Like TSA? You'll Love VIPR!

We know how air travel has changed in the era of the Transportation Security Administration. We know about terrorist groups' not-quite-rational obsession with targeting airplanes -- not rational because they could create more fear, more easily, by blowing up shopping malls or recreating the (genuinely terrifying) Beltway Sniper episode. And we know about the public's not-quite-rational fearfulness about airplane crashes. A hundred people a day die on the roads, and we hardly blink. A hundred people blown up in the sky has a completely different effect.

What I didn't know until now was that the TSA is extending its protective scrutiny to the nation's roadways. Take a look at the clip below, which appears to be a bona fide news report this week from Tennessee.

You can check out the original report from News Channel 5 in Nashville. It concerns the "Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response" program -- VIPR, get it??* -- and it has an enthusiastic tone. The headline says, "Tennessee Becomes First State to Fight Terrorism Statewide." If this were Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me I would make you guess which of these quotes is really taken from the story and which were made up:

1) "Where is a terrorist more apt to be found? Not these days on an airplane more likely on the interstate," said Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons....

2) The random inspections really aren't any more thorough than normal, according to Tennessee Highway Patrol Colonel Tracy Trott.

3) Tuesday's statewide "VIPR" operation isn't in response to any particular threat, according to officials.

This being America in the Homeland Security era, rather than a mocking radio show, you know the answer: All the quotes are real. I'd like to put this clip in a time capsule for a historian of The Great Fear.
* A wise-guy reader writes in with a different naming suggestion:

They should just call them the State Transit Authority for Safe Interstates and be done with it.
Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


Cryotherapy's Dubious Appeal

James Hamblin tries a questionable medical treatment.


Confessions of Moms Around the World

In Europe, mothers get maternity leave, discounted daycare, and flexible working hours.


How Do Trees Know When It's Spring?

The science behind beautiful seasonal blooming

More in National

From This Author

Just In