Sunday, September 23, 2007

Careful what you read when you travel - it may get you watchlisted!!

I find these articles by Wired and a follow-up by the Washington Post funny, but not ha-ha funny - funny as in, "holy crap that's scary!" funny. As in, "I wonder if I'm on a watchlist......". I've traveled a bit, and while not so much recently, I've traveled in some countries that the US considers "areas of concern" or has had Department of State warnings against traveling to. Most of the time, my journeys through customs have been uneventful, and most of my travel through what the US considers questionable countries has been for personal reasons. Exploration.

But, I have received "special handling" at customs on two occasions: one pre-9/11, and one post. The Pre-9/11 event was during a flight change in Dallas, returning from Morocco via England, en route to Mexico (first class) with a back pack not much bigger than what kids carry to school. That time, I was questioned as to why I didn't have more luggage, and the customs guy - about my age - I think got a kick out of me explaining how to wash travel-hardy clothing by hand.

The second time, though, was quite concerning. It was post 9/11. And it was the one time I should have been least likely to be questioned by customs, compared to all of my other trips and destinations. In this situation, I was arriving in Houston from Singapore (business class), nicely dressed, with a very large and overweight suitcase. I was returning from my work assignment overseas. Fully, properly, probably over-documented - my passport had more work visa documentation for that assignment than you could shake a stick at. Yet I was the last person from that flight to be finally cleared through customs and immigration. This was quite frustrating as a U. S. Citizen - I literally felt criminalized. The officer was asking fairly routine questions, but in such a barking, accusatory manner I felt as though I were being interrogated. This was all happening while two people with white gloves were going through every item in my suitcase. I was asked about my work assignment, where I lived in Singapore, why I was assigned there - now, we're talking about one of the safest countries on the planet - it's the Disney of Asia!! But, while I was there, I had two vacations: a trip to New Zealand with a layover in Thailand and a trip to Nepal with a layover in Thailand. I also had a weekend trip to Cambodia, and took a few weekend ferry rides - all of 30 minutes - to Indonesia, and on one occasion, because I could, I walked across the bridge in northern Singapore to southern Malaysia and back. I was being questioned for an hour about my trips to these other countries - being quizzed, because the customs agent was holding my passport - as to when they were, their duration, their purpose, etc.

At any rate, last year, about this time, I flew from Detroit to Casablanca, Morocco, via Paris - and one of the books I had with me was "Tales from an Economic Hit Man". I wonder if I've made that list. It sure would be interesting to find out......

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