Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 24, 2010

“Why did the land of the free and the brave chicken out?”

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christopher Bellavita on August 24, 2010

In 2008, Fred Gevalt and his daughter Emelie flew around the country trying to find out why Americans tolerate the growing security state.

“We wanted to know why did the land of the free and the brave chicken out,” he told me.

The Gevalts focused especially on what happens at airports under the name of security.   They shared what they learned in a 94 minute film titled “Please Remove Your Shoes.”

You can see excerpts and get more information about the film and the people who made it by going to www.pleaseremoveyourshoesmovie.com.  Salon has a review here;  SecurityInfoWatch has a very thorough review here; the Wall Street Journal review is here, and the Washington Post review is here.


On the surface, the film appears to be about the security ineptitude of the FAA from the late 1980s through 2001 and the continuing problems of its genetically related TSA offspring.  The story is told through the eyes of whistleblowers, a few members of congress, newspaper and television reporters, and several other people in and around aviation security.

The film includes a review of several post 9/11 incidents that raise questions about the effectiveness of TSA and the safety of air travel.  It has an extended excerpt of Steven Bierfeldt’s chilling (and recorded) interaction in March 2009 with TSA and law enforcement officials at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport: was this reasonable suspicion or abuse of authority?


The film is not a political movie in a hatchet job way.  It is a political movie in the sense that it asks how much we are willing to put up with in the name of security; how we balance threat against consequences.

One of the people in the movie puts it this way:

“By sewing fear, Jihadist wield power out of all proportion to their numbers.  They threaten not just lives, but a way of life; fostering a paranoid mindset in which innocent travelers accept being bullied, harassed, and stripped of their constitutional rights. ….  [We]  still don’t have a system that is rational, effective and proportionate to the threat.  We continue to sacrifice our resources and freedoms for nothing more than an elaborate facade of security.”


In my view, the film’s TSA focus is as much macguffin as minotaur.  A central current of the film is how security has become a national shibboleth, something too sacred to question.

“Security has become too hot to touch,” Gevalt said during an interview.

“Congress is afraid to touch it. They just have to support it ad infinitum.  This is what frightens me.  The prospective budget for [security] is infinite.  It’s unbelievable.  And TSA is right in there.  The economy stinks. And we’ve got a bunch of guys [TSA] who, understandably, want to keep their jobs, hire more people, get bigger, get more important, get recognized.”

Gevalt says he and the others responsible for the movie have more to say than maybe what the film actually portrays.

“I’m not apologizing for it.  I think it’s a damn good movie.  But I think it’s necessary first to demonstrate that in many, many respects the system does not work. …. There’s a kind of naive expectation by the public that there is a statistical increase in [aviation security] because of TSA and homeland security.  And I just don’t think that’s true.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily the fault of TSA entirely.  I think it’s partly a function of the nature of the beast.  When you stop and think that we as a country lose 40,000 people a year to car accidents, 120,000 people a year to alcohol, and half a million to cigarette smoke — we haven’t forfeited all our personal liberties and we haven’t put ourselves into national bankruptcy over those three topics.  Yet look what we’re [spending] on security.

“The average is something like 104 people per annum from 1973 through 2001, including 9/11, that have died [from] terrorism [in the US].  That’s an extraordinary number, and I’m not going to suggest to the families of the 9/11 victims that [it’s not important].  But from a position of leadership, why are we doing this?  This is self flagellation.

“I think the bigger question is why are we throwing all this [security] money against the wall, with all the attendant employees, and gadgets, and policies and everything that comes with it.  It’s nuts.  It’s absolutely nuts.

That’s part of why I spent a good hunk of my nest egg [Gevalt financed the film himself] because I think we at least owe it to ourselves to think about it and talk about it.”

How does Gevalt think we can get out of the war on terror trap?

“Well, I think we start by looking at the statistical probabilities of death, doom and destruction right in the eye and try to make a cold blooded decision.”

In the world of homeland security, this is called risk management.

“But you can’t expect people in the business like TSA to think this way because it fundamentally undercuts what they are doing.”

I started to ask him if he thought TSA had improved over the years.  The movie closes with a dozen recommendations for improving aviation security.  Many have been implemented already.  The people in DHS I spoke with say the film mostly reports old news.

But whether TSA has improved or not is irrelevant to the larger point Gevalt is making.

“They probably have improved, but it’s kind of like saying ‘We need to fix this car over here, so we got a basketball team to help do it.  Don’t you think their drop shot is better than it used to be?’”


Why did Gevalt make this movie?  What does he hope it accomplishes?

“My hope is that someone in Washington knows what the point of all this is.  What are we doing here, at the strategic level?  What are we looking for?  What are we supposed to do?  What are we not supposed to do?  It would strike me that the biggest single problem that faces this agency [TSA] is whether or not they are operating as a deterrent or … to interdict.  Are they there to stop [a terrorist] or are they just there to shoe them away and have them go bomb the subway or something?”

