Like TSA? You'll Love VIPR!

By James Fallows

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/10/like-tsa-youll-love-vipr/247221/