Movie review: Please Remove Your Shoes

A new documentary on TSA and FAA failures opens up the bigger questions about aviation security challenges

July 1, 2010 - It's not a summer blockbuster with Hollywood starlets and hunks, but the new documentary Please Remove Your Shoes from executive producer Frederick Gevault takes a sobering look at persistent issues of safety and security in the U.S. aviation system. The film is being released just as John Pistole takes over the position of TSA Administrator, and perhaps the movie's exposing of failures can help galvanize Pistole and the new TSA into improving air security.

The documentary (watch the trailer), which is now available for purchase at, is designed to be a revelation of the mishaps and failings of both the pre-9/11 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the subsequent creation of a behemoth organization with more than 50,000 employees - the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The stories of these two U.S. Government organizations are told through the eyes and experiences of several whistle blowers, two U.S. Senators, one Washington Times reporter, and a key official of the U.S. government's General Accountability Office (GAO).

The trials and tribulations of the whistle blowers are the central theme designed to illustrate the failings of these organizations. A number of well known failures are used in the documentary -- ranging from the PAA 103 disaster of December 21, 1988, to the 1994 hijacking of the Air France Airbus and its subsequent termination by a French Special assault team in Marseille, to the Bojinka plans by Ramzi Yousef and his terrorist team in Manila in late 1994 and early 1995, the devastating 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, down to the present day attempt to bomb NWA/Delta Flight 253 by the underwear bomber on December 25, 2009. Much is made of the alleged NWA flight 327 probe by the Syrian band flying from Detroit to Los Angeles on June 29, 2004 which was largely discredited by later reviews and by the TSA Air Marshals on board the flight.

The failures of the several government agencies in most of these incidents already have been thoroughly investigated by a variety of official and unofficial organizations and groups and made public in reports and Congressional hearings, and none of these reports will give any great comfort to any airline passenger or to the general public. Nor will this documentary provide the flying public any comfort, but far from being redundant, Please Remove Your Shoes does provide additional information not available in these public reports. The behind-the-scenes revelations by the whistle blowers give credibility to complaints of sloppy aviation security procedures and alleged willful negligence by FAA and TSA officials.

Of course, if one is to believe the allegations in the documentary, then one has to accept the revelations by the whistle blowers at face value - without any in-depth knowledge about the individual whistle blower, his motivations or intentions. To their credit, all appear sincere in their assertions, and in at least one instance, an individual's claim of warning the FAA of impending attacks is well documented.

The documentary alleges several times that FAA managers made gross errors or failed to act on known failures of the pre-9/11 aviation security screening of passengers and their personal articles. In the film, whistle blowers cite statistics that the pre-9/11 screening system failed to detect guns, knives, explosives (or simulated explosives) as much as 90 percent of the time. One individual stated in the film that some procedures were successful in detecting these test articles only 3 percent of the time. These same individuals revealed that the tests were totally unrealistic because of the conditions imposed on them by their FAA supervisors, conditions affected by the whims and complaints made by the airlines which were responsible for the screening. In other words, even with unrealistic testing protocols the failures to detect the test articles were enormous. One U.S. Senator backhandedly confirmed the enormity of these detection failures of the pre-9/11 aviation security screening system that was being run by U.S. airlines. The whistle blowers allege that their complaints to FAA supervisors and managers did not result in the adoption of their recommended changes to their testing regimen.

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