Michael Yon Arrested

Michael Yon Fox NewsLongtime national security blogger Michael Yon posted this on his Facebook page about an hour ago:

Got arrested at the Seattle airport for refusing to say how much money I make. (The uniformed ones say I was not “arrested”, but they definitely handcuffed me.) Their videos and audios should show that I was polite, but simply refused questions that had nothing to do with national security. Port authority police eventually came — they were professionals — and rescued me from the border bullies.

Michelle Malkin files this under “Homeland Security is a Joke,” along with news that 76-year-old comedienne Joan Rivers was “deemed a danger to national security and booted from a Newark-bound flight in Costa Rica on Sunday by a jittery Continental Airlines gate agent who found the two names on her passport fishy.”   Because, you know, 76-year-old Jewish ladies in expensive clothes are as likely as anyone to blow up the plane.

In an update, Yon posts,

When they handcuffed me, I said that no country has ever treated me so badly. Not China. Not Vietnam. Not Afghanistan. Definitely not Singapore or India or Nepal or Germany, not Brunei, not Indonesia, or Malaysia, or Kuwait or Qatar or United Arab Emirates. No county has treated me with the disrespect can that can be expected from our border bullies.

We’ve got only Yon’s side of the story thus far and it honestly doesn’t make much sense.   While I’ve never flown in and out of Seattle, I’ve flown in and out of the country several times post-9/11 and have never been asked, coming or going, how much I made or anything more personal than “What’s the purpose for your visit?”   If, however, they are asking these sort of insipid questions — let alone handcuffing people who refuse to answer them — our airline security system has even more problems than I thought.

Yon’s got some interesting stamps on his passport.  But it’s an American passport.  Yon doesn’t exactly have the markings of an al Qaeda operative about him.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Borders and Immigration, Terrorism, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Friend pointed out that the policy to ask questions of one’s income is a Bush artefact. I’m trying to avoid conspiracy theories here, but basically Bush left a tool that future admins can use to help prevent terror. However it would escapes me, but what’s important is that the current admin and its adjuncts are using it imprudently against people who shouldn’t be considered enemies of the state.

  2. NotYon says:

    Well, he’s an American, who’s been traveling to places where Americans are not generally liked. It’s called profiling, and it works. 😉

  3. Davebo says:

    I was on one of the first international flights out of the states after 9/11 and there were FBI agents on the jet way asking everyone if they were carrying more than $10,000. It was obviously just to give them a chance to feel out the passengers and several were pulled aside.

    But asking what you earn? Seems likely as he described, a pumped up border guard.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    The question itself could be a tool to determine the validity of identity. The refusal to answer accompanied by an explanation could serve just as well as an answer. The arrest makes no sense but give some people power and before long they’ll abuse it. You can’t weed out all the problem employees in the interview.

  5. PD Shaw says:

    Welcome home!!!

  6. Triumph says:

    Because, you know, 76-year-old Jewish ladies in expensive clothes are as likely as anyone to blow up the plane.

    If you’ve ever seen Rivers’ act, you would understand: her jokes are so bad she blows every time she takes the stage.

    Imagine the torture of having to sit next to her on a 4-hour flight from Costa Rica! Miserable!

    My most misfortunate flight involving a comedian was years ago before all of the heavy security. I was seated next to Gallagher. They let the idiot board the plane with his sledgehammer and a bunch of watermelons. He “practiced” his act the whole flight. It was awful.

    All comedians should be banned from flights.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    It isn’t unheard of for the TSA to engage in fishing expeditions. Take this story for example, where a person travelling with a large amount of money was detained for sometime. When has money ever been used to bring down a plane? Is he going to set it on fire?

    The question itself could be a tool to determine the validity of identity.

    Bullcrap. Your annual income is in no way a national security threat. Neither is mine, nor is James’. I doubt Yon’s is either. He had a passport and unless they are linking to his 2008 tax return its just a fishing expedition, a waste of time, and actually makes airline travel less safe.

  8. Grewgills says:

    If I had to guess I would say that Yon was probably being an ass and the TSA agent decided to put him in his place, sort of like the prof Gates incident, two people acting poorly and one of them abusing his power.

  9. Wayne says:

    The carrying of more than $10,000 is a standard customs question.

    As for this case, if he was simply refusing to answer personal question especially about how much he earns then they overacted. If he was acting up and acting odd that is another case.

