WASHINGTON – Some of the armed officers with dogs that turned up this week around airports, subways and bus stops are part of special Transportation Security Administration teams sent to protect mass transit sites over the July Fourth holiday.
The "VIPER" teams were sent to guard facilities in the nation's capital and in Baltimore, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said Tuesday.
"It's not just because of the attacks in England," Howe said. "Some were planned this week anyway, but I won't deny the English car bombs affected the decision." She added, though, that there is "no credible, specific threat for the Fourth."
The teams were designed "to provide a visible deterrent along with local police," she said, and have regularly been sent out since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks "for special events wherever there are crowds — holidays, the Super Bowl, President Ford's funeral."
In fact, the agency has conducted 84 VIPER missions in the last 18 months. The acronym stands for "Visible Intermodal Protection and Response."
The teams include canine teams, Transportation Security officers trained in behavior observation, air marshal supervisors, air marshals not scheduled for flights, surface transportation security inspectors and local police.
"You'll see them in transit facilities and airports in large cities with heavy transit use and where people might use transit to go see fireworks," Howe said.
The size of teams and their assignments vary based on consultations with local police. There might be a dozen people per shift, working two shifts a day to cover from early morning to late night. The dozen would be broken into smaller groups to cover more sites and move between sites.