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'Please Remove Your Shoes' pans TSA, FAA

By Ed O'Keefe

Clip courtesy of Boston Aviation Services, Inc. in association with Black Pearl Productions

Many disgruntled workers file grievances with their union or write a letter to the editor, but a half dozen federal employees have turned to the big screen to raise concerns with the nation's airport security.

"Please Remove Your Shoes" uses the experiences of current and former employees of the Federal Air Marshals, Federal Aviation Administration and Transportation Security Administration to argue that FAA officials frequently turned a blind eye to significant security threats in the years before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The workers argue that lawmakers later compounded existing problems by reflexively establishing TSA.

"We took the same organizational template and same counterterrorist template verbatim and reapplied it under a new label and new people and threw some more money at it," said Fred Gevalt, the film's producer and a long time aviation industry observer. "But there are still some fundamental errors."

Gevalt and his team spent almost two years and “six figures” exploring the topic. The film debuts Wednesday evening at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington, less than a week after the Senate confirmed FBI Deputy Director John Pistole as TSA administrator.

Brian Sullivan, a retired FAA special agent who narrates the film, said Pistole’s experience with intelligence and counterterrorism will lend well to his new role. And the documentary, though slanted, could help balance his early perceptions of TSA.

"He’s going to come on board and TSA management will give him in briefings, but their presentations will be equally slanted in terms of putting the best foot forward," Sullivan said.

The FAA declined to comment, and TSA declined Gevalt's invitation to participate in the documentary.

"TSA is a young agency and many of the allegations raised in the film are past issues that have been long since addressed," said agency spokesman Greg Soule. "TSA has significantly improved aviation security following the tragic events of 9-11."

The film's central focus in airport security, but it also chronicles the struggles commonly faced by federal whistleblowers, including threats, demotions and reassignments to the graveyard shift for speaking out.

"Raising issues and challenging management’s position on security issues, it sidetracks your career," said Sullivan, who spent years alerting FAA officials and lawmakers of potential threats. He's irked by suggestions that the film is a televised airing of his grievances.

“When I saw the two planes flying into the World Trade Center, I knew what it was instantly," Sullivan said. "I cried, I felt like throwing up. I criticized myself, I said, 'What the hell is the matter with me? Am I so inarticulate? Do I not know how to write or speak? Why couldn’t I have prevented this? I’ve gotten over that, I know I did what I could."

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | June 29, 2010; 11:06 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Workplace Issues  
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Was there ever an investigation of airport security as part of 9/11? The airlines before 9/11 fought for control of airport security, and then spent as little as possible on it. Then they required victims of 9/11 seeking money from the victims fund to waive suing airlines for incompetent security. The airlines' first concern after 9/11 was that the inevitable enhanced security not inconvenience their frequent flyers. They fought tooth and nail to prevent the TSA from controlling the security lines, again with the sole purpose of coddling their frequent flyers, security be damned.

Will the airlines keep getting a free pass while the rest of us die?

Posted by: Garak | June 29, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

TSA is just security theater. Their measures have everything to do with inconvenience = sense of something being done, while the actual chances of preventing terrorism are not significantly reduced.

Most telling is the liquids restrictions, which was based on faulty intelligence that Scotland Yard has since retracted, is scientifically impossible, but has been imposed globally to annoy passengers. They also didn't prevent airports from taking advantage of the situation by trebling beverage prices behind the screeners.

Posted by: AxelDC | June 29, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Obama is too busy to bother with this as well as the border. New signs went up 80 miles North of the Mexico border that warns US Citizens that entering the desert is dangerous and that you may encounter illegals and drug cartel mules. LOL A terrorist only has to get to Mexico and walk across the border to do us harm. But look at it this way! In 2014 we will all have Obamacare and lower costs to pay our medical bills when the next terrorist succeeds!
Obama is a joke! The poll numbers keep falling as does all else around us! How is the "spread the wealth" working for you.

Posted by: usmc1969 | June 29, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Tired of the knee-jerk reactions by security. Failed liquids bombers, ban liquids. Failed shoe bomber, take off your shoes. failed underwear bomber...Hey! Maybe they did get some sense and draw the line at underwear inspections. The need is for proactive, premptive measures.