    Being former military may have contributed as well. I notice being single out and sometimes drawing extra scrutiny from security personnel. I have done it myself going the other way. It wasn’t because I thought they were a more likely threat but a much higher potential threat. A train combatant usually can do much more damage than someone generally plucked off the street. IMO is best to double check those type of people even if the odds are they are a good person. Intentions are very important to determine

  10. Steve Verdon says:

    If I had to guess I would say that Yon was probably being an ass and the TSA agent decided to put him in his place, sort of like the prof Gates incident, two people acting poorly and one of them abusing his power.

    A TSA agent asking a passenger how much their income is is not only rude it is unprofessional in that it does nothing to improve security at an airport and actually reduces it as the TSA agent is looking into issues that have nothing to do with airport security. It is no different than if the agent was coloring in his favorite coloring book.

    IMO is best to double check those type of people even if the odds are they are a good person. Intentions are very important to determine

    This too can, over the long run, reduce airport security.

    1. Resources are now diverted to checking military personnel vs. looking at overall security.

    2. There is the carnival booth effect. If the terrorists note that people who appear to have some sort of affiliation with the military are more likely to get more intensive screening then terrorists make sure they remove all such indicators thus lowering their chances of getting extra scrutiny.

    Yes random security checks are going to sometimes lead to little old men in rascals and young children being checked, but it is the one method that cannot be predicted and avoided systematically.

  11. tom p says:

    I have to agree with Grewgills. Give a man a badge and a gun, and he not only expects the answers to his questions, he demands them. (“You have the right to do what I tell you.” from a STL cop to an idiot who tried to assert his rights during a “near riot”)

    If, however, they are asking these sort of insipid questions — let alone handcuffing people who refuse to answer them — our airline security system has even more problems than I thought.

    James, this stands with what you said about Professor Gates:

    I think it’s probable that Gates went into outrage mode quickly and that the officer felt disrespected and wanted to assert his authority and basically goaded Gates into a situation where an arrest was possible.

    The thing to remember, is that “authority figures” tend to want to be respected for their authority, because after all, they are used to it (not because they have earned it).

    For my ownself, when “the man” says, “Put your hands on the hood of the car.” I will, and for those who refuse to go along with these kinds of inane requests… I can only say, “Hope you got a deep pocket.”

  12. Wayne says:

    Random checks should be done but if that is all you do then not only are you wasting resources but you are being foolish. The two “priorities” should be those who are most likely and those who are most dangerous. To scrutinize a 103 year old frail lady from Kansas as often as you do a young to middle age male from Yemen is straight up stupid. Prioritizing goes for many areas. For example background should be done on all employees but security and key personnel needs even more intensive background checks.

    What identifies a combatant-like person such as former combat arms, Para-military professional, professional criminal or terrorist is not what they wear or an ID they have but their mannerism. Mannerism is very hard thing to hide from a trained eye. A terrorist could make better use of their time planning than doing that type of training.

    Many keep claiming that the terrorist can so easily counter profiling. Yet they don’t. Why is that?

  13. The Israelis have a clever trick: they have cops talk to passengers. Amazingly low-tech. An experienced cop has radar you cannot duplicate with technology.

  14. anjin-san says:

    The right has been cheering with great enthusiasm for years as government power has expanded, and the rights of individuals have eroded. Of course we are going to have more abuse of authority…

  15. Franklin says:

    Bullcrap. Your annual income is in no way a national security threat.

    I took Plunk’s statement a different way, perhaps I misinterpreted. I assumed he was suggesting that a terrorist might not know a reasonable answer to the given question (and might get fidgety or whatever).

    Either way, that question is considered “none of your business” in the States, and I have to agree with the Gates comparisons: both were probably being dicks but only one was abusing his authority.

  16. Alex Knapp says:

    Back before I married my wife, we drove to Canada. On our way back into the US, we were hassled for about 5 minutes by the border guards about our relationship history–how long we’d been dating, how we met, etc.

    It was simply infuriating. If I’d been by myself I would have refused to answer questions and made a case out of it, but I didn’t want anything to happen to my wife (then girlfriend).

  17. Wayne says:

    It is amazing how many people who have heard only one side of the story automatically assume the authorities are the guilty party. OK not really, many of the typical authority haters are too ready to bash “the man”.

    Many of us who have been around much have seen authority abused but to pull an Obama and prejudge a situation before we have the facts is petty.

    From the account given, the authorities were wrong but that is the accuser’s account. A good reporter should look into this and if a video exist should be release in a way not to compromise security. To discuss if it was true, would it be wrong or in what situation would it be right, is fine. However to prejudge the situation with such conviction that many seems to be doing is wrong.

