Michael's Dispatches

Border Bullies


The Department of Homeland Security in Action
04 January 2009

A Thai friend with whom I have traveled in Europe and Asia took time off from her job to meet me in Florida over the holidays.  This was a good time for me, as it was between reporting stints in the war. My friend, Aew, had volunteered to work with me in Afghanistan or Iraq, but I declined because many people around me get shot or blown up.  So we were looking forward to spending some vacation time together.  She comes from a good family; and one that is wealthier than most American families.  She didn’t come here for a job.  Well-educated, she has a master's degree and works as a bank officer in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Aew was excited about the prospect of visiting America for the first time, though she had traveled to many other countries and had the passport stamps to prove it.  She had no problem getting a U.S. visa, and she was paying her own way to fly.

Problems began when she entered the airport in Bangkok.  Aew had a one-way ticket to America, because we would travel back in the direction of the war before she would go home, but we did not know our exact itinerary, so she hadn't bought a round-trip ticket back to Thailand.  Before boarding the flight from Thailand to America, Northwest Airlines required Aew to buy a return ticket for 53,905 Thai bhat, or about $1,200 for a return ticket, else they would not let her board the flight.  Aew paid by her credit card and pushed on.  Understandably, it raises suspicions when a foreign national doesn't have a round-trip ticket in an age of massive illegal immigration -- even if that person is an educated professional with a home and career, and even though Aew has a ten-year visa to the United States.  Nevertheless, Aew paid approximately $1,200 for the return ticket, and so now had a return ticket. 

That is how it began.  She boarded the jet, eventually landed in Japan and then Minneapolis, before the final leg to Orlando.  While thousands of people have canceled trips to Orlando due to the failing economy, Aew was coming with cash to spend in Florida.  We would go to Disney, Kennedy Space Center and many other places; she'd be seeing the sights while I was meeting with military and other people in preparation for my upcoming return to Afghanistan for the long year ahead. 

I first met Aew in Indonesia during a break from the Iraq war.  I had gone to visit the site of the murder of my friend Beata Pawlak, who, along with about two hundred other people, was killed in a terrorist attack on the island of Bali.

After meeting in Indonesia, Aew and I stayed in touch.  We traveled at different times to Singapore, Great Britain, Thailand and Nepal.  Yet when Aew landed in Minneapolis, she was hustled away by an immigration officer.  After approximately 24 hours of exhausting travel, Aew was detained for about 90 minutes without cause, and as a result, she missed her connecting flight to Orlando.  She was brought into a small room where she saw a camera peering down.  The officer conducting the shakedown wore a name tag: "Knapp."  Five times she had traveled to China with zero problems, but Knapp grilled Aew with a long series of questions, rifling through her wallet, handling her credit cards and reading them carefully, questioning her piece by piece.  Her passport, thick with extra pages, showed stamps from countries around the world.  It contained the valid U.S. visa, and stamps and visas from countries she had traveled to, such as Great Britain, Japan, China, Nepal, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Brunei, New Zealand and Cambodia.  She had traveled to some of these countries on multiple occasions, always paying her own way.  She never had problems.  Not even in China.  We had toured Parliament together in London, on a private expedition led by Member of Parliament Adam Holloway.  Aew was very interested to see the Royal Family, and was beside herself when I met Lady Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, who at that time read this website.  The British, including military officers, had treated her very well and she left with positive memories of Great Britian.

But that was Great Britain.  The American shakedown was just starting.  Her sister, Puk, was sending me SMS messages from Thailand, worried that Aew seemed to have disappeared.  I had bought Puk's daughters, North and Nurse, who are 8 and 9, a "talking globe" so they could track the travels of their Aunt Aew.  The last time I saw North and Nurse, we had taken them to the Chiang Mai zoo, and also to an elephant camp where the elephants paint.  Puk's husband, Bey, is a high-ranking Thai police officer who, as part of his duties, helps organize security for the Thai Royal Family. 

While the U.S. Immigration officer named Knapp rifled through all her belongings, Aew sat quietly.  She was afraid of this man, who eventually pushed a keyboard to Aew and coerced her into giving up the password to her e-mail address.  Officer Knapp read through Aew's e-mails that were addressed to me, and mine to her.  Aew would tell me later that she sat quietly, but “Inside I was crying.”  She had been so excited to finally visit America.  America, the only country ever to coerce her at the border.  This is against everything I know about winning and losing the subtle wars.   This is against everything I love about the United States.  We are not supposed to behave like this.  Aew would tell me later that she thought she would be arrested if she did not give the password.

The Government of the United States was reading the private e-mails of a U.S. citizen (me).  The Department of “Homeland Security” was at work, intimidating visitors with legitimate visas.  They had at least 24 hours to check her out before she landed in the United States.  What kind of security is this?  The Department of Homeland Security was at this moment more like the Department of Intimidation.

