Q&A: Interview with producer of a documentary on airport security

The documentary takes a look at the security system's failings.
The documentary takes a look at the security system's failings. (Boston Aviation Services Inc.)
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Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 13, 2010; 12:08 PM

To fly in the post-9/11 world, travelers practically have to imitate striptease artists, kicking off shoes, tossing coats into bins, even unfastening metal belt buckles hoping that gravity is looking the other way. But in the new documentary "Please Remove Your Shoes," the roles are reversed: U.S. airport security is disrobed before our critical eyes. And it looks pretty bad in this naked state. The film interviews a host of experts - federal air marshals, a Federal Aviation Administration employee, a Transportation Security Administration screener, a passenger interrogated for carrying a metal box full of money, etc. - who divulge the oversights and ineptitudes that riddle the system. To dig deeper into the plot, staff writer Andrea Sachs spoke by phone with Fred Gevalt, former publisher of the Air Charter Guide and the film's executive producer. Excerpts:

What inspired you to make this movie?

I'm 64, a Vietnam vet, so I've been around. I was flying my own airplane into New York the morning of 9/11 and felt part of the event. I watched TSA be created too quickly. They were a little too big for their britches from the get-go, and they have gotten worse. When I sold my business in 2006 and retired, I decided it would be interesting to do this project.

The interviewees did not hold back. Were they eager to tell their stories?

I think most of them were. This is an important topic, and from their standpoint, they were frustrated guys. They'd been trying to do their job, and the government wouldn't let them do it.

Were you surprised by the flaws in airport security?

I was surprised at the extent of it and the kind of wholesale obstructionist quality to a lot of the management. The sort of stuff like putting federal air marshals to work washing the fleet out back. [In the movie, after being accused of being a whistleblower, one federal air marshal, P. Jeffrey Black, was grounded and ordered to clean company vehicles.] So much of this stuff is Kafkaesque and Catch-22: Dig me a 10-foot hole over there and when you're done, fill it up.

You shot a lot of footage in airports. Did you have easy access to these locations?

Not initially, but as soon as I pulled out a checkbook, not a problem. Reagan and Dulles ironically were the most straightforward, the easiest to deal with and the least expensive. Logan [Boston's airport] was difficult. But if you belly up to the bar and say you're willing to pay for this, then all doors open up.

Which security-related issues do you find particularly worrisome?

The uniforms that TSA screeners use frustrate me, because there are a lot of agencies that regard these guys as tin cops. They are mismanaged and in many cases unmanaged.

Any others?

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