  18. Cassandra says:

    From the account given, the authorities were wrong but that is the accuser’s account. A good reporter should look into this and if a video exist should be release[d] in a way not to compromise security. To discuss if it was true, would it be wrong or in what situation would it be right, is fine. However to prejudge the situation with such conviction that many seems to be doing is wrong.

    Bingo.

  19. Joey Buzz says:

    He definitely fits the profile of the returning veteran that Janet Nap. warned us about last year.

  20. Have a nice G.A. says:

    There is only one type of people that do suicide missions to spread terror.

    The Israelis have a clever trick: they have cops talk to passengers. Amazingly low-tech. An experienced cop has radar you cannot duplicate with technology.

    Yup, but if we do it here, the liberals will cry, and we can’t have that.

  21. Ben says:

    The Israelis have a clever trick: they have cops talk to passengers. Amazingly low-tech. An experienced cop has radar you cannot duplicate with technology.

    Cops also have an amazing ability to harass whoever they feel like (or whoever doesn’t respect their authoritah) and abuse their power just as much, if not more, than TSA agents.

  22. Steve Verdon says:

    The truth here is Yon was arrested for not showing proper deference to a law enforcement officer, the TSA agent.

    Random checks should be done but if that is all you do then not only are you wasting resources but you are being foolish. The two “priorities” should be those who are most likely and those who are most dangerous. To scrutinize a 103 year old frail lady from Kansas as often as you do a young to middle age male from Yemen is straight up stupid.

    Obviously the concept of random is lost on you. Further you do realize that there are muslims…muslim terrorist who are not from Yemen, or anywhere else in the Middle East. Johnny Walker Lindh…Bueller…Bueller? There are Filipino muslims and muslims that are from Xinjiang China just to name two other ethnic groups.

    If you focus on one ethnic group you run the very real risk of missing a threat from an ethnic group that is not under scrutiny. If you use a mixed strategy you’ll have fewer random searches and once this strategy is discovered a weakness has been found by the terrorists.

    It is amazing how many people who have heard only one side of the story automatically assume the authorities are the guilty party.

    That is because the TSA has done this kind of thing before. TSA has taken it upon itself not to look just for threats to airport/aviation security, but all crimes. If you have something that looks like it might be related to a crime–e.g. a large amount of cash–they will detain you and question you and threaten to call in other law enforcement agencies. When has it been a crime to carry a large amount of cash? When has a large amount of cash caused a plan to crash? You going to bribe the pilot into flying into a building? And if it isn’t true and there is video release it and show Yon to be a liar.

    From the account given, the authorities were wrong but that is the accuser’s account. A good reporter should look into this and if a video exist should be release in a way not to compromise security. To discuss if it was true, would it be wrong or in what situation would it be right, is fine. However to prejudge the situation with such conviction that many seems to be doing is wrong.

    Right. We hear this. All. The. Time. Wait for the facts. Translation: wait for the authorities to cook up a believable account that gets them off the hook. Look at the snowball fight fiasco in DC. An off duty cops hummer was hit with snowballs so he gets out pulls his gun and threatens the snowball fight participants. The cops are called and things eventually settle down. However the assistant police chief comes out and lies. Flat out lies. He states catagorically that the officer did not pull his gun. Of course in today’s age it was video tapped and on youtube before the idiot assistant chief made his statement…so everyone knew he was lying. Nope…police never ever cover for one another. And they never abuse their authority.

    To make it perfectly clear TSA authority is to search for items that pose a risk to airport/aviation security and nothing else. Unless Yon is a complete liar and they asked him if he is carrying a weapon and he decided to be a jackass or the like, a question about annual income is outside the TSA’s authority and the agent(s) in question should be terminated for failing to follow policy and jeopardizing airport/aviation security. Of course there will be plenty of ass-covering and that wont happen.

  23. Steve Verdon says:

    Wayne you are ex-miliatary what do you think of mission creep? Good? Bad?

    From the link:

    A federal judge in June threw out seizure of three fake passports from a traveler, saying that TSA screeners violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Congress authorizes TSA to search travelers for weapons and explosives; beyond that, the agency is overstepping its bounds, U.S. District Court Judge Algenon L. Marbley said.

    “The extent of the search went beyond the permissible purpose of detecting weapons and explosives and was instead motivated by a desire to uncover contraband evidencing ordinary criminal wrongdoing,” Judge Marbley wrote.