Officer Knapp called my phone as I was driving to the Orlando airport.  I was going to be there two hours early to make sure I would be on time, so that she had a warm welcome to my country.  But instead, Knapp was busy detaining Aew in Minneapolis and was on my cell phone asking all types of personal questions that he had no business asking.  Sensing that Aew was in trouble, I answered his questions.  Mr. Knapp was a rude smart aleck.  The call is likely recorded and that recording would bear out my claims.  This officer of the United States government, a grown man, had coerced personal information from a Thai woman who weighs 90 pounds.  I asked Aew later why she gave him the e-mail password, and she answered simply, "I was afraid," and “I thought I would be arrested.”

What could I say to alleviate any of this?  Could I say, "This is the U.S., nothing to be afraid of."?  The world already sees us as senseless bullies.  Aew might have been detained indefinitely; even I was concerned that the Department of Homeland Security might detain Aew for no reason.  Essentially, she had no rights.  They had already coerced her e-mail password out of her head through intimidation.

This does not make me feel safe: Our Homeland Security was focusing on a 40-year-old Thai bank officer while there are real bad guys out there. Thailand and the United States have had good relations for 175 years, and Thailand is one of the few countries in the world that is proud to say they are friends of the United States.  There are no threats to Americans from Thai people -- who, among other relevant things, are mostly not Muslims.  The King of Thailand was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard.  I have never seen the King with a gun; only a camera.  His 2009 New Year’s speech was also a call for peace.  The King and his family helped bring widespread education to Thailand, which created a special problem.  Today there are large numbers of highly educated, successful women looking for highly educated men.  I remember General (ret.) McCaffrey, our former drug Czar, telling me a couple of years ago that the King of Thailand was incredibly important in wiping out opium poppies in Thailand.  The King of Thailand is highly respected by the government of the United States.  He is a very good man. 

During World War II, when the Japanese encouraged the Thai people to fight us, the Thai government actually declared war on the United States and Great Britain.  But the Thai Ambassador in Washington refused to deliver the declaration of war.  The upshot was that the United States refused to declare war on Thailand, and the Thai people formed a resistance against the Japanese.

Thai people refused to fight Americans.  Instead, they attacked the Japanese.  Has our government had problems recently with 90-pound, 40-year-old Thai women?  Do they blow things up?  Aew doesn’t even know how to light a match.  She doesn’t smoke or drink, and is more upright than your average southern Baptist.  She can’t even curse and gets upset if she hears me say a bad word about someone.  “Michael!” she says, “Don’t say that!” 

When I discovered that she had missed her flight, after about 24 hours of travel thus far, I called immigration at Minneapolis and asked to speak with Officer Knapp.  Knapp got on the phone, but this time it was me questioning him.  Knapp told me it was legal to read e-mails.  I asked for his first name, but he was afraid to give his first name, which was rather strange for someone working within the confines of an airport where everyone has been searched for weapons.  Where I work, in a war zone, soldiers give their first and last names and face Taliban and al Qaeda heads up, man to man.  I write about al Qaeda, Taliban and other terrorist groups who kill thousands of people.  My name is Michael Yon.  My first name is Michael.  Mr. Knapp hides behind a badge bullying a woman whose only activities are Yoga, reading, travel, and telling me what is healthy and unhealthy to eat.  Knapp is a face of Homeland Security.  How many other officers at Homeland Security bully 90-pound women, but are afraid to give their own names? 

Knowing that Homeland Security officers are creating animosity and anxiety at our borders does not make me feel safer.  How many truly bad guys slip by while U.S. officers stand in small rooms and pick on little women?

I have just returned from Afghanistan and Iraq on a trip with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and I can assure you that we can do better.  We do not have to violate human rights and insult our closest allies to maintain our security. 

Meanwhile, Aew had missed two flights; standby seats were full on the second flight, and I was considering flying from Florida to Minneapolis to get her myself.  I did not want Aew to have to sleep in the airport overnight.

I had intended to show Aew a bit of my country.  But it's taking a little while for her to get over her discomfort at being in America.  She was treated better in China.  So was I.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Stew Greathouse · 13 years ago
    The same thing happened to my wife (then my fiancee) when she came to visit me prior to my deployment in 200 . In her case, however, she 'agreed to withdraw her request to enter' and had to buy a ticket back to Singapore. It caused no end of trouble after we got married and I wanted to bring her back to the US. It was nearly a year from our wedding in Singapore until she was able to bring join me here. I estimate that single incident cost me $5k in lawyer fees alone while I was filling out the paperwork to acquire her visa.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tim Grubbs · 13 years ago
    Mike, I read your postings all the time and only wish I was able to be as involved as you are in the betterment of our country and it's rich history. All the while I read this posting, I could only shake my head and acknowledge the experience of poor Aew, knowing full well the guttural and misguided intentions of people misplaced into positions of power. I pray she does and did have a better experience of America than Knapp... I pray we all can overlook the Knapps in our society.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    bondo · 13 years ago
    Its really amazing that people can just walk over the border, yet at the airport your Homeland "Secruity" acty like the stazi. A pox on this coward called Knapp.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    kimchilover · 13 years ago
    What can we do?
    I understand that months ago HS opened their website to comments and were inundated with complaints.
    And yet these sorts of things continue to happen.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Matt Delventhal · 13 years ago
    Thanks for sharing, that is discouraging. Let's hope we can sort these things out over the next few years. Our nation is young yet.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brooks Imperial · 13 years ago
    One can only imagine how much worse the scrutiny would have been had your friend been a 90 year-old grandmother or some similar threat to our national security. Much of the rest of the world understands America a hell of a lot better than many Americans do. I'm glad you publicized this bad actor and hopefully he will be removed from his position of authority.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chris Garrity · 13 years ago
    I can almost bet what you wanted to do to that guy. I would have to agree. However, considering I've only been to Germany for my outside travels of the US, that is really... pathetic to hear. What was the guys reason? Or anyone's reason to detain her?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    HomefrontSix · 13 years ago
    I am so sorry that your friend was treated in such an awful manner. I hope that she eventually made it to Florida and that the rest of her trip was thoroughly enjoyable. I also hope that you (and she) were able to track down this Agent Knapp and file a complaint that carried with it severe repercussions.