Posted by: careerfed33 | June 29, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Tired of the knee-jerk reactions by security. Failed liquids bombers, ban liquids. Failed shoe bomber, take off your shoes. failed underwear bomber...Hey! Maybe they did get some sense and draw the line at underwear inspections. The need is for proactive security measures. And a large dose of common sense.

Posted by: careerfed33 | June 29, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

We are seeing these same issues at Memphis International Airport:

Posted by: guycobb | June 30, 2010 12:48 AM | Report abuse

I think what angers me most about this particular column is TSA spokesmodel Greg Soule's (spokesman is too generous a title for a TSA public affairs person) assertion that TSA is a "young agency". Check out any quotes from TSA officials trying to dodge a criticism, and the "young agency" defense is trotted out time and again. Well, at what point in time does a federal agency transition from "young" to, well, "established"? Can anyone believe the agency is almost A DECADE old?? TSA is too old to have the number of personnel issues, such as screeners being threatened with on-the-spot termination for refusal of no-notice split shifts, no-notice overtime, getting to work only to be told, "it's slow today, go home", and the continuous turnover in leadership from the administrator's position, other senior management, mid-level management, right down to the screeners. While TSA has one of the worst morale issues in all the federal government, the turnover rate contributes to astronomical training costs. Do we REALLY want a constant stream of "new hires" performing the duties of keeping explosives off of airplanes? And did you know a CONTRACTOR performs much of TSA's on-boarding hiring process? What makes a contractor's employee qualified to read resume's and determine who is "best qualified" for the jobs advertised by TSA? I've personally seen highly qualified airline employees with extensive experience in aviation security be denied ENTRY LEVEL positions with TSA as "not qualified" - that's "not qualified" by a contractor's resume-reading employee, who's not qualified in the duties of the position being applied for. Additionally, many of these contractor employees are minimum wage unskilled employees who only scan applications and resumes for industry "buzz words". As a prime example of "security theater", one look no further than the terrorist watch lists. What does a person's name have to do with security??? If Osama bin Laden wanted to take his family to Disney World and they all went through security and were determined to be explosive-free, what threat are they to the airport, airplane, and their fellow passengers. NONE. Well, then why are we booting 8-year old girls off of flights because their name appears on a list of names? Enough of this silliness in the guise of a federal agency. The new administrator's first Job One should be to rebaseline this behemoth and get back to the basics - REAL security. Job Two should be to trim its bloated payroll, starting with a first-year position-by-position review of every employee making over $100,000 per year, followed by another review of employees making over $65,000 per year. Bloated payroll doesn't buy security.

Posted by: tcm_crew | June 30, 2010 5:39 AM | Report abuse

I fly a lot, and U.S. security is definitely all theater and no real security. All it does is add inconvenience and make flying miserable. Flying through Europe shortly after 9/11 I had no doubt that screeners knew exactly everything I had in my bag, they asked security questions that were not reflexive, and time spent was neglible--it was a rigorous but not onerous process.

Thanks to TSA, security is a complete waste and large inconvenience. The liquids rule is ridiculous, which anyone with a basic college science course should know. The inconsistency of the rules is also maddening: go through the metal detector with or without boarding pass, flip flops on or off, baby in arms ok or goes on. TSA security is exceedingly onerous but not at all rigorous.

Posted by: topicaltimely | June 30, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, these employees’ experiences are not out of the ordinary. In 2006, Robert MacLean blew the whistle on the Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Agency's (TSA) plan to improperly remove U.S. Air Marshals from long distance flights during a heightened terrorist alert. The TSA subsequently fired Mr. MacLean in flagrant violation of the law, retroactively labeling the information he disclosed as Sensitive Security Information. For four years now, Mr. MacLean has been fighting for the right to return to work.

His fight is not over. On May 12, 2010, administrative judge Franklin Kang at the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) sided with TSA, and upheld Mr. MacLean's termination. This is not surprising. In 2007, Judge Kang ruled in favor of federal employees ZERO times in 71 cases, and in 2008, federal employees prevailed ZERO times out of 68 cases. If you would like to help these federal employees who risk their careers to protect our safety and national security please send a letter to your members of Congress demanding full court access for all federal employees:

Posted by: lmw8 | June 30, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

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