My Harassment by the TSA/Customs Gestapo

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The following post is by Ed Bugos, TDV Senior Analyst… this occurred last week, on the same day that TDV Correspondent and new TDV employee, Justin O’Connell was incarcerated in Las Vegas. Is it because we are vigilantes that we continue to be cloistered and caged? We don’t think so. We believe it is solely because we have an inability to cowtow and submit to "authority"… unless you do that, you will be kidnapped and questioned… as Ed was last week. Here is more…

“What kind of business are you going down to the US for, sir?” asked the customs officer.

I was coming from Vancouver, BC, Canada, and it was supposed to be just another trip. I was going to visit a mine site in Redding (owned by a private company), and a prospective mining property in Grass Valley (both in California) in some of the oldest mining districts at the request of potential investors who wanted me to vet the assets.

I wasn’t being paid for the excursion. The trip’s expenses were straight out of my pocket. Maybe it would lead to some business, maybe it wouldn’t. Chances are, it wouldn’t. That’s the risk in this business.

As we headed to the airport Sunday morning, my wife didn’t understand why I was so tense. We even argued about it a little. I told her I was worried that I’d miss my 6am flight because the TSA might detain me.

Not because I write for TDV, or because I have been a general critic of the fascist state since before Greenspan’s tech bubble. But because they detained me the last two out of three times I went to the US on business. At the airport, I even hesitated before checking off the box on my customs declaration that denoted I was visiting the US for business related reasons.

But, I thought, better tell the truth. Besides, what were the odds they would detain me again just to answer the same questions they asked last time? Boy, was I wrong.

“I’m going to visit a mine site,” I said in answer to the agent’s question about my business in the US.

“What do you do for a living?” he asked.

“I’m a mining analyst,” I said, getting agitated because I knew where this questioning was headed.

“Hmm…do you have a visa?”

“No," I said, “why would I need a visa to visit a mining property?”

He thought for a moment, and then decided that I needed to see another “official”. I asked, “More paperwork?”

“Maybe”, he said coldly, “that all depends on ‘them’.”

With that they led me into the detention room. (That made it three out of the last four times I’ve been thrown into that room for going to the US on a business related trip.)

In the detention room they take your passport and tell you to sit tight. Then they ignore you while you squirm about missing your flight. There were four other there also missing their flights. Since I had been in the room before, I knew it was pointless to try and get the “officials” to empathize with my flight situation, or to get them to try and get to me out any faster on account of it. I watched as other detainees in the room learned the same painful lesson.

Just minutes before my flight was to depart, they called me up to the counter where I met an intimidating “Romeo Valdez”, or at least that’s what one of the other “officers” told me when I asked for the intimidating man’s name later. But I don’t believe it was his real name, as it was given to me with hesitation and lacking conviction.

When I approached the counter Romeo asked the same questions the first “official” out front had asked. He also asked the same questions they had asked the last two times I was hauled in.

Since my flight was leaving, and his attitude was abrasive, I started to get irate. I told him that I’ve already answered these questions. “Don’t you all keep records of these things,” I asked.

“Did you talk to me?” he snarled.

“No, obviously not. So does this mean I have to submit to this kind of interrogation each time I want to enter the US?"

He got even angrier. “Yes, I wanna know what you’re going to do in MY COUNTRY,” as if he had a right to interrogate me!

“Your country?” I asked. Now, the notion of arbitrary lines controlled by armed thugs in government is inherently silly. But the guy was not even American! He had an Italian accent. I’ve been defending HIS COUNTRY against the rhetoric of the socialists and fascists long before his job even existed.

At that point, he categorized me as a potential hostile. He asked me to sit down again. My flight would leave without me.

Finally, and after some time, the chief Nazi, a “nice” woman according to her right-hand man who would interrogate me later, approached me and asked me why I was giving the other official a hard time. She asked nicely indeed. And to be fair, she seemed somewhat empathic. That doesn’t exonerate her, however. A mugger who inquires politely whether you’d rather have your money or your life is still a violent thief.