    Thank you for all that you do, Michael.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mrs N · 13 years ago
    It is a shame this one person in a position of power could give your friend this horrible impression of our country. Please explain to your friend that not all Americans are like this maggot Mr Knapp. As she travels in our country I am sure she will find out what we all know is true- Americans are a warm and welcoming people-
    God Bless You and your friend
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill Smith · 13 years ago
    Knowing you, Michael, this Lady is probably quite attractive, and well-dressed, the sort of Lady a guy like you describe would never be able to spend time with any other way. I think he was just getting his jollies going through her stuff, and reading the private emails you two exchanged.

    Since the American Consulate or Embassy surely had ALREADY VETTED her for her TEN YEAR VISA, Mr. Knapp had better have a really good reason for what he did. Alas, you may be told that there are certain secret reasons why she was perceived as a potential threat dumb enough to carry incriminating information in her laptop, but smart enough to be a world travelled business woman. BTW, was he alone with her in that little room that whole time? Oh, it's OK, there's video, right?

    This country is is ZERO danger from this type of traveler, but we ARE in danger of discouraging this type of traveler, and losing their business, and good opinion of us which, I assure you, will go around the world to similar influential business people she knows, and they know, and they know at the speed of email. We do not seem to try too hard to discourage uneducated, frequently disease carrying, frequently criminal illegal aliens.

    I am sure there are superb attorneys who are regular readers of your site. Perhaps they can share their thoughts.

    Please tell Aew that we are not all like that fellow, and that we appreciate her country's letting us have several vital military bases, and other installations on Thai soil.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Maggie45 · 13 years ago
    Another bully in a position of power. I can just imagine how many other people he's pulled this on, who don't have a friend named Michael Yon. I wince whenever I see the words "Homeland Security".
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Butcher · 13 years ago
    Last April I drove from San Diego to Texas to visit my father. The Border Control stops me at a checkpoint in Arizona and the officer asks me where I was born, where I'm going, and where I'm coming from. I was born in Texas and, last I checked, law enforcement officers need probable cause of a crime to stop and interrogate you. It's a Fourth Amendment thing that some of us fifty-somethings actually remember. They even had drug-sniffing dogs check each vehicle!

    We were in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, so I dared not talk back - he could have gotten a search warrant faxed, stripped my car to a pile of bolts, and left me and my dog in a dangerous desert environment. It turns out that the Border Patrol and the local Arizona sheriff have a racket where they bust Californians crossing into Arizona with a few joints and then shake people down for thousands in fines and legal fees. I'm against drugs, but I do cherish that Fourth Amendment - and my right to travel wholly within the United States without police interrogation where no probable cause of a crime exists.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill Calvin · 13 years ago
    Perhaps you friend should have been a Saudi male carrying a box cutter, the mindless government worker drone would have waved her straight through.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Howard E. Morseburg · 13 years ago
    Sounds more like a guy in a power position who is "on the make" and this is his method of operating. It's not uncommon. Bet he's been using this technique for quite awhile, and ten to one he's married.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sam Freedom · 13 years ago
    Michael, I always know that when I open one of your articles, something either of great importance, or enriching value, is going to be within and, once again, you proved me right. ;-)

    I'm very sad to hear what happened to your friend Aew. Please let her know that most of us do not treat people that way and to please try to enjoy her stay here. While what the agent did was unacceptable, some margin of both error and misbehavior is to be expected. If only we were perfect.

    That being said, it doesn't let the agent off the hook.

    Why not post us some detailed contact information where we might register our concern with the appropriate officials? Thanks so much for you diligence and commitment. I will write about this to my MySpace readership and point them here this week.

    Thanks again,
    Sam Freedom
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tracy White · 13 years ago
    I'm truly sorry she had to learn how much we have fallen as a people.
    TSA has been broken for a long time.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alec Rawls · 13 years ago
    I think we can be certain that when it comes to angry young Muslim men from terror producing states, no such interrogation would occur or be tolerated. If interrogating people who there is no reason to suspect is to demonstrate that we do not profile, the flip side of that coin is NOT interrogating who there IS reason to suspect.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    pdwalker · 13 years ago
    The Department of Homeland Security needs to be abolished.

