Seattle-Tacoma International Airport officials recently interrogated and handcuffed Army Green Beret-turned-reporter Michael Yon because he refused to tell them how much money he makes.
Ten days after the underwear bomber’s foiled attack aboard Flight 253 to Detroit, the award-winning war correspondent was detained by U.S. Customs Border and Protection after having spent most of the last 12 months reporting from the front lines of Afghanistan.
“I was caught off-guard by the question [about my income],” Yon, who had flown into Seattle from Hong Kong, told The Daily Caller. He said he cooperated fully when asked standard security questions about what was in his suitcase: “I was on better-than-normal behavior.”
Yon, an American citizen traveling on an American passport, said he politely but firmly refused to answer questions he considered invasive and irrelevant to ascertaining whether he was a threat to the country. He was subsequently handcuffed, detained and interrogated. Yon said he largely maintained silence after he realized what was happening, and waited for Port Authority Police to arrive on the scene.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection processes about 1 million international travelers a day. On average, CBP officials arrest 63 people a day (the majority have warrants out) and refuse entry to 575.
“There is not a regulation or law that says what you can or can’t ask,” Mike Milne, a 31-year veteran of U.S. Customs and a spokesman for the CBP, told The Daily Caller.
“We may ask someone for sources and types of income, asking them how they have the means to travel and how they paid for the ticket. If someone doesn’t answer questions it leaves us fewer options for how we’re going to declare their admissibility,” Milne said.
Yon said the incident seemed neither contrived nor politically motivated. “It was more like spontaneous incompetence,” he said, adding that in his travels to more than 50 countries he had never been treated so badly. Moreover, Yon has written about undue harassment at the border before, and said he doesn’t believe this was a result of increased security in the wake of the Christmas day incident.
“I am a U.S. citizen. If a cop on the street asked me how much money I make, I wouldn’t answer him either,” he said. “I wish they would just release the tapes so we could be done with this.”
A spokesman for U.S. CBP in Seattle said he could not comment specifically on individual incidents, but said that all people passing through customs are made aware they can ask for a supervisor and that the Department of Homeland Security runs a traveler redress program to address concerns.
Yon has been lauded for his efforts to bring readers under-reported and often gruesome details of the war in the Middle East. Sources such as General David Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have met with the non-establishment journalist, whose work is completely reader-supported. He accepts donations on his website.
More than anything, Yon sounded baffled by his detention.
“If you’re going to smuggle something in, it’s not going to be through the airports,” he said. “The really dangerous stuff, the bigger shipments, you’re not going to find them in a body cavity search.” He cautioned that the truly dangerous attempts would come in by boat, truck or submarine.