2011-01-11 Jacob Appelbaum on entering the US on Monday


Jacob Appelbaum is a security analyst who works on Tor and Wikileaks, and has been very instrumental in discovering weaknesses in the Haystack system, among other things. He has gained notoriety with the US government through acting as a speaker and advocate of Wikileaks, and became widely known last fall after a Rolling Stone article calling him "The Most Dangerous Man in Cyberspace" and "The American hacker behind Wikileaks". Recently he was one of the subjects of a subpoena from the US DoJ requesting information from Twitter.

While the Twitter story broke he was in Iceland, and he returned to the US on Monday. He has been the subject of repeated harassment at airports this year, and apparently Monday was no exception, despite members of the ACLU meeting him at the airport. He will be headed to Toronto this weekend and will be able to experience the independence (or not) of Canadian customs.

His tweets on his most recent experience arriving in the US:

Jan 7: 9:07PM - It seems quite wrong that I feel safe in Iceland while simultaneously having a sense of apprehension about returning to the USA next week.

Jan 7: 9:20PM - Motivation: ..."I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear."...

Jan 7: 9:33PM - Now's a good time to note that *the world* needs strong anonymity. Help out: https://www.torproject.org/getinvolved/volunteer.html.en

Jan 9: 10:52AM - After a good deal of thought, I've decided to fly home from Iceland tomorrow to Seattle as planned. The ACLU will meet me at the airport.

Jan 9: 11:12AM - I am not practically able to transport electronic devices. I will be radio silent before, during, and for some time after my flight.

Jan 9: 11:31AM - I think that it is unlikely that there will be any serious trouble. With secret courts and sealed orders... the only way to know is to go.

Jan 10: 5:30AM - I'm heading to the airport from Reykjavik and expect to be in the US around 16:40 PST Monday afternoon. Perhaps everything will go smoothly.

Jan 10: 7:40PM - I am out of the airport and back in Seattle. Nothing more for now, sleep time.

Yesterday (January 12) he added:

- 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.

- 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.

- A solid argument for free software: To check the integrity of your hardware and your software against tampering. No binary (firmware) blobs.

- I'd like to think that when I visit my family in Canada this wekend and attend a work conference that Canada won't hassle me. Am I dreaming?

- Will the Canadian government simply act as an arm of the US policy of detaining, searching, and harassing me? Oh Canada! I hope not.

- It's interesting to note that some media initially reported that I had no trouble because I said nothing at all. Irony abounds.

- Why do we allow US Customs to lie and to threaten people? It's a crime to lie to them and they do it as their day job. Why the inequality?

- A few points: I was not arrested, I did not consent to any searching, and of course - this isn't about travel, this is about liberty

- @squeakie Yes, I was searched but I did not consent to this search.

- @tbeckett No, I asked if I was free to go and I was denied the ability to leave.

Our articles on the Twitter subpoena:

Twitter Details & Messages of Birgitta Jónsdóttir Subpoenaed.
2011-01-08: U.S. DOJ Twitter Subpoena Updates
2011-01-08: Twitter on censorship: No censorship on Twitter
2011-01-09: U.S. DOJ access to information on Twitter followers
2011-01-09: DOJ subpoena applicable to non-Twitter users who viewed tweets?
2011-01-09 Government Requests for Twitter Users' Personal Information Raise Serious Constitutional Concerns, Says ACLU

Don't underestimate a concerted psychological campaign

I don't think your experience means others' experience is less important or less damaging.

The U.S. government is running an organized and concerted psychological campaign against Wikileaks and the #openinternet movement. They want control of information, and they evidently have no problem with breaking their own laws to achieve that control.

What they are hoping to do to people like Jacob (and he is evidently aware of that fact) is to intimidate them into giving up. It's not just the regular threats, delays, inconvenience, damaged equipment and harassment, it's the knowledge that this will continue, and the worry that it will escalate. Jacob is aware that the U.S. government is trying to frighten him, and he is protecting himself against that weapon. Also, the disconnect between the country he believed he lived in, and the monster it is proving to be, is very unsettling. He has to deal with that.

As we all do. My government (Australia) seems to have no problem with an Australian citizen being victimized and imprisoned overseas without charge or trial (while spending a great deal of money and effort in advocating for convicted Australian heroin smugglers in Indonesia), and it hasn't said a word in protest of the U.S. government's subpoena of private Twitter details about anyone from this or any other country who may have quite legally read the Wikileaks Twitter feed. We are all watching the slow death of democracy, and hoping for a miracle cure.

Motivation: ..."I must not

Motivation: ..."I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear."...
....oh my. You know I kind of hope that one day Wikileaks activists will suffer some real government harrassment, so then they will know what it is like. Being held 30 minutes at a border does not constitute being detained - or else I am routinely detained entering in Australia.
If his account is in any way based on reality (doubtful)it might be interesting taking a complaint to an equivalent of a privacy watchdog or ombudsmann - especially to see if copying flash drives is legal. It may be, I have had Australian border people go through all my private documents and papers before (such as bank statements, letters etc). However, he is hamming it up so much a lot of description is probaby fantasy.

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