    You should be contacting your politicians by mail or fax and let them know.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ScottA · 13 years ago
    Ma'am, if you are reading you have my heartfelt apology. That is not what my country is supposed to be about. My apologe to you Ma'am. I hope we as a people can make it up to you in some way.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Eric Mowrey · 13 years ago
    Mike, I was very distressed to read your article on HS and mister (with a small m) Knapp. I am an expat living in Europe and have a few European friends who won't travel to the US again for reasons very similar to your unfortunate friend. However, it is my opinion that worms like Mr. Knapp are allowed to "work" for homeland security, in the manner they do, because the agency is run by career idiots who set policy, or even worse, don't set policy and let people like Mr. Knapp abuse their authority.

    HS got off to a bad start when the first Bush appointment to head up the department insisted on the politically correct approach to vetting US air travelers, resulting in practices so inane that eventually Ann Coulter dedicated a column to ridicule the man and cut his department to shreds. He has since resigned, but it appears his legacy of stupidity and arrogance lives on in a department that employs nasty little garden dwarfs like Mr. Knapp.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Klimczak · 13 years ago
    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/archive/t- 05 11.html

    Perhaps there is an environment in Minn/St.Paul that breeds this type of behavior.
    There was very little to find about a "Mr. Knapp" in Minneapolis, but one Knapp is the Asst. Sec. to the Deputy Director, I think. Perhaps he was deflecting, using a high-profile name he knew within the agency to cover his own.

    This thread is reprinted from the original, which now requires a password. I'm sure some out there have better resources to track this kind of incident, but here's a start.

    There is no hope of 'everyday' individuals being able to correct this type of injustice, but en-mass, and through higher profile names and organizations, we might be able to slowly clean and heal the wounds like these that we've inflicted on our good reputation.

    Should this ever get around to the Offensive Little Mr. Knapp...your actions make it much more difficult for me to hold my head high as an American when around those from the rest of the World Community.

    Regret, Regards, and Best Wishes to you and Aew, Michael.

    Scott Klimczak
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Linda from Bama · 13 years ago
    These low creeps on the totem pole get off on the power their badges give them and do things like they did to your friend but they sit on their fat butts and just let young men who fit the terrorist profile pass by and they let millions of illegals flow across our borders and into our country. And a hell of a lot of these illegals are criminals and I'd bet a few mean to do this country harm.

    They pull people like your friend and people like the elderly gentleman who won the Congressional Medal of Honor aside and give them a hard time. I mean gimme a break! Some elderly guy from WWII with the highest military honor this country hands out and who got that medal and probably a whole hell of a lot more for doing something byond heroic and was probably wounded in the process is what? Gonna use his cane or walker or even.....GASP worse his Medal of Honor to take over the plane? Geez.

    Seriously I think the applications for ANY personnel in airports have a section marked "Check this if you are a stupid a'hole". If ya check it then BINGO! you get the job. It's probably right next to where they check that they also have criminal records and aren't legal US citizens.

    I have flown and seen them pull aside an elderly woman who looked 90 if she was a day. Sure all the people on 9/11 were all white, 90 year old females. (Rolling eyes) Michael betcha you've run into a bunch from that seniors group in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't ya? (wink)

    I got pulled at the airport on Kauai, Hawaii while coming back because of the metal in my bra straps. I even offered to take the damn thing off and let the hooters free for all to see and go back through the detector braless.......but also no that wasn't gonna happen. I had to stand there for 20 mins with my hands held out while a trainee would say "Okay I'm going to have to touch under your breasts now." and every time she'd repeat that I'd say, "Honey you go ahead and touch whatever you want to so long as you make it impersonal and hurry it up cause I know you got a job to do so just do it and don't keep telling me you're gonna have to touch me cause I give you permission to do your job without telling me that again unless things get really kinky here in front of everyone." She still would tell me every single time she touched me somewhere which was a lot considering it was just metal in the bra straps which caused the whole problem & by the way the damn detectors in Atlanta didn't pick 'em up and I was wearing the same kind of bra so go figure.

    I personally think people shouldn't be afraid to complain about things in airport. They should feel comfortable enough to complain and complain very loudly about any problems they encounter. It's a shame that people now just go through airports with their heads down and get through security without trying to attract any attention and God forbid they complain about incompetent employees.......who knows when they'd turn up next if they had a fat a'hole like that Knapp guy working there.

    Ack! This just makes me madder than a wet hen. Little southern expression that is just shy of a full blown redneck hissy fit........and not the menopausal kind.....those even that Knapp idiot would have sense enough to run from.

    Linda aka Pocahontas
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gildas Dubois · 13 years ago
    HS is a good reason not to go to the states from France...
    They can access your hard drive, email, disks, private documents and dossiers at the border... From a business perspective, that is a NO NO. In my case, this material is copyrighted, not available to the public, very valuable on the black market and sometimes "secret d??fence" (meaning that even the French police cannot look into it without a court order and under the supervision of a civil law official of my choosing).

    This stuff can be pored over by a low wage frontier low life? Without probable cause nor an independent witness? With no supervision? Are the Americans crazy? How can we do business like this?

    I recently went to Russia with way less hassle.

