Fly much? We used to. We’ve been flying long enough to remember when air travel was considered elegant and passengers were treated like human beings. Up until this year, we flew a lot (for non-business flyers). It’s 700 miles north or southwest to our family, and that’s a long drive. But a trip that cost $318 for two last year now costs $826 (and it’s no longer non-stop!).
Air travel is far from elegant or romantic, and passengers are treated about as well as factory-farm cattle. So, we gave up the elegance and luxury (and decent fares) to be treated badly, to be inconvenienced, to be charged for everything, and to be safer. You know you feel lots safer when I take my shoes off in the airport and some stranger pokes through my carry-on.
What about the security provided by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA, part of Homeland Security)? Is it worth all the money we taxpayers pour into it? Are the skies friendly again? More importantly, are they safe?
Boston Aviation Services, Inc. has recently released a DVD that asks the question, “Are our skies safer after 9/11?” It “is the brainchild of executive producer Fred Gevalt, a pilot and aviation publisher, who was galvanized to expose the TSA’s weaknesses after watching the burgeoning size and influence of the agency since its creation after 9/11.”
TSA answered the question regarding safety by “respectfully” declining to participate in the making of Please Remove Your Shoes, which begins with reactions to the horrific events of 9/11. Lawmakers by the score called for increased security on behalf of their constituents and the bureaucracy got down to doing what it does best—creating more bureaucracy.
Brian Sullivan, former FAA Security Agent, serves as host of this documentary that points out where and why airport security is not all it’s supposed to be, and certainly not what it’s meant to be. Sullivan tells us that upon creation of Homeland Security “…we were told the TSA…would succeed where the FAA had failed” in providing airport security.
Bogdan Dzakovic, former FAA Security Special Agent, tells the viewer, “Aviation security under FAA was virtually non-existent. Anybody could do virtually anything they wanted at any time they wanted, but TSA has taken things a step further. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
Please Remove Your Shoes chronicles air travel security in the 1990s, detailing several infamous terrorist hijackings, and reporting on the misuse (or non-dissemination) of “intelligence” both preceding them and following them—information that may have helped prevent future disasters.
The film is divided into two acts, the first being “FAA” and that deals extensively with the 1990s and events leading up to 9/11. Airport security was so lax that when the “red team” was sent in to various airports to test their screening procedures, 80-97% of the screenings failed to uncover weapons, including hand grenades and bombs. Also exposed is the failure rate of the CTX Machine designed to find explosives in luggage. Red Team members, attempting to be caught, packed huge amounts of explosives in their luggage—more than the machines allegedly needed to detect, and more than a terrorist would need to do his job—and 66-75% of the devices were missed by the screening machine. Okay, we all feel safer now.
Other problems with the FAA included its cozy relationship with the airlines. For example, the FAA “could only test specific items carried in certain ways” out of “fairness to the airlines.” It might be noted that most terrorists do not read Miss Manners or observe fairness-to-airlines etiquette.
Act two is “TSA” and details the Transportation Safety Administration’s failure to do much more than hire tens of thousands of people and spend billions of dollars. Scarily, upon its creation its management staff were transplants from the FAA—the same people who had been turning a blind eye and deaf ear to their people in the field who reported security problems.
Flyers are familiar with the reassuring uniforms and badges worn by TSA employees. Or, shall we say, “costumes” since TSA officers are not authorized to make arrests or use force (which is the responsibility of federal and local police officers). Much, much safer.
Many people appear in Please Remove Your Shoes, including federal marshals, FAA and TSA employees, legislators, reporters, and assorted “insiders.” If they comprised a grand jury, TSA would be indicted for fraud (providing “an elaborate face of security” instead of true security)
Please Remove Your Shoes reveals corruption, inaction, ignorance, indifference, secrecy, abuses of power—all of these at our expense in both economic terms and regard to our safety. It is a professionally made documentary providing the audience with a buffet for thought, and it relies on the opinions of many (although, as we have noted, not anyone officially speaking for the TSA). Especially noteworthy is the visual of a rusty bathtub slowly filling with water, then overflowing, representing the accumulation of information or “intelligence” prior to a terrorist incident (when the water hits the floor, so to speak). Information that we already know is not effectively shared.
Because TSA was reluctant to participate, Please Remove Your Shoes ends with suggestions from many of its contributors on how to make security and the TSA more effective. None are outrageous or inflammatory, although we suspect some people would take them that way.
There are no bonus features on Please Remove Your Shoes. It should be noted that it is not a “fun” expose à la Michael Moore; it is an appropriately serious, humorless treatment of its subject. For more information, visit the website.
Whether you support TSA or support changes to the way TSA operates, Please Remove Your Shoes offers absorbing insight into the current air travel safety situation.
Watch the trailer: