificant county in the rural agricultural South is an “official” DHS sanctioned “partner”. They get to do things like travel to other states and work on training exercises with other sheriff departments from other tiny, insignificant rural counties across the US. IOW they get to play with their DHS funded big boy toys and play “fight the war on terrorism” as part of taxpayer funded junkets. I mean, seriously, the terrorists are most certainly NOT coming to my neck of the woods. I guarantee they’ve never heard of it. Most Americans haven’t. Heck, most of the people in our own state don’t know where we are.

      And yet, there he was in front of all of us, strutting around and bragging about all of the “DHS POLICE” branded gear they have – the vests, the hats, the pants, ad nauseum and how they go to local events all decked out for war and how people are in awe of their “show of power”. We were all mightily impressed. Particularly since we were a room of middle aged white people, and his department is mostly white and the Uncle Tom blacks in town and these events are exclusively attended by the poor blacks in the area.

      I mean, really, the riff raff need to be kept in their place. It used to be called racism and segregation. Now it’s “keeping the peace” under the guise of preventing “terrorism” and counterinsurgency.

      So, Daisiemae, what you’re seeing there are local PDs decked out in their DHS funded finest, specifically designed to Dominate. Intimidate. Control.

      • Susan Richart

        “We were all mightily impressed.”

        I am certain that this was written with a great deal of sarcasm, as I am certain I know of at least one person in that room who was most definitely not impressed. 😉

        Was anyone allowed to ask any hard questions of this toad?

  • R

    We are way past the time to say enough is enough. Naked pictures or children, adults, elderly and babies. The manipulation and touching of our bodies, including sexual organs. Yes, we are way past enough is enough. This is a ill conceived and frightful program leaving me to wonder the true intent of the program.

  • Kitten

    I would have to refuse to answer, or pull over. I travel with my dogs, who are show dogs, and valuable. They are also protective. If I was stupid enough to give the VIPRs access to my vehicle, I could be signing my dogs’ death warrant, because if the VIPRs were bitten, they’d want my dogs murdered.

  • Daisiemae

    I’m confused about something. If I understand correctly, most of the scenarios in the video involved border patrol (except for the agricultural stop). Was I wrong about that?

    But I thought the borders are a Constitution free zone. I thought that border patrol are law enforcement officers and that they have legal jurisdiction to search your vehicle and your person without reasonable suspicion and without obtaining a warrant. Border patrol has even been known to confiscate laptops, tablets, and smart phones without a warrant as well as perform cavity searches.

    So why did these border patrol agents on the video back down when they were asked for a warrant or asked “Am I being detained? Am I free to go?” If they have the legal authority to search without a warrant, why did they back down?

    I understand that TSA (outside the airport) cannot perform a search without a warrant because they are not LEOs. But I thought that CBP could do that because they are LEOs in a Constitution free zone.

    Anyone who is truly in the know about this, I’d appreciate your thoughts.

    • EdB

      The problem with the stops shown in the video was that they were not on the border but out on some highway. Where the stops were being made, they have no idea if you just crossed the border or have never left the country. Because of that, they have no probable cause to search.

    • Dolt

      Just as TSA has crept outside of airports, the Border Patrol (ICE & DHS included) have crept way beyond the actual borders. They now consider everything within 100 miles from any border part of their searchable area (this includes entire states and areas where people normally travel daily that never come close to crossing any actual border). That is why they have no real authority and their searches are unconstitutional.

      • Daisiemae

        So again, if they are in a constitution free zone, what is to prevent their doing the searches? What does it matter if the searches are unconstitutional if it is in a constitution free zone? Why do they back down when asked for a warrant?

        My understanding is that there are no constitutional constrictions in a constitution free zone. The CBP is free to do whatever they like, no?

        (Just to be clear, I do not agree with what they are doing. I think what they are doing is heinous.)

        • EdB

          The court case that gave the border patrol permission to search without a warrant also required the inspection station to be on a major highway leading away from the Mexican border. The stops shown in the video did not qualify for that exception since they were not in that, as you call them, constitution free zone. That is why they backed down in the video. They had no legal grounds for the search so if you don’t agree, there really is nothing they can do to stop you.