    Gildas Dubois
  • This commment is unpublished.
    carol · 13 years ago
    Happy New Year Michael!

    Reading this made me heartsick, something I haven't felt while reading your work for some time.

    The reason this Knapp character felt free to do this is he knows there will be no retribution. There is no way he would have acted so unprofessionally if his department was well managed.

    I have to balance my negative belief that nothing will happen to him with my clear knowledge that you are unique in your crusades and if ANYONE can achieve his objectives, it is you.

    So what do you hope to achieve? A complete retraining of all customs people? Or just the blackest mark on this Knapp person's record, so that he never has customs duties again and never trains anyone due to unfitness of character.

    I visited DC last week with my friend James. He looks (because he is!) like a middle aged English banker. While I was whizzing through the American side (welcome home, happy new year) his customs guy called out to him in the queue, "come on, come on, or I'll send you back".

    Before we went, James was advised by an English chum not to say at American customs that he was travelling with his American girl-friend "because they'll send him right back". I would be interested in knowing why it's legal in America to refuse entry on this basis.

    Please tell Aew they are horrible to everybody and fingers crossed this Knapp guy never works on the customs desk again.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Solo · 13 years ago
    In Knapps defense, I don't know if he acted on his own initiative, or was following orders. That's as far as the defense part goes. I too wear a badge and deal with immigrants on a daily basis. Respect should be the first part of the SOP. Mr. Knapps actions were uncalled for, and unprofessional. I hope the rest of Aews trip is pleasurable and that Michael has the opportunity to show her the true America. Aew, my apologies, and my sincere welcome.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John Bailey · 13 years ago

    I'm ashamed that your friend had to meet up with such a person. I know they exist. And let me say, they all have one stamp in common, they're unionized bureaucrats. "Mr. Knapp" is a type of person commonly called many names more colorful and less polite than bully; but for your friend's sake, we'll leave it at that.

    I never thought of myself as a terror threat (late 40s at the time, overweight, honorably-discharged US Veteran of the Cold War, tax-payer, etc.; but the TSA always managed to check my groin area manually. Maybe it was the disdain I felt for them acting like they were some sort of heroes instead of just another obstacle to overcome. There is something so unappealing about the process that I've just quit flying anywhere...

    In Richmond, they were searching all "non-whites." They searched a man from India, then his wife--who, before being searched, handed her carry-on luggage to her husband. They never searched their child or his bag. There's efficiency for you! They did manage to take several old women behind their little screen.

    In Las Vegas, during a particularly busy day, they closed down one line so they could get a break--and put the whole of that line in front of another, sparking numerous complaints that almost resulted in fist-fights on both sides of the security area. And the supervisor blamed American Airlines, saying they weren't paying for the extra lines to be open. I was flying United.

    I wouldn't trust the TSA to change a bicycle tire. May Mr. Knapp and his leadership get what they deserve. This month.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bill Cattley · 13 years ago

    Your story about your friend at the airport confirms my own experiences traveling as a soldier in uniform. The TSA folks seem to take special delight in wanding down soldiers and finding any leathermans or other "tools" of the trade. The number of elderly in wheel chairs and walkers I've seen detained would fill an airliner. Giving these goons like Knapp authority with out moral responsibility causes these abuses and bullying. Let's hope that your spot light of this incident costs Mr. Knapp his job at least.

    Thanks for your posts and stay safe in A-Stan,

    Bill Cattley
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lyle · 13 years ago

    Welcome to the real world. Rights get trampled all of the time, and I see it every day. Officers of the law actively seek out ways to circumvent the Constitution. We tolerate it and even encourage it--all the way until it's our ox that's gored, or our friend that's searched. Most people don't have a friend that buys ink by the barrel.

    No surprise here.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter Borregard · 13 years ago
    Not long after the inception of the TSA, an Israeli security expert stated: "We have a system for detecting terrorists. You have a system for annoying people."
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    Mare · 13 years ago
    What an unbelievable story. Except for the sad fact that it's true. I hope your friend meets enough really nice Americans to make up for being harassed by this one jerk. I don't fly often and when I have I've not encountered any problems. You hear all the awful stories because they are not allowed to profile. Except when it comes to Thai women of course.

    Nice to know our tax dollars are being spent paying jack booted thugs like this. I hope your friend enjoys the rest of her trip.
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    Doug TSA Screening O · 13 years ago
    As a TSA employee, most of you are confusing Customs and TSA. They are two different departments. It was a Customs employee who gave her a hard time, not the TSA. TSA only gives older, 50's and up men and women a hard time. Most likely the Customs Officer was waiting for an offer for sex to let her go. Lots of bad apples in these agencies.

