Monday, August 19, 2013
A new peril for travelers
I'm off to Switzerland in a short while. (I just hope the constant yodeling and playing of giant wooden trumpets doesn't keep me up at night.)
The bad news is I have to change planes at Heathrow, and it turns out the British police, if they are so inclined, can at a whim, for no stated reason and indeed for no reason at all, hold me incommunicado for 9 hours and confiscate all my electronic equipment.
Back at the height of the Iraq war, when I was writing the Today in Iraq blog, I was marked for extra security screening. (True!) Every time I flew they'd take me aside and hand search my luggage. That seems to have stopped now but I haven't been abroad for a few years. Last time, coming back from Mexico, I got the full shakedown. So we'll see.
It turns out that once you're on the list, it's very hard to get off. Unfortunately, Harper's hasn't made the article available to non-subscribers, but there is a chilling tale this month by the writer William T. Vollman (link leads to the paywall, sorry), who discovered via FOIA that he has been on a watch list for decades in large part because he was suspected of being the Unabomber. The reason for the suspicion is that some of his novels seem to take the part of native peoples against the European invasion. True! Once the Unabomber was captured, he obviously was no longer under suspicion of that, but it didn't matter! He got detained and grilled for hours every time he crossed an international border.
The really ugly secret about the immense, secret national security establishment is that it is utterly inept. They're spending hundreds of billions of dollars of your money to pay idiots to violate your civil rights and your privacy for no good purpose whatsoever. The point of keeping it all a secret is that it gives them more secrets to keep, which is what they do. It's an end in itself.