The people at TSA I know are as serious about making sure flying is safe as are the whistleblowers and other critics in the movie.

Gevalt acknowledges that, but…

“How much are you willing to spend, how much should the government spend, how much does it make sense to spend in terms of time, employees, money, everything that costs you to build this kind of scarecrow?


“I gather you liked the movie?” Gevalt asked me at the end of the interview
“It’s not a movie you like or you don’t like,” I said.  “It’s a movie that you have to think about.”
“I’m glad it had that effect,” Gevalt said.  “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

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Comment by William R. Cumming

August 24, 2010 @ 5:17 am

Well the National Security State and its rise and constantly seeking the “tigers” out there is a logical outcome of a militarized government and foreign policy and foreign relations. We starve the thinkers and feed those who favor organized violence. That stated the basic flaw is the design of DHS. Its priorities are and have always been (and the rationale for its creation) WMD prevention and protection and response; cyber security; and domestic intelligence balanced against privacy and civil liberties concerns. Essentially we have given DHS very shallow and narrow leadership and perhaps that is because of the administrations they served. Largely shallow and lacking in leadership. This also of course goes for Congress also. The thoughtful members are soon discarded for the pest hunters–those who view their opposition as pests. And of course the totality of the corruption of money in politics and national security cannot be discarded as a cause. On top of this secrecy is in many ways protecting waste, fraud, and abuse. It also is fundamentally destructive of democracy in our Republic and instead of being carefully policed is allowed to develop a priest hood that continues to require human sacrifice to feed its power. So sounds like an interesting movie. Can it really be that this country cannot provide comprehensive transportation security without abusing those using that system? Let’s give TSA back to DOT and let the transportation experts, not the law enforcement community design the necessary systems and processes. And certainly don’t involve the Pentagon’s many wasteful contractors in the process. In fact if all DOD contractors had been prohibited from bidding (?) on DHS contracts perhaps we would have had more intelligent design of the Homeland Security effort. The SOCTUS has rules corporations are individuals and can give all the campaign contributions they wish to deliver, I argue okay but not if they are doing government contracts often earmarked for them by a corrupt Congress and not when they are buying that relationship by corruption of DOD entities like DCAA. By the way please note that Pakistan is seeking outside disaster relief assistance but China is not! My question is simple, can Homeland Security be reformed in the US?

Comment by John Comiskey

August 24, 2010 @ 5:34 am

Gevalt risk management analysis is mathematically correct. Buttttttttttttttttt!

In the public domain -public perception of government is not mathematicaly sensible. Government is expected to do everything it can to prevent bad things from happening.

Governments, at least governments that want to stay in power, cannnot say “well the risk is to your life is so low that we are going to discount it and essentially do little or nothing about.”

Terrorism has and continues to terrorize us. Is it possible to develop a “no matter what the terrorists do to us we will not be terrorized mindset?”

Philip Palin advocates resiliency as a grand strategy for counterterrorism and catastrophe mitigation. I like the idea ….I love it. I believe it starts with a sense of self reliance -an Emorsonian Self Reliance.

Emerson promoted the idea that people should fend for an help themselves in most situations. People can ask for and recieve help mostly in situations where they have demonstrated a good faith effort to deal with the matter at hand and find themselves in need of assistance from their neigbors and friends.

The current operating picture is a near nanny state. People, in general, are conditioned to government telling them what to do and providing for their every need from the cradle to the grave.

Security and particularly homeland security does not happen in the abstract -it has consequences.

TSA asks people to take off their shoes and other intrustions because bad people sometimes:

1. Put explosive devices in their shoes
2. Put explosives devices in their water bottles
3. Put explosice devices in their underwear
4. Put explosives in their recutms
5. Are thinking about where they will put their explosive devices tomorow.

Comment by John Comiskey

August 24, 2010 @ 5:39 am

[ommitted continuation from above post]

Gevalt’s criticisms are not without merit. TSA can and should do better. I believe they are trying and like most large bureacracies; they are hamstrung by the ineptitudes of bureacracy itself.

The American people can do a better job too -homeland security is a shared resonsibility.

Comment by ~

August 24, 2010 @ 8:03 am

Everybody starts playing what-if. It gets to a point where they forget they are playing what-if. The people not playing what-if want to scream. It’s more likely they will quietly say what-the-hell is going on here. I’m having bacon and nothing for breakfast. I was going to produce eggs at home. Zoning issues killed that plan. I still have the chicken wire. What-can I do with it? Check with DOA agents or FDA people. It’s up or down depending on the figures. Wall Street is playing what-if with OPM aka bailout funds.

