Wikileaks volunteer detained and searched (again) by US agents

Jacob Appelbaum, a security researcher, Tor developer, and volunteer with Wikileaks, reported today on his Twitter feed that he was detained, searched, and questioned by the US Customs and Border Patrol agents at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on January 10, upon re-entering the US after a vacation in Iceland.

He experienced a similar incident last year at Newark airport.

An archive of his tweeted account from today follows.


• It's very frustrating that I have to put so much consideration into talking about the kind of harassment that I am subjected to in airports.

• I was detained, searched, and CPB did attempt to question me about the nature of my vacation upon landing in Seattle.

• The CPB specifically wanted laptops and cell phones and were visibly unhappy when they discovered nothing of the sort.

• I did however have a few USB thumb drives with a copy of the Bill of Rights encoded into the block device. They were unable to copy it.

• The forensic specialist (who was friendly) explained that EnCase and FTK, with a write-blocker inline were unable to see the Bill of Rights.

• I requested access my lawyer and was again denied. They stated I was I wasn't under arrest and so I was not able to contact my lawyer.

• The CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) agent was waiting for me at the exit gate. Remember when it was our family and loved ones?

• When I handed over my customs declaration form, the female agent was initially friendly. After pulling my record, she had a sour face.

• She attempted to trick me by putting words into my mouth. She marked my card with a large box with the number 1 inside, sent me on my way.

• While waiting for my baggage, I noticed the CBP agent watching me and of course after my bag arrived, I was "randomly" selected for search.

• Only US customs has random number generator worse than a mid-2007 Debian random number generator. Random? Hardly.

• During the search, I made it quite clear that I had no laptop and no cell phone. Only USB drives with the Bill of Rights.

• The CBP agent stated that I had posted on Twitter before my flight and that slip ended the debate about their random selection process.

• The CBP agents in Seattle were nicer than ones in Newark. None of them implied I would be raped in prison for the rest of my life this time.

• The CBP agent asked if the ACLU was really waiting. I confirmed the ACLU was waiting and they again denied me contact with legal help.

• All in all, the detainment was around thirty minutes long. They all seemed quite distressed that I had no computer and no phone.

• They were quite surprised to learn that Iceland had computers and that I didn't have to bring my own.

• There were of course the same lies and threats that I received last time. They even complemented me on work done regarding China and Iran.

• I think there's a major disconnect required to do that job and to also complement me on what they consider to be work against police states.

• While it's true that Communist China has never treated me as badly as CBP, I know this isn't true for everyone who travels to China.

• All in all, if you're going to be detained, searched, and harassed at the border in an extra-legal manner, I guess it's Seattle over Newark.

• It took a great deal of thought before I posted about my experience because it honestly appears to make things worse for me in the future.

• Even if it makes things worse for me, I refuse to be silent about state sponsored systematic detainment, searching, and harassment.

• In case it is not abundantly clear: I have not been arrested, nor charged with any crime, nor indicted in any way. Land of the free? Hardly.

• I'm only counting from the time that we opened my luggage until it was closed. The airport was basically empty when I left.

• It's funny that the forensics guy uses EnCase. As it, like CBP, apparently couldn't find a copy of the Bill of Rights I dd'ed into the disk.

• The forensics guy apparently enjoyed the photo with my homeboy Knuth and he was really quite kind. The forensics guy in Newark? Not so much.

• The CBP agent asked me for data - was I bringing data into the country? Where was all my data from the trip? Names, numbers, receipts, etc.

• The mental environment that this creates for traveling is intense. Nothing is assured, nothing is secure, and nothing provides escape.

• I resisted the temptation to give them a disk filled with /dev/random because I knew that reading them the Bill of Rights was enough hassle.

• I'm flying to Toronto, Canada for work on Sunday and back through Seattle again a few days later. Should be a joy to meet these guys again.

• All of this impacts my ability to work and takes a serious emotional toll on me. It's absolutely unacceptable.

• What happens if I take a device they can't image? They take it. What about the stuff they give back? Back doored? Who knows?

• Does it void a warranty if your government inserts a backdoor into your computer or phone? It certainly voids the trust I have in all of it.

• I dread US Customs more than I dreaded walking across the border from Turkey to Iraq in 2005. That's something worth noting.

• I will probably never feel safe about traveling internationally with a computer or phones again.

• None the less, safe or not, I won't stop working on Tor. Nor will I cease traveling. I will adapt and I will win. A hard road worth taking.

[first tweet in series / final tweet in series]