    TSA has policies that the Officers MUST follow on harrassing anyone but a Middle Eastern looking person. The TSA rank and file do not like the policies, but if you don't follow them you lose your job. So, you must meet your quota for patting down the wheelchair bound elderly and other important terrorists. Up until recently, TSA treated their own employees as the general public so we had to constantly go through screening each other ,so a TSA employee could not do a terrorist act. That finally has ended. So, the entire DHS is so screwed up it will take a decade or two to fix it. It really is a mess.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jonathan Rubinstein · 13 years ago
    Michael: First. thank you. Please apologize to your friend for the millions of Americans who are mistreated by Homeland Security personnel at airports and wherever they appear. The simple viciousness that is creeping into American life comes from the top down as the people who lead our country have been acting like scared bullies since 9/11. The military has regained some balance but our political leadership, our Congress, revealed now as being inept and venal, has lost its power to lead. We, the American people, have to reassert our common decency and our native ability to be confident and remove from authority the mindless bullies who are conducting razzias on illegal immigrants, many here legally by now. We can only hope that Obama will establish a new tone that will pervade the country and begin to remove this venom that is now coursing through our nation. You have performed many valuable services on behalf of your country and we, your fellow citizens, but none more valuable than this one. Again, please apologize on behalf of all decent thinking Americans, a majority for sure. Please continue to speak out on this.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gilbert · 13 years ago
    As a former Law Man, and I'm sure my fellow mates can tell you it is all about keeping your work stats looking good. I used to get so frustrated because I would see officers stop the poor, uneducated, foreign, or anyone else that were either to afraid or to poor to file a complaint or a law suit. Hell I use to love a good legal fight but I have to say in the time it took me to work a good case and take care of all the court appearances and paperwork the "Knappes" of my agency would have "worked" six times the number of "cases" who cares they were all BS cases.

    It is the administrators in the ivory towers that promote this kind of behavior because they just look at the numbers and not what actually goes on. The real shame is that for the hundreds of thousands of dollars they make in tax payer paid salaries, you would think they would actually monitor the activities of the men and women in their span of control --- oh I'm sorry that would mean they wouldn't be able to keep their bureaucratic stats up.

    The thing that caused me to leave the "brotherhood" was it became more about working the most cases and making the most arrests no matter how much they had to bend the Constitution.

    Michael please tell Aew that this is really not the heart of America and that I hope she gets to see America for what it is suppose to be. I also hope that some Ivory Tower seat polisher will read this and do his/her part to make sure that our allies in the world are not treated like this when they finally get to visit our great country.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Susanne · 13 years ago
    I also have had the pleasure of TSA hospitality. Mike, you remember me leaving Iraq in a black boot cast, right? (And I look soooo suspicious!) Well, after flying many hours in the 'comfort' of a C1 0 jump seat, then the middle seat of a commercial plane, I landed in the states and had to clear customs, etc.

    When I got to Security, TSA told me that unless I wanted to be body searched, I had to take off the cast and walk through the sensor! You saw the ankle - and it was still purple and green - so during the 'search', I made some mention of how ironic it was that they were searching someone who was actually on THEIR side, and who had just left Iraq.

    Know what they said? Something to the effect of, "That's why you're being searched, you are coming out of Iraq. All you had to do was take off the cast. It's your own fault." Wow. Did I feel proud of my country? That's a negative.

    TSA needs to be fixed - but like someone already said, they're a union, and union busting is illegal, right?
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    DagneyT · 13 years ago
    "I have been all but strip searched, Michael, and I am a 120# American woman; my offense? A one-way ticket.

    I agree with the previous commenter, the fault lies with career bureau-dummies running most of the bureaucracies in Washington, most of whom belong to unions! We are in the financial mess we're in, with Fanny, Freddy, and the big three due to unions!

    Unions will be the death of this country yet, as they are responsible for an uninformed barely able to read populace. They've screwed up our kids with their brand of public schooling with should be called public programming (on "global warming", et al).
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    Nicholas Vinen · 13 years ago
    This story is unfortunate. I live in Australia and until a few years ago I would visit the USA every year or two, since I do a lot of contract work for companies based there.

    I haven't been for several years now. I'm afraid to end up in this sort of situation. I go to consult with the companies I work for - planning future work etc. - and to see my friends. However, I don't want to wait for hours to get through airport security, where I can't bring water or other essentials, fly for 15 hours, then worry about having my laptop and personal effects searched and possibly be detained for some unknown period. It just isn't worth it to me. So, I stay here and work remotely and don't get a chance to meet with the people from these companies, as much as I would like to.

    I hope one day I can return and visit my friends safely and without having to worry about the indignity that international air travel - especially to the USA - brings. I believe I am a good friend for your country and its people, but customs and immigration are my least favourite of all. I haven't been treated as badly as your friend, but I have had a few unpleasant experiences, and don't want to risk more and worse.
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    John M. Yunker, Sr. · 13 years ago
    My ongoing complaint of November 24, 2008 seeking the termination of employment of Richmond, VA Airport (RIC) TSA employees David Brock and Sarah Taylor for abuse of authority is listed under TSA control number 269754- 5 671. As of today, January 5, 2009, I have had no response from DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, TSA Administrator Kip Hawley, or RIC TSA Manager Jacqueline Cosby.