The power to tax is the power to destroy as Justice Marshall explained. The more capable will get the rewards of mediocrity and the laggards, by government action, will live in comfort and luxury. That’s not security, that’s AIG and GM. My money is heading for Florida tax free. People are signing up to get on the BP dole. Tiger is out of $100 million and who’s to blame? Got a mirror?

Comment by ~

August 24, 2010 @ 8:23 am

Of mice and men.
The mushrooms grown in crap are safer than the eggs grown in chickens. The chickens are eating mouse crap. We’re going to be eating rat stew the way it’s going and told it tastes like chicken. You can’t eat the Gulf fish. You’ll be served nothing and chips. Tastes like crap. Shake a leg.

Comment by ~

August 24, 2010 @ 8:50 am

Disarmament is against human nature. In other words, you got my arms and now I’m going to tear off your legs. You are going to lose your heads too. Like a chicken, you’ll run around for a little while before dropping dead. I’ll eat your lunch for you. Fixed bay-o-nets time to think about it. You can watch yourself running around like a headless chicken. Build more zip guns and examine your zippers. Velcro flies.

Comment by ~

August 24, 2010 @ 9:12 am

The subhumans wanted my arms. Next on the chopping block will be the submarines. They’ll wish they were dead instead of the living dead. It’s your nightmare, not mine. Being second best is dangerous, being second amendment is safe. Some people are a danger to themselves. That’s their problem. Load some bird shot and shoot to thrill. The birds won’t be thrilled. Bunch of ghouls and goons running the circus we call government. Evil like poison has it’s uses though. You going to take my pen too? It’s a rough game.

Comment by A Broken America

August 25, 2010 @ 8:30 am

We have unfortunately sold our soul to the Goldman Sachs folks, the bankers and all led by the “elitists” whether Democrat or Republican, all in the stew with you Mr. Presidemt et al strking the fire….

Stay out of Cambridge Police business and stay out of New York and abusing your office to support your open embrace of the Muslim. Like other Americans, the American Muslim like my family of American Hellenes, fund it appalling that you would weigh in on the side of a mosque contrary even to the Koran and the sensitivity towards other it teaches….

Go back to your Chucago community work so you can dwell on the past and incite more disharmony on the streets rather than globally using your present “elected” service to the same public with majority saying “no’ to mosque and “no” to comprehensive healthcare reform which like your stimulus package will all fail and place this nationa dnts good people in much jeopardy…much disharmony from within….

Unfortunately, we have lost. As Germany rises, so too will America and our beloved Republic fail.

“The land of the free and the brave” – a memory. The reality is in the numbers and in not adhreing to scripture and a Judeo-Christian way of Life, but rather, greed, arrogance, a lust for power all subjecting us to te reality of today, at least $13trillion in deficit, foreclosures up, the President’s failure to produce jobs, to assuer that banks would follow through on home loan modifications and an agenda by both sides of the aisle inherent with corruption and indifference to nation and its people contrary to the pledge when taking office and “entrusted” to stand tall for fellow human being.

As an international business development consultant for many years with numerous respected global networks from east to west, in recent years particularly, I have watched the Chinese do whatever necessary to secure resources for the future, gather these resources like squirals gather nuts and stock for the winter, while the rest of the world is so handicapped and dysfunctional especially in its lack of “resilience” its inability to allow another to follow religious doctrine without criticism and even killing another for his Christian beliefs for instance….

While China builds its railway from the east voast of Africa to thwe west, where as te companies I represent try to secure “humanitarian” funding in loan to address much needed infrastructure requirements in “wastewater and water purification” project developments in a 21st century world where some 1 billion souls do not have access today toa clean glass of weter, I see the Chinese gathering its resources as rail cars move back and forth across Africa and from port to port globally as its stocks away at least fifty years of stockpiling to take care of its people…

The west, in its ongoing “generational” religious strife has failed. It dysfunction apparent. Where are the jobs Mr. Pres? Where are the promised dictate to your pals at Goldman Sachs, all directly or indirectly a part of your administration, the bankers – the thieves “Mr. Barney” and “Smug-smiled Pelosi” allowed to push and push for stimulus monies while the first $750 billion – that’s billion – was and still is “unaccounted for” – Homeland Security?

Homeland Security was seen as necessary by our forefathers who warned us not only of folks like the “Brutes of Tehran” and the “KGB putinites” as I reference these thugs capable of any dastardly deed against humanity, but Homeland security from within.

