We've all read horror stories about Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents searching babies' diapers at airports. Some would argue this is the price we must pay for not being blown up in mid-air. Others say it's a sign that the terrorists have won.
From TSA's perspective, based on recent reports of its approach to securing our nation's highways, baby-frisking may just be a good way to keep its airport agents trained at a high level. After all, its Visible Intermodal Preparedness and Response (VIPR) program periodically conducts security exercises at state highway facilities like truck stops and weigh stations, searching vehicles for bombs and weapons.
Well, Phil Byrd thinks those exercises are just about as effective as giving junior the once-over at the airport. He's president of Bulldog Hiway Express, a truckload and intermodal carrier based in Charleston, S.C., and in his capacity as vice chairman of American Trucking Associations, he appeared before a congressional subcommittee this week to give the TSA a piece of ATA's mind on such drilling at truck stops.
“ATA supports such operations as long as they are based on intelligence or specific risks that require increased vigilance and security on our highways,” he said. He added, however, that lately TSA has been conducting these actions without the instigation of any kind of threat or intelligence. In other words, for exercise.
“Deploying VIPR resources for such a purpose seems contrary to TSA Assistant Secretary Pistole's objective of â€˜employing risk-based, intelligence driven operations to prevent terrorist attacks and reduce vulnerabilities,'” he said, adding that the trucking industry should be relied on as an anti-terrorism resource.
He cited an example of the ideal collaborative enforcement scenario from a case the ATA brought before the same subcommittee last year. In it, a trucking company employee prevented a terrorist plot involving explosives. In that case, the employee recognized and researched some of the materials listed in a package and alerted his company's security team. Federal law enforcement personnel were brought in and the would-be terrorist was eventually arrested when he tried to pick up the package.
“Because both government and private sector resources are finite, it is critical that such resources are dedicated to programs and operations in areas that face a constant heightened level of risk or in sectors where sound intelligence and specific threat analysis indicate a need for increased security,” Byrd said.
He further advised TSA that if it is going to conduct operations or exercises as those described in Georgia and Tennessee, it should inform trusted industry representatives that such initiatives are likely to take place in particular timeframes and geographic areas so commercial trucking operations can “plan accordingly and not face unnecessary disruptions for time sensitive deliveries.”
ATA would also like TSA to let them in on any learnings from those VIPR highway operations—and any other similar initiatives that the agency implements in the surface transportation sector.
“These reports would provide valuable information regarding the costs and benefits of such exercises and efforts, and should also provide TSA with valuable information regarding potential improvements and the actual value of undertaking VIPR operations in the highway environment,” Byrd concluded.
Why do I get the idea Mr. Byrd thinks what VIPR finds in these raids is the same thing airport TSA agents usually find in baby diapers?