I get around. And it has made me popular with Uncle Sam.
My U.S. passport is the size of a small phone book, and my destinations include some decidedly non-touristy locales. So when I return from someplace like Cambodia, Haiti or Rwanda, the person who examines my passport inevitably asks a series of penetrating questions about my reasons for going there, the nature of my business, where I stayed, who I spent time with, whether I brought back any voodoo dolls, and so on.
I’ve learned to grin and bear these intrusive questions, although it can be difficult to maintain one’s composure after a 24-hour flight from Bangkok. Or when a TSA agent confiscates a snow globe you bought your daughter in Frankfurt because it contains a liquid.
But for real fireworks, nothing beats being pulled aside for “special examination” — the dreaded SSSS (secondary security screening selection) designation on one’s boarding card. I get this a lot. One day I found out why … and how to avoid it in the future.
Big Brother’s Watching You
I have a second passport. It’s useful for all sorts of reasons, including some that aren’t always apparent at first … such as U.S. border formalities.
My experience with the U.S. Transport Security Administration (TSA) reflects the sort of country the U.S. has become. It’s a massive intelligence and security state, with myriad bureaucracies that often operate independently, with little supervision. And our approach to constitutional law is exactly backwards: Instead of actively protecting our rights, our government ignores them until some courageous litigant challenges it, whereupon the Supreme Court reminds everyone of those rights — if they’re in the mood.
My TSA nightmares illustrate this. On several occasions, TSA goons have pulled up my “records” on their computer screens. They inevitably ask me about every country I’ve visited in the last few years: Nepal. Bangladesh. Kenya. Vietnam. Nigeria. Guatemala. Tanzania. Even Hungary and Slovakia. They know about all of my journeys and want to know more. (Which makes recent revelations even more ironic.)
My travel history, you see, qualifies me for some sort of “watch list.” I’ve never done anything wrong, and yet I am watched closely by the U.S. government.
But there’s a way around that.
U.S. citizens aren’t the only people in the world fed up with our government. Plenty of foreign countries consider Washington to be a bully and a bad neighbor. Some of them retaliate against U.S. passport holders visiting their shores.
Brazil, for example, requires visas of U.S. visitors because the U.S. does the same to Brazilians. So do India, China, Russia, Pakistan, Vietnam, most of Africa … and Australia. In some cases it’s not a big deal, but sometimes U.S. citizens are subjected to intrusive and abusive examinations that are a clear response to our country’s own practices. A U.S. passport is an invitation to a shakedown by customs officials and cops in many countries.
But I’ve visited almost all of those countries with no hassle. That’s because my second passport is from a country that has good relations with them. They welcome me with open arms.
Even better … the U.S. government has no idea I’ve visited them.
After all, avoiding visas and anti-U.S. sentiment isn’t the only reason a second passport comes in handy. Privacy is a huge bonus. I regularly visit countries that don’t penalize U.S. visitors using my second passport. I do this specifically to avoid having entry and exit stamps in my U.S. passport, where TSA snoops can see and record them.
Doing Nothing Wrong … Except Seeking Privacy
My international travels are all for perfectly legitimate reasons. But so were those of Laura Poitras, a U.S. journalist and filmmaker who has been subjected to detention, confiscation of her personal effects, and other forms of harassment at the U.S. border — all because she is openly critical of the U.S. government’s abuse of our constitutional rights. Her shocking experience is shared by many Americans.
Bob Bauman’s The Passport Book tells you how to obtain residence and a second passport from many countries. Some aren’t so easy, but many just require the right ancestry, a reasonable investment, or a willingness to spend some time abroad.
The way I look at it, with every day that passes — with every new violation of our liberties by the U.S. government — the relative value of a second passport increases.
After all, what price can you put on privacy?
Offshore and Asset Protection Editor