    John M. Yunker, Sr.
    CDR USN (Ret)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jim Bruce · 13 years ago
    My son was Army infantry, and the first three times he flew out of Albuquerque to go overseas he was put in the line to be fully searched, even though his active status in the armed forces was apparent. He almost missed one flight due to this B.S., and I risked arrest to go yell at the TSA people to get him on his flight, or he'd be considered AWOL. When he was returning to Iraq after a one week leave (in full uniform), the airline gave my wife and I passes to go to the gate with him, and TSA did the same to hmy wife! As a result, we got to spend about 0 seconds at the gate with him. Geniuses.
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    XC · 13 years ago
    I've flown around the world on business and vacation, racking up at least 5M miles over the last 15 years. I'm a pretty big guy but obviously a business traveler - Tumi rollaboard, computer bag, Bose headphones, business or first class tix, passport with extra pages in it, etc.

    Worst border experience of my life: the Windsor crossing going into Canada.
    Worst border experience of my wife's life: the Windsor crossing going into the US.
    Year: 199 , within 24 hours, with the Canadians hassling me (US citizen) and the US guys detaining my wife (Canadian citizen) for five hours. No explanation.

    I've had excellent experiences in England until last year when some pooftah practically stripped searched me in the hallway of Heathrow and grabbed my boys and gave them a gentle squeeze. I refrained from giving him a Scottish hello because of the guy carrying the laded MP5 standing behind me.

    I saw a customs guard in the Auckland airport knock a Malysian woman down for having a guava in her purse. The same crew let me go *backwards* through customs to get a case of Aussie wine I'd forgotten. Go figure.

    I snatched my passport out of an Indian guards hands in Chennai before he could rip out pages in lieu of a bribe. If I hadn't had 100lbs on him he'd have used his lathe on me, no doubt.

    What conclusions can you draw? None, really. Border guards have a tough job, don't get paid very well, and contain an above average distribution of jerks per country maybe.

    If you just want to hyperventilate about airport security hand how stupid Kip Hawley is and all that, I suggest you go to flyertalk.com where you can raise a posse of people like that with just tiny breath.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    qys · 13 years ago
    Several people in these posts are appalled and say this is not the way the majority of Americans are. That's very nice and probably true.

    So what? What will this majority of appalled and disgusted and humilitated people do to change the situation? When will this majority stand up to these bullies?

    That's what I was afraid of.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Max · 13 years ago
    Mr. Yon,
    I'm afraid that Homeland Security (and the current administration) most likely has absolutely nothing to do with the incident except being titular overseeing agency. The behavior described had been quite normal for entry port officers prior to the establishment of DHS, as the idea that foreign nationals attempting to enter the US have no rights until their lawyers show up had been pretty prevalent in the original INS.
    Both entry port and consular officers hold the right to refuse entry/visa without a recourse or serious review. The guidelines surrounding the privilege that is the entry to the US had never been too clear and thus allow for job creation for the industry of immigration consultants and lawyers, while the appeals process is long and drawn out.
    And don't forget the fact that presumption of guilt is practically enshrined in the procedures there. While there are probably plenty of good people working for Immigration/Customs, I suspect it is all too easy for anyone there to succumb to the spirit of their instructions and treat everyone in front of them as the scum of the Earth.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Isidro Beccar Varela · 13 years ago
    Unfortunately what happened to Aew is not that rare. Telling the USCIS and TSA to lighten up a little bit would be a good idea. You could tolerate all of this if they were this super efficient machine yielding results every week (in the form of terrorist busted at border crossings). But what makes it more revolting is that since 9/11 I NEVER heard that a terrorist was stopped either at a border crossing (well, with the exception of the millennium plot) or at a security check point. But I did heard thousands of stories like Aewƒ??s. I also heard stories of people smuggling weapons (remember Orlando?), accessing with fake IDs, fake boarding passes, etc. and being caught by other means than airport security or USCIS.
    Iƒ??m obviously not saying that you should eliminate them, but USCIS and TSA should train their guys to be less arrogant, teach them to use their common sense (I know is too much too ask) and work under the assumption that 99.9999% of people going through their control is a decent normal citizen rather than a potential terrorist. Only when SOMETHING tips them off is that they should act as tough guys. I know that someone will tell me that this is suicidal. My answer is that is EXTREMELY unlikely that they will catch anyone seriously dangerous anyway and as illegal immigrants go, many go by land and the others overstay their visa (which means that they are LEGAL until then). You cannot establish a thought police trying to discover the INTENT of someone when entering the country (which is the only explanation that I have to the USCIS attitude in some cases).
    My point: the cost of all of that parody far outstrips the benefits. They need to rethink the system.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    D. Anderson · 13 years ago

    I'm so sorry to hear this story. We have seriously done most everything we can to discourage and offend visitors to our country.

    I'm not sure who your Congressman is, but I would suggest you contact Congressman John Mica. He is on the Transportation committee and has previously expressed his frustration with TSA. (His district covers north Orlando to Jacksonville)

    Someone else in these comments mentioned Israeli security and I'd agree it works. They were very pointed and persistent in their questions, but were polite and you understood what they were doing and why. On another note, one of my more hilarious border encounters was crossing into Canada in the winter: the officer wanted to know why anyone in their right mind would drive from Florida to Canada in February!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    MichaelC · 13 years ago

    I can relate. I've traveled across Europe and the Caucasus and had minimal issues at the border - nothing any more serious than a long delay or a quirky officer. However, driving back into the States (MY country!) from Canada, I was detained for two hours as POS Border goons went through the car, expecting that my friend and I were transporting drugs. The entire time, we were treated like suspects, grilled about transporting drugs, and had doubts cast on the purpose of our travels (I wanted to see Quebec); we weren't allowed to use the bathroom, we weren't allowed to stand, we could only sit there at the leisure of border patrol officers who acted more like interrogators than protectors. For our part, we were polite but understandably cautious and deferential. For the first time in my life, I realized that if I wasn't overly polite, these people had the power to plant drugs in my car and ruin me. I had no power or recourse.