She said they needed to inquire more about my business to figure out if I needed to fill out this or that document – either a NAFTA agreement or application for a visa, of all things. So their friends in Ottawa or Washington could know they’re getting as much as they can take out of any transaction or profit. Now I understood. It was a shake down.

But isn’t the TSA supposed to protect Americans from terrorism? So what is all that other nonsense about? Maybe fighting terrorism now includes making sure every bit of private funds ends up in government coffers where they belong.

I had worked myself into a bit of a lather and so I refused her. And I suggested that this was about to become a news story. I got escorted back out. After pacing around for a while thinking about it, I concluded that I would try again, since I really wanted to see that mine.

Luckily I found another flight leaving at noon. It was now 8am and I had four hours to fill. I told them that I now had all day for a chat. They sat me in that room again and ignored me for two hours or so. I spoke with other people in the same position, equally frustrated by this procedure. Maybe there was a guilty culprit somewhere, but I am very skeptical. In the end, we all just pay their tab.

Finally, with perhaps an hour to go before I would miss my second flight, I got to see the head honcho’s right-hand man. He wasn’t outwardly empathetic, and appeared determined to defend his team against my complaints.

He asked me who my clients were. He wanted me to prove that I was a mining analyst. I showed him contracts, research reports, and I even let him peruse my laptop in order to cooperate. All this just so I could visit a mine. Repeatedly, he would try to revert to lecturing me about giving the TSA a hard time, since they were just trying to do their job.

“You can’t just come in here half-cocked,” he said, “Apparently you were already agitated according to the first officer.”

But that wasn’t true. I became agitated once the officer began to question my business in more detail. That was simply due to the fact that they had thrown me into that room two previous times of three. And I knew if that was happening I’d surely miss my flight. And I was right.

So it’s not fair to say that any behavior on my part instigated this, especially since we already know their official excuse is to gain knowledge about my business!

The agent replied with a predictable comment: “But that is why we ask you to come here several hours before the flight.”

My smile clearly said what I was thinking, that he had to be kidding. As if I’m going to come to the airport at 3am for a 6:15am flight just because of the chance that I have to explain my business to some bureaucrat. Or is it no longer chance, but rather a certainty?

So I explained nicely, but very deliberately that I was upset because:

  • I had been in here two out of the last three times that I’ve tried to come to the US.
  • I did not want to miss my flight (I had a tight schedule).
  • They treated me like a criminal.
  • They were intolerant of my complaining about it.

That seemed pretty straightforward, but we went around in circles on that a few times before he was satisfied that I was not a threat – neither physical nor economic – to the interests of HIS COUNTRY. Finally, I was cleared, just in time for my flight.

I made it through Checkpoint Charlie. Whew!

But, I only had two hours of sleep the night before, and now I would sleep instead of finish my work in the afternoon. The cost of security just keeps on rising, doesn’t it?

On the Founding Fathers’ Scale I’m More American than Any Friend of the TSA

When my family was chased out of Slovakia in 1968 (as the Soviet tanks rolled into the country) my father chose to come to Canada. The reason, he always told us, was to avoid conscription in the US. I was just 2 years old in 1968. My brother was 6 months. We escaped Slovakia with the help of a priest who first hid us from the communists, and then helped us over the border into Austria. The same priest even gave my mother a ring that she could sell to buy stuff with once we got to Canada.

It wasn’t that we were poor. In fact, my great grandfather owned vast swaths of farmland east of Bratislava, and my grandfather was the leader of the Democratic Party there after WWII—he was never elected, but the Slovak communists tried to assassinate him once at an open event, my father tells me. The attempt was unsuccessful, though he still died at the young age of 50.

Some time after his political career was matured, and because he refused to sign over his allegiance to the communists, he was sent to a slave labor camp somewhere. My father says he never knew where they sent him. He tells me only of the day of his return, standing on the doorstep, bony and unrecognizable.

Such is life under a totalitarian regime, which is why we left. All my life I was thus predisposed to the ugly truth of socialism that other kids around me knew nothing about. They only knew of the wonderful ideas of the communists; how we could live in a world of plenty and equality for all – you know: the cry of the looters.