    In the second case, Steven Bierfeldt, treasurer for the Campaign for Liberty, a political organization launched from Ron Paul’s presidential run, was detained at the St. Louis airport because he was carrying $4,700 in a lock box from the sale of tickets, T-shirts, bumper stickers and campaign paraphernalia. TSA screeners quizzed him about the cash, his employment and the purpose of his trip to St. Louis, then summoned local police and threatened him with arrest because he responded to their questions with a question of his own: What were his rights and could TSA legally require him to answer?

    Mr. Bierfeldt recorded the encounter on his iPhone and the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in June against Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, claiming in part that Mr. Bierfeldt’s experience at the airport was not an anomaly.

    “Whether as a matter of formal policy or widespread practice, TSA now operates on the belief that airport security screening provides a convenient opportunity to fish for evidence of criminal conduct far removed from the agency’s mandate of ensuring flight safety,” the ACLU said in its suit.

    TSA agents are not trained to do this kind of stuff. It is outside their legislated authority. Finally and most importantly a TSA agent looking for any and all criminal activity is going to be spending less time looking for weapons, explosives and other threats to airport/aviation security.

  24. Wayne says:

    Re “Obviously the concept of random is lost on you”

    Obviously you have problem understanding anything but the simplest of models although you later talk about a mix model. . You can have random check system combine with others. The random part would check the old lady as often as the young ME man but the others would not. There is a limited amount of resources. Putting them all in one method like random searches is foolish. We need a layer system. The Idea is to catch as many as we can with the resources we have. They profile some but because of PC B.S. they are afraid to do it to the extent to get the biggest payback.

    Re “That is because the TSA has done this kind of thing before”

    Yep that is like the shop keeper saying that “black kids has been caught shoplifting in his store before so the next black kid must be a shoplifter too”. Nice.

    Mission creep is often necessary and\or useful but the problem is it is often allowed to get out of control sometimes to a point where you can’t do your original mission. So if it is done right, it is a good thing, If it is done wrong, it is a bad thing.

  25. Steve Verdon says:

    Obviously you have problem understanding anything but the simplest of models although you later talk about a mix model. . You can have random check system combine with others. The random part would check the old lady as often as the young ME man but the others would not. There is a limited amount of resources. Putting them all in one method like random searches is foolish.

    Yes, there are limited amount of resrouces and deterministic methods can be discovered and circumvented, and you wont know until a terrorist event occurs. As such, using a mixed model (random + deterministic) very well could provide less security than a purely random model.

    Same with profiles, they are discernable and once discovered are useless and, once again, you only know this after the fact.

    In theory we could use some sort of Bayesian updating mechanism. But you need as much “ham” as “spam”, that is, you need more terrorist events as well as non-events so you can fine tune your mechanisms for updating. You are in effect implicitly allowing terrorist events so you can try to catch more in the future. This is an unethical method and should be rejected out of hand.

    As for other models, what are you suggesting we use a Weibull distribution in determining who gets picked for a check?

    Yep that is like the shop keeper saying that “black kids has been caught shoplifting in his store before so the next black kid must be a shoplifter too”. Nice.

    No it isn’t, race is not involved here in claims against the TSA and its pretty sad you have to resort to this kind of nonsense. Abuse of authority is a bad thing no matter what as are your attempts to down play it.

    Mission creep is often necessary and\or useful….

    Really? Often. Methinks you don’t know the history of that term. It is often seen as bad and leading to over-reach with catastrophic conseuqences.

  26. Wayne says:

    “race is not involved”

    Substitute any large group you want. Judging a single person belonging to a large group because of a few from that group acted inappropriate is being prejudice by it very definition.

    As for mission creep, you deal with perception while I deal with reality. Yes the term is perceived by many to be bad. The reason for that is the only time most hear of it is when the MSM uses the term after it has gone sour or when others used it in a negative light. However in a real world mission, military or civilian, mission will often increase in scope as a natural process. Creating secondary objectives is very common. Change of, modification of, or need for follow on operations are quite normal. All of which is consider mission creep but there are others as well.

    The need for other task to be done to help achieve your primary task can be consider mission creep. Most like to use other terms until it turn sour but the fact remains that it is mission creep. It is natural occurrence but one should keep an eye on it since you don’t want to put more effort in achieving your supporting task than what you get from it or let it interfere with accomplishing you primary task.

    Military leaders like to use the term “mission creep” as a simple term to impress some things they want their subordinates to avoid. However military doctrine says to be careful in its’ use or better yet break it down more. Otherwise some will take it too literal and not do what needs to be done.