Thursday, January 01, 2015

Please Remove Your Shoes (2010)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I remember when the TSA started taking over airport ’security’ from the FAA.  I knew it was going to be trouble.  I vaguely remember being able to greet people at the gate.  All of a sudden, we had to wait outside the terminal or go to baggage claim.  Then, one day, someone tried to use their shoe as a bomb.  Now, we all have to take our shoes off.  Someone figured out how to make explosives look like a water bottle.  Now, we can’t bring in anything over three ounces.  I’m not even sure where removing your laptop to be scanned separately came from.  It became obvious that the TSA was reactionary.

Well, someone decided to make a documentary about the obvious.  Several people are interviewed, each having varying exposure to the TSA.  Some are or were air marshals who were very good at their jobs.  They assessed and identified actual threats, but nothing was ever done.  In fact, we had a pretty good sense that 9/11 was going to happen.  Nothing came of the actionable intelligence that we had.

Part of the problem is that we have career bureaucrats running the TSA.  Before the TSA, the FAA was responsible for airport security.  A red team was assembled to test airport security.  Many airports had a failure rate in excess of 90%, meaning that their success rate was single digits.  (In some cases, it was as low as 3%.)  When a test was failed, the airport would argue technical aspects and have the test thrown out.  Rather than learn from mistakes, the FAA disbanded the red team, as they were proving too embarrassing.

So, the TSA is eventually formed in the hope of getting a fresh start and correcting many of the past mistakes.  What does the government feel is the best way to do this?  They hire law-enforcement personnel who are good at their jobs.  This makes sense.  Many of the air marshals that they hire are actually capable and do spot potential threats.    The problem is that they also hire back all of the bureaucrats from the FAA.  Many potential threats aren’t acted upon.

This is one of those cases where you shouldn’t be surprised by what the movie has to say.  Anyone who has flown in the past 20 years should have a vague sense of what the filmmakers have to say.  I’m not going to give away everything, but they do give examples of how the system has not only continued to fail, but has gotten worse.  It’s like the Benjamin Franklin quote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  The problem is that we’re having our liberty taken away, but not getting the safety in return.

Yes, the movie is a little out of date.  It was released in 2010, which means that the TSA has had three years to presumably improve.  The Web site, at, does have a news section, but it appears to be mostly general stuff, not necessarily relating to the TSA.  There’s also a section to stay updated, but I think it’s about the film itself rather than the content.  I’m not really sure if they give updates about the TSA.

I’d recommend watching the movie.  The only problem is that, as I said, we all know that the TSA is a joke.  George Carlin had it right when he said that airport security is all about the illusion of safety rather than actual safety.  We invest in technology that is either not used or is a failure.  We hire people that either don’t know what they’re doing or do know what they’re doing and aren’t listened to.  We basically took a broken system and replaced it with a dysfunctional system.

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