Back in the 1980s we would point to the fact that the USSR and other communist countries would deny free entry and exit as a way to quell the naïve enthusiasm for the cancerous movement. I used to argue that America was the beacon of freedom for the communist world. Thanks to it, and its constant appeal to the free market, many nations warmed up to the idea of free market capitalism. East Germany, Japan, much of Europe, and even China had to abandon communism in the end. Not that they ultimately embraced anything other than its ugly or insidious distant cousin: “state” capitalism.

I can see now that it was all for naught.

Liberty is dying in the US, much as it did in Britain in the last days of its empire in the 19th century. The worst part that there is no beacon of liberty today. At least when British freedom evaporated, the seed of the enlightenment was blossoming in the United States.

Today, however, the world does not have a beacon, a light. Today, when I think of what is happening in the US, I think of the picture of liberty drowning here.

If we have come to the point where the government has become petty enough to deny me entry or otherwise harass me for this article, it is not only proving us more than utterly right, but also, we have then we have already gone further down this road than I would have thought. There is no safety in the TSA’s version of liberty.

Certainly the TSA is just doing its job by the standards of, say, Nazi Germany or Bolshevik Russia.

As Patrick Henry, one of the founding fathers, passionately declared in 1775:

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains or slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take but as for me; give me liberty or give me death!”

Indeed, the founders of America knew there was no security in freedom.

We’ve all heard this one from Ben Franklin, a variation of which is also attributed to Thomas Jefferson:

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”

What would they think of the TSA? I know they’re rolling around in their graves.

I’ve never seen a bigger generation of pussies in my life. People would endure the humiliating and equally aggravating arbitrary interrogations of the police state in exchange for protection from a bunch of Arabs running around on camels? "My God, look out! Here come the Ottomans!"

Alexis de Tocqueville, one of the great thinkers of the classical liberal tradition, and part of the enlightenment, once remarked that the “man who asks of freedom anything other than itself is born to be a slave.” The above thinkers may not always have been consistent.

Indeed, there were many contradictions and varying degrees of statism inherent in the classical liberal school itself, which is one of the reasons it died (replaced by the progressive era) and also one of the reasons I’m an all-out (free market) anarchist. It’s the only ideologically consistent type of anarchism that can stand the full test of logical inquiry.

Still, the quotes underscore an important truth: there is a trade off between security and freedom. There always has been. But it doesn’t stop there.

There is another truth. The failure is that the security is provided by government rather than the market. As would be expected with any unaccountable centrally directed monopoly, it cannot calculate properly.

For more on this and the “Myth of National Defense” see:

and:

Hans-Herman Hoppe, the current leader of the Anarcho-Capitalist tradition at the Austrian School, gives both lectures. After hearing them you will see clearly that all of the aggravation produced by the TSA could have been easily predicted.

The worst part of all this is that many of the folks (though certainly not all) who work at the TSA are well intentioned; they really believe they are protecting “their country”, as one TSA official declared to me angrily when I dared to object to the way they treated me at the airport this weekend. Even the old statists knew that:

“…The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding”

~ Justice Louis D. Brandeis, dissenting, Olmstead v. United States, 277 US 479 (1928)

I leave you with my one of my personal favorite libertarian writers, Mencken:

“The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.”

“Getting Your Gold Out of Dodge” is available here.  It is free to TDV and TDV Golden Trader subscribers or for a one-time price of $44.95 USD.  It may be the best use of your fiat Federal Reserve Notes you’ve ever spent. Reprinted with permission from The Dollar Vigilante.

Ed Bugos, a frequent contributor to The Dollar Vigilante, is an anarcho-capitalist with a strong background in Austrian economics, is one of the world’s most sought after and respected mining analysts and serves as The Dollar Vigilante‘s Senior Analyst. Based out of the global epicenter for gold mining exploration and financing, Vancouver, Canada, he has been writing publicly since the late u201890s and is a well known critic of government interventions and central banking.

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