Goldman Sachs, “Mr. Barney” “Smug-smiled Pelosi” Uncle Teddy and his better than thou “healthcare know it all” when Americans – we heer at the coffee shop – said, no, we do not want a complete overhaul of healthcare, we do not want a mosque built at Ground Zero or anywhere near it – tere are 100 mosques in New York…enough is enough…

“Brave and the Free” – we have been duped and are now enslaved in poverty…millions and millions of those who will retire soon, babyboomers who will not be able to retire, but out of work, losing family and “stuff” all cause of the special intersts of a corrupt Congress and big business – our families are being raped, ripped apart, SAmerican children subjected to disharmony in the home as financial burdens and loss of work cause argumentative and even dangerous domestic environment, but heck, who cares for the “good old beltway fellas” who we “entrusted” as the free and brave professing the right to vote, to ask those supposedly dedicated to public service to make the right decisions…

Ya, right…decisions to support self-agenda and to snub your nose like Uncle Johnny Kerry and his Wife who duped the State he represents out of taxes and caught in the act!

What arrogance, what condescending views towards those less fortunate and oh, how big the fall as we as a nation, our beloved America, once the beacon of hope to so, so many, freeing the world and ridding the scum of the Nazis and others and no disabled, dysfunctional and so riddled with both sides of the aisle do whatever necessary to position itself to take from the people more and more, just as happened when our forefathers left the King and England to be free and brave!

Where should we go looking for ur over 55 community – my inclination for most in recommending China where at least you will have food and water as this is a certainty and no one dare challenge China for it knows ahow to assert itself and stand up, not like the west which again blinked its eyes as Russia and Iran turned on the switch this past week which will certainly not bode well for the sustance in harmony and global security in the month ahead – watch the Germans closely, history in the west is about to again show man’s failings….

We are at great peril and maybe more so from within for the Goldman Sachs fellas tied to this administration directly and indirectly, even this last appointment of Kagan to Surpreme Court and to both sides of the aisle, the bankers have stolen the monies and the “Cambridge Harvard elitists” truly believe that they are above all, however rumor of War will become reality, floods, earthquakes, fire, and so much more are quite clear as to how mankind and his inability to tolerate difference, to afford one another dignity and respect even despite difference of perspective, violence as an option, self-fulfillment and outright dysfunctional ignorance even in this 21st century spells doom and gloom as right at the moment, million and millions of Americans and more to come shortly will have lost all, family, children, Love, dignity and so very much as the “elistists” care little of this, yet they, too Mr. President will be affected and join 20 million, 20 million Pakistanies, a million Haitians, homes lost, family losses and so on and so forth…this week in China, 94,000 displaced becaise of floods –

Put down the Koran at the White House Barry and staffers and pick up the Bible and read biblical scripture for all the answers have the “transparency” to understand reality as it unfolds today.

My Mother talekd about the “soup lines” on Washington Street here in Boston and how as a little girl, she did not like havingto walk by men in line, blocks long, waiting for a small cup of soup and a bit of bread. In those days, at least they had a cip of soup and a bit of bread…eighty years later or so, “the brave and free” subjected to enslavement and poverty, unless you move to the 55 and older proposed developments in China, I truthfully wonder if Goldman Sachs and the “good ‘ol beltway fellas” care much other than for themselves…

God Bless us all and especially to the those who we thank for their service and those that truly understood what understood what the kand of the fre and brave really meant as they trudged through mud and watched their buddies faces blown away….to assure that government by the people and for the people would prevail…

God Bless America!

Christopher Tingus
aka Citizen Joe

PO Box 1612
Harwich, MA 02645

Comment by history detective

August 27, 2010 @ 5:26 am

A while back the men were hunting and the wolves were howling. How many wolves do you suppose there are? A couple dozen. They found them sitting on a bluff, all two of them. They are like Washington bureaucrats. It always sounds like there are more of them than there really are. They do less harm than the Washington lobbyists and straw men.

WASHINGTON — For the first time in at least 12 years, the Birmingham Airport Authority is without a federal lobbyist, a decision that saved $120,000. “We’re handling that in-house now,” said President and CEO …
Everything Alabama Blog

The out-house solution was expensive. All savings and no lobbyists. If this is a trend, the savings could amount to millions of dollars and that’s a bunch of straw. Build chicken coop out-houses for the mice, so they don’t crap in the chicken feed and ruin the eggs. The egg lobby is busy.


August 28, 2010 @ 8:17 am

STATESVILLE, N.C. – “Authorities say a man who was waiting with several friends for a “ghost train” from a North Carolina legend was killed when a real train came down the tracks.

Iredell County Sheriff Phil Redmond says 29-year-old Christopher Kaiser of Charlotte was killed about 2:45 a.m. Friday as he waited with friends at a railroad trestle.”

They can run silent. Unlike submarines they can’t run deep. I was working on a machine shop and the train ran silent. The machinery came from a U.S. Navy battleship. They’re turning the wheels and axles. Death Valley Express I guess. When working a case, don’t end up in the case. We have some blue-green ghosts in Malvern, PA. It’s a very cold case.

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