Can The TSA Use Air Marshals In VIPR Teams? Not Really

As the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) continues to expand the deployment of its Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) Teams, it is also increasingly mentioning Federal Air Marshals (FAM) as part of the agency’s ground based, non-airport focused, and security operation.


Looking past the legally questionable aspects of the TSA’s deployment of VIPR Teams, and that some within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) clearly believe VIPR Teams pose jurisdiction issues for the agency, the use of Federal Air Marshals within VIPR Teams poses from very real problems for the TSA.  FAMs participating in VIPR Teams both pose operational security risks and place FAMs outside of their operational parameters.


Since the Federal Air Marshal Service was transferred from the Bureau of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the Transportation Security Administration on the 16th of October 2005, the TSA has maintained that the anonymity of Federal Air Marshals is paramount to the operational security of a FAM performing their duties and to the security of protecting civil aviation.


With the TSA placing such significance on the anonymity of FAMs, the agency’s decision to place them in a public role as part of an intentionally “visible” VIPR Team goes against its own policy.


A larger issue with the TSA’s deployment of FAMs in VIPR Teams, which are primarily deployed in non-airport environments, is that the wording in Public Law 107-71, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, the very law that created the TSA, seems to restrict FAMs from operating outside of a role directly related to the protection of civil aviation.


Nowhere within the Aviation and Transportation Security Act are Federal Air Marshals designated to operate outside of a direct civil aviation security role, as per Section 105 Deployment of Federal Air Marshals, § 44917. Deployment of Federal air marshals, found on page 10 of the Act of Congress, signed into law by President George W. Bush on the 19th of November 2001.


While the TSA does state FAMs perform limited non-civil aviation security, In addition, [Federal Air Marshals] are also distributed among other law enforcement and homeland security liaison assignments during times of heightened alert or special national events,” VIPR Teams are deployed regardless of a heightened state of a alert and are not considered a special national event.  Furthermore, FAMs operating in liaison assignments and at national events are in a non-visible role, thus are not a risk to their vital anonymity.


Presently all Department of Homeland Security (DHS) references relating to the funding, training and deployment of Federal Air Marshals are that they operate in a role promoting “confidence in the nation’s civil aviation system through the effective deployment of Federal Air Marshals to detect, deter, and defeat hostile acts targeting U.S. air carriers, airports, passengers, and crews,” as per Public Law 107-71, SEC. 105. Deployment of Federal Air Marshals,  § 44917. Deployment of Federal air marshalshowever TSA VIPR Teams do not secure the nations civil aviation system, and to not provide security from hostile acts targets U.S. air carriers, airports, passengers and crews.


While Federal Air Marshals rarely get to carry out their duties in-flight, they play a vital role in aviation security. Squandering such a specially trained force of federal agents, especially in a role that violates an agency’s own policy for operational security, neither enhances security or places the TSA in a position of fiscal responsibility regarding its human security assets as the Government works to scale back its expenditures.


Happy Flying!




  1. The TSA will simply have them cross deputized as U.S. Marshals. The U.S. Marshal service does that with other state and local agencies.

  2. Yes, I have actually read 6 USC Sec. 1112 , from the 7th of January 2011, Authorization of Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams, from the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives.

    This states:
    The Secretary, acting through the Administrator of the

    Transportation Security Administration, may develop Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (referred to in this section as “VIPR”) teams to augment the security of any mode of transportation at any location within the United States. In forming a VIPR team,

    the Secretary –

    (1) may use any asset of the Department, including Federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, canine detection teams, and advanced screening technology;

    The issue with this is that it was issued in January 2011 and the TSA began using VIPR Teams, and integrating Federal Air Marshals into VIPR Teams in 2005. That is a significant gap for operations to exist without legal authorization.

    Further more this document does not address the legally hazy area in which VIPR Teams operate, as the legal standing they cite for existence from the 9h Circ Court only address airports, VIPR Teams cannot create a sterile area, VIPR Teams impede the freedom of travel going against the TSA’s mission statement … and … the use of FAMs in a Visible security team goes against the TSA’s well documented stance on FAM anonymity.

    Which playbook is the TSA following? The agency can’t have their cake and eat it as well.

    Happy Flying!


  3. When confronted with a badge, whether real (LEO) or fake (TSO) most will comply with whatever is asked. That is what VIPR operates under. If you question any VIPR team member, they will simply call a LEO (they always work WITH local PD). Local PD will then continue the questioning. Remember VIPR works WITH local law enforcement. On the books the local guys are in charge. Local PD is more then happy to cooperate with VIPR operations as DHS funnels grant money back to them.

  4. Has anyone read the credentialed authority of an Air Marshal? it’s like any other federal agent. So yes aviation is their exclusive domain BUT they can be like any other feds. As we see going forward years after this bogus article was written they have performed on the border and worked protecting The campaign.
    Flying guys on no risk flights is just stupid. Honestly they should be entirely under the JTTF. TSA dissolved and have FPS takeover. To many in the TSA senior leadership would be upset since their do nothing cushy jobs are at risk.

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