  • nveric

    Resist all these forms of coercion – please.

  • Svensonon

    The author asks, “When will I say no?”

    Apparently, the answer is ‘never’.

    As a father myself, I understand the concern. I don’t want my kids seeing daddy hauled off in chains either.

    But actually, if it was for disobeying an illegal search, what better reason to get arrested? What better lesson for the kids? Standing up to tyranny is not cost free. It is not risk free. But we must do so. We MUST do so. That’s a powerful lesson to teach them.

    Remember this day kids. Remember daddy in cuffs, being led away. But those aren’t handcuffs, they’re badges of honor. Because resistance to tyranny is an honor. “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance” might be a bit heady for the average 10 and 6 year old, but explain it in age appropriate terms and they’ll understand.

    Look, the “practical” side of me gets it. I don’t want to go to jail either. The hassle, the expense, the frowns of the wife. I get it. But to paraphrase Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that …practical… men do nothing.”

    The TSA and their must-have-been-named-by-a-ten-year-old VPIR team absolutely counts on people being practical. Going through the scanners rather than risk missing your plane for a pat-down is quite practical. Answering their questions rather than asserting your 4th Amendment rights is quite practical. Submitting because, “My family doesn’t want any trouble” is very practical indeed.

    It’s a good thing that the TSA can count on so many people in our country being practical. It would be a lot tougher for them to operate otherwise.

    • Chris Bray

      It is, in fact, risk free, or low-risk. Asserting your Fourth Amendment rights in the face of an unwelcome search by people who aren’t even cops is unlikely to get you hauled away in chains. This is what I enjoyed so much about Sommer Gentry’s recent post here, and it’s what I enjoy so much about the video posted with this piece — which involves actual law enforcement officers, who have much more real authority than TSA idiots.

      Susan Richart’s comment above is perfect. You aren’t going to be arrested for politely but firmly declining to be searched by federal mall cops who were recruited from pizza boxes to join an army of high school dropouts.

      Do not be afraid of these fucking people. They are the bottom of the labor pool, doing a zero-authority, functionally meaningless job that no one respects.

  • IWonder39

    Question: The video is US Immigration. How are they connected to the VIPR units? (I agree with the filmer that these are not probable cause.)

    • Zaxon

      He notes that it isn’t a VIPR unit before the video. Learn to read

      • EdB

        IWonder39 never claimed the video was about VIPR. They asked how a video of Border Patrol interaction has any relationship to the discussion about VIPR, which is the topic of this story. Maybe you need to take your own advice and also add comprehension to the lesson.

    • Annapolis2

      VIPR units have been less frequently sighted than US Immigration units, so videos of US Immigration checkpoint refusals are just more readily available than analagous ones for VIPR refusals.

      However, you should note that immigration and border patrol has a far stronger leg to stand on, legally speaking, than do the VIPR teams. Seeing how these border checkpoint refusals succeed should empower every viewer to refuse un-Constitutional warrantless searches and questioning when confronted with a VIPR team. Relevant? Absolutely!

      • Hal

        I agree with the relevant, but I would question the legal standpoint. The Supreme Court ruling giving the Border Patrol authority to stop and search vehicles have a condition that it must be on a road leading away from the border. If the road they setup on is does not meet the criteria, then they are just as unconstitutional as one setup by a VIPR team.

        • Daisiemae

          My concern is that I would encounter an officer who does not know that. Sure, I could argue the unconstitutionality after the fact, but that would be small comfort after being arrested and possibly strip searched and/or roughed up by one of these cowboys.

          • Hal

            If they arrest you as a result of refusing to cooperate at an unconstitutional stop/checkpoint, they open themselves up to criminal charges of unlawful arrest.

  • Susan Richart

    “Am I being detained? Am I free to go?” “Am I being detained? Am I free to go?” “Am I being detained? Am I free to go?”

    “You may not search my car absent a warrant.” “You may not search my car absent a warrant.” “You may not search my car absent a warrant.”

    Rinse and repeat until they let you go.