    We eventually left after they had overturned the car and, of course, found nothing. But no apologies. It was as though we had wasted THEIR time (sorry to disappoint, you fu*kers). I have never been ashamed of my country the way I was then, and to this day I will never have the same trust or respect for law enforcement or the government as I did before that incident. I wrote my Congressman and Senators, and got a cursory reply, which surely amounted to nothing. I wish something could be done about this sort of thing, which is most assuredly rampant - little busybodies in positions of moderate power getting off by treating people like criminals - but I think what is required is a serious cultural change within these organizations.

    Unbelievable. It's amazing to me that there was once a time when I thought that this sort of thing couldn't happen here.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Robert Masters · 13 years ago
    I am from Minneapolis and travelled to Eastern Europe last year driving through 10 borders in 5 countries meeting customs officers at each border and treated pleasantly each time. When I arrived in Minneapolis I was treated as a suspected criminal. When I became annoyed (and rude) I was asked by an officer (may even have been Knapp) if I knew where I was. I said "I am in the USA" and he responded "Not until you pass through that doorway" and added "Right now you are nowhere." I then asked him if that also meant that he had all the power to which he replied "Yes I do."

    The US customs officers are mostly good guys but the entire power structure of the organization draws some who are simply schoolyard bullies with the authority to excercise arbitrary power over others. They actually believe that they individually have the power of life and death over anyone crossing the border. As long as we allow them to act on that belief we will be less free.

    I say it is about time we stop living in fear of every foreigner and reduce the power of these guys.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    jp thomas · 13 years ago
    I feel for you and your friend....Try this one on for size...A 4year old on the TSA Federal watch list! Watch out for those crayons people!!!!
    Here's the interesting part....
    *Once on the list there is no way of EVER getting off of the list...least not yet (keep writting to your elected officials)
    *There is no prior notification given by any government agency that you or your dependents are on this list. You find out at the airport!!!SURPRISE!!
    *They can deny your flight privlages. ( they didn't with us because the gate agents used their heads and realized that a 4 year old child is no real threat)
    *If there is a ever a change of address you must report this to TSA
    *Once 'cleared' you are still subject to extra screening
    How is that for a violation of rights?
    My child is effectivey being followed, tagged and watched by our paranoid government for no reason... And there is little that I can do about it except write letters and make phone calls... Most of which go unanswered!
    So the frustration at our officials on all levels is felt not only by innocent worldly travelers but by regular citizens and children! It seems that our government has lost it's bounds or at least has forgotten how to use them.
    Unfortunately untl more people get personally effected and stand up for their rights, I fear that things will not change for the better. Do you know of a group that is doing anything about any of this????
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Texas_Canuck · 13 years ago
    While I haven't travelled quite as much as you have, I must say you picked a wrong port of entry with Minniapolis. The Immigration folks there are the country's most arrogant, egotistical and self centered bunch of fools I have ever met. As a Canadain working in the US for several years I have had the displeasure of crossing there several times. As Canadian born just north of the Minnisota border, my wife and I certainly don't fit any profile except maybe boring WASPs. Yet these wahoos treat us like an Osama bin Laden deciple.

    Anywhere else in the world (or country) and it has been smooth sailing with maybe a question or two, a check of my camera bag or a wipe on my computer.

    Amazingly, at MSP airport you cannot get a cab if you have a bottle of duty free booze or a dog.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scuzzi · 13 years ago
    We should welcome these stories. So long as we hear of East Asian women, grannies, WASP high-school kids and the like getting the finger up their backsides courtesy of Homeland Security, we can bask in the safe knowledge that our brave officers are not engaging in outrageous and discriminatory profiling practices in their endless struggle against the Islamist terrorists. Rejoice!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Eric Parsons · 13 years ago
    Every country I have been in has a Ministry for the Obstruction of Progress and a Ministry for the Harassment of Foreigners.

    I have paid $75 to the Policeman's Vodka Fund in Kazakhstan in order to leave.

    I have had to pay extra duties to internal Ukrainian Customs for equipment donated to yes, Ukrainian Customs by the US government.

    I have lost a chance to hookup with a nice Danish blonde because of stupid questions asked by the uniformed twit at Heathrow.

    Oh the insolence!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Carol Herman · 13 years ago
    Perhaps Mr. Knapp didn't know? But by now, with InstaPundit's Internet reach I think Mr. Knapp may be a little contrite? So, you don't know his first name. But at the airport in Minneapolis? I think Mr. Knapp will discover that getting his behaviors to show up here ... He's the one with more than "24 hours worth of grief" ahead.

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