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Heightened security at bus, train stops

(The following article by Mac Daniel was posted on the Boston Globe website on September 14.)

BOSTON -- Teams from the Transportation Security Administration are monitoring key bus and rail hubs in Boston to spot suspicious passengers and detect explosives, the first time teams from the agency have been assigned outside airports.

TSA workers have been a high-profile presence screening luggage and passengers at the nation's airports since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This month, TSA and MBTA Transit Police teams, including explosive-sniffing dog units, have been stationed at South Station, the Blue Line's Airport station, and on the Silver Line, which are all key links to Logan International Airport. The team plans to be at Silver Line Way near the World Trade Center this morning and at Airport station this afternoon.

The monthlong program, which could become permanent, takes place at a time of high-risk, with the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and the Muslim celebration of Ramadan.

“This is a pretty critical month for Al Qaeda and . . . sympathizers to be a threat,” MBTA Transit Police Chief Joseph C. Carter said yesterday. “This program is to team TSA personnel who have been trained in passenger screening and observation techniques to . . . provide that heightened visible presence.”

George Naccara, TSA director at Logan Airport , said the team was not deployed because of new intelligence or a known security threat to Boston. “I can say that without any hesitation,” he said. “We just thought it was a good idea to begin working with our partners.”

Naccara said the agency sees the program as a new, cost-effective way to expand its presence after transit bombings in London, Madrid, and Mumbai, India. The TSA also plans to use the collaboration with transit police and other agencies to share information and resources if there were a terrorist attack.

“We are the Transportation Security Administration,” Naccara said, “not the Aviation Security Administration.”

The program began this month with four TSA employees and an explosive-sniffing dog stationed for a total of about 3 hours a day at the three hubs that feed transit passengers to Logan Airport . More passengers have gone through the hubs since the July 10 ceiling collapse in the Interstate 90 connector tunnel that shut down a key highway link to the airport.

It was the first time TSA officers monitored transit since the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Naccara said.

The team known as VIPER, which stands for Visible Intermodal Protection and Response, includes surface transportation security inspectors, an aviation security inspector, an explosive detection canine team, and two people trained to monitor passenger behavior and look for hidden explosives.

Naccara said those monitoring passengers are looking for signs of fear, stress, and deception. “If there are an aggregate number of factors that exceed a certain threshold, they can subject passengers to additional screening,” he said.

Naccara said he is currently in talks to provide similar teams to Amtrak, the Coast Guard, and the Massachusetts Port Authority's Black Falcon cruise ship terminal. At the same time, Naccara acknowledged that the local TSA still isn't fully staffed at Logan Airport . Naccara said TSA has between 790 and 800 employees at the airport, but should reach the required 853 workers in the next few months.

T passengers were either impressed or put off by the effort.

“It makes me feel safer, but it also kind of makes me wonder if it's safe to be on public transportation,” said Annette Rodgers, 46, of Dorchester, who saw the team on the Silver Line. She said that yesterday “was the first time I've ever seen dogs in the station, and it made me wonder if I'd missed something on the news.”

Ken Vien, 24, of Boston, heading home on the Red Line, said such security has a tendency to lengthen his trip home.

“I'd rather they didn't do it or did it in a different way, so it didn't slow down the commute,” he said.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

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