Thursday, January 7, 2010

Michael Yon Detained in Airport and Released

One of my readers has suggested that I take a look at Andrew Breitbart's blog about Michael Yon, described as a "military blogger" who talked back to a customs officer in the Seattle Airport, was detained, questioned and then released. Breitbart's blog states:

>Yon was escorted to a room elsewhere in the airport where he said he remained silent during much of the questioning. According to Yon, “they handcuffed me for failing to cooperate. They said I was impeding their ability to do their job.”

>Yon described the TSA officials as noticeably frustrated by his refusal to answer their questions: “I always assume everything is being recorded. I was trying to be professional.”

>Yon continued, “They said I wasn’t under arrest, but I’m handcuffed. In any other country, that qualifies as an arrest.”

>Ultimately Port Authority police released Yon; according to Yon, the police were “completely professional” (emphasis added).

When I lived on the northern border of New York State in 1991-1994 I was body searched by the US customs officials and questioned several times in depth by the Canadians. At the time, I drove a bright blue Ford Probe, a somewhat sporty but inexpensive car (I liked it but Ford discontinued the model). Apparently, my scruffy appearance coupled with the car made me a target for search.

The imposition on my freedom was distasteful. I believe that the primary motive for the ongoing questioning was concern with drug trafficking, although terrorism may have been a secondary motive in the early 1990s. I believe in drug legalization, but that is irrelevant to the question of border searches.

I learned not to smart talk the customs officials and to answer their questions politely. One afternoon the US officers searched my car in considerable detail and I was physically searched. No one likes to be compelled like this, and there was a risk that a zealous customs officer might have planted evidence.

That said, the matter of terrorism is important. It is unfortunate that the techniques of investigating terrorism are not sophisticated enough to eliminate searches of someone like Yon who has done nothing wrong. Moreover, if it is possible to minimize terrorist threats while reducing searches of the Yon variety, I am for it.

I do not think that open borders would be wise at this time because of the terrorist threat. Instead, I do believe that more sophisticated profiling would be most beneficial. Likely, with more accurate profiling Yon would not have been questioned in detail.

Unfortunately, the left and many civil liberties advocates have opposed profiling. The thousands of people left dead by terrorists suffered the ultimate incursion on their civil liberties, but strangely, civil libertarians have rarely questioned how terrorist murder, a far more extreme incursion on civil liberties than anything that has been done by a customs officer, might be eliminated. Instead, objections have been raised at attempts to minimize more anti-libertarian murder by substituting less anti-libertarian tactics like profiling. Both are anti-libertarian, but murder more so than being questioned. Defense is a necessary evil.

Hence, I consider most civil libertarians of the Breitbart variety to be profoundly anti-libertarian. Nor do I think Yon is anything more than an activist trying for cheap publicity.


Anonymous said...

From the article which you omit:

At this point the TSA officials escorted Yon to a designated screening area where they examined the contents of his bag. “Then they asked me how much money I make,” Yon said. Yon suggested to the TSA officials that the question was inappropriate and unrelated to transportation security. The award-winning blogger noted another TSA officer approached Yon: “he asked who do I work for.” ”I did not answer the question which clearly was upsetting to the TSA officers.”

It is not the business of the TSA to know how much money I make or who I work for. Is it related to transportation security?

And Dr. Langbert, does the law say that if anyone smart talks the TSA he/she should be handcuffed?

Mitchell Langbert said...

Yes, there is little question that the performance of virtually all government offices, including customs officials, can be improved. There is also likely waste in the customs bureau, and I would guess a fair to middling amount of corruption.

Yet, it does not sound to me that Mr. Yon suffered anything more than thousands of Americans suffer every day, including myself. It is nothing new, yet the public does not seem to care to devote energy toward reform of the customs office.

I was body searched, not just my car or bag. It is annoying. On the other hand, are you eager for another major terrorist attack? Obviously, border crossings are the best time to search terrorist suspects.

What do you propose the customs people do to monitor terrorists? Do you have a plan, or do you just have some emotional criticism of the people who do this kind of work? Have you thought of specific ways to improve recruiting?

Or are you and Mr. Yon indifferent to the murder of Americans?

If the critics of Mr. Yon's customs officers don't have any specific method of improving the customs office's performance, they are not serious critics, for it would be foolish to allow terrorists free access to entry points. If you wish to improve law enforcement, you need to study their processes, constraints on their decision making, methods of recruitment and training, and develop specific ways to improve these processes.