Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
June 25, 2008

The War On Tourism

As someone who has traveled quite a but in the U.S., on business trips and on vacation tours, I am dismayed with all the new regulations that make such trips psychological and physical very uncomfortable.


  • The U.S. will pick up at least 15 personal data entities about someone coming from Europe through the flight operator. It will keep that data for at least 15 years and may distribute it to who knows who.
  • The traveler will have to fill out some some stupid from on a U.S. government website at least three days prior to boarding the plane.
  • On arrival the guest's laptop may be seized without cause and without knowing when, if ever, it will be given back. Data on a mobile phone or memory sticks may get copied.
  • Also on arrival fingerprints will be taken and checked against some mysterious database. Soon the same procedure will apply when the traveler leaves the country.
  • The newest idea in Congress is to charge some $25 entrance fee to the U.S. Guess what for ... to promote foreign tourism to the U.S.

Sometime in 1999 my boss sent me off on an emergency trip (twelve hour notice) to San Fransisco to cut a fast deal with some dot com venture. I was booked from Hamburg to Frankfurt to Washington DC to SF on Lufthansa and United. Because of bad weather in Frankfurt and congestion delays in Heathrow I ended up flying Hamburg, London, LA, SF by three airlines I had not booked with and arrived just in time but without my luggage. On the way I hacked a business and negotiation plan into my laptop and exchanged some highly sensitive emails with my boss.

We actually cut the deal after some very personal negotiations but ended up paying too much to the U.S. partner. Today such a business would be impossible. The airlines will no longer allow such emergency flight switching, sensitive data on a laptop may kill your company and not many managers like the personal disparagement that now comes with the entry of the U.S.

Not one of the above measures would have prevented 9/11. What is their purpose? Cui bono?

I will likely never again canoe through the everglades, hike the woodsin sight of Mount St. Helens or visit the Jamestown railroad museum in east California. That is sad, but there are nice places elsewhere too. Not everyone fights in this war on tourism.

Posted by b on June 25, 2008 at 18:57 UTC | Permalink


To your question: "What is their purpose?" Bruce Schneier calls it "security theater."

In a way, this theater is a rather natural result of Federal Gov't culture. Highly uncreative people dream up nonsensical "solutions" the rest of us get burdened with. There are a million reasons these dim, milquetoast uncreatives seem to permeate government posts.

There is a great post on with photos from a former KGB cave-city under Moscow(?). I think this makes a great metaphor for the psychological stress Americans now feel when traveling - that at any moment we can be 'disappeared' into a non-official, subterranean purgatory.

Posted by: Jeremiah | Jun 25 2008 19:12 utc | 1

in previous 'flathead' thread, Uncle $cam points us to a Brother Ali videoclip where we are "welcome to United Snakes, land of the thieves, home of the slaves"...
well, besides exporting it, the Snakes are managing to create this brand new thrilling kind of democracy, or may it be called democrazy?

Posted by: rudolf | Jun 25 2008 19:39 utc | 2

All these hassles are rehearsals. No there are no sensible rationales for any of them, given that the order givers are themselves the creators of the "terrst threat."

Fear and control.

Plus gathering data on feasibility of mistreating citizens, for future refinement.

All this should be obvious to all by now but at the same time we've been swamped with brainwashing thru the media. The only programs I see on teevee, when I am "forced" to join the family and be sociable by staring at the screen, are CSI and its clones. The color is nice, the dialog, acting. Compared to 77 Sunset Strip or Gunsmoke anyway. However...

One always feels as if he is being herded thru an innoculation pen, designed to ensure that the watching masses are all on the same page wrt law enforcement and its perfectly lovely interesting competent human employees. Subtle or not-so-subtle lines are (always) included in the script to cordon off misfits as unacceptable players. One doesn't notice this skewing of reality unless one is looking for it because, well, that has been the function of teevee from the gitgo in the forties. It does permanently distort your brain when allowed to seep in thru the cracks.

Recently heard true story: A regular flyer was being hassled as usual by "security" and purposely refused to respond, going on about his business of getting to the gate. When finally jerked around physically by the goon, he began frantically signing as if he were deaf. Then he was left alone.

Shows how easy it would be to overcome govt slime if only more would participate. The alternative is slavery.

Posted by: rapt | Jun 25 2008 20:24 utc | 3

And there's this little green card I once picked up, though it's for foreign devils, not for Americans. The customs people were instantly on me like flies on shit but I got a quick look at it. It requires you to sign that you forgo all rights (fuck the Constitution and the UDHR). Cheap crap or no cheap crap, Who the fuck would ever set foot in this gulag if they had a choice?

Posted by: ...---... | Jun 25 2008 20:33 utc | 4

rapt #3 is correct: hassles are testing, teasing, training. The cui getting bono rather than boned are the larger firms, owned by the more swollen investors, GE etc., whose functionaries will not be gelded and may receive useful info from the laptops of the "free market" lower competitors. It's great to be the king's banker.

Posted by: plushtown | Jun 25 2008 21:08 utc | 5

I'm personally avoiding US trips these days. I've been twice for obligatory family occasions in the Bush years; but it's getting worse all the time.

As you say, b, there are plenty of other very nice places to go around the world; and I live in one :-).

I'll reconsider once I see how the new regime behaves; but it is going to be very hard to unwind the "homeland" bureaucracy, lack of personal rights and privacy and the fear psychology once it's taken hold. That is completely aside from the shabby infrastructure and airport bottlenecks due to decades of neglect. The contrast between Frankfurt and LAX is incredible.

Posted by: PeeDee | Jun 25 2008 21:58 utc | 6

Much ado about nothing, for a seasoned international traveler.

* The U.S. will pick up at least 15 personal data entities about someone coming from Europe through the flight operator. It will keep that data for at least 15 years and may distribute it to who knows who.

Who cares? As long as border guards aren't shaking you down after your arrival?!
If you're really freaked out about it, rent a cheap flat for a month before you
depart, get your driver's license reissued to that address, buy the ticket with
that license, then what've they got? Your name and hair and eye color. Big deal.

* The traveler will have to fill out some some stupid from on a U.S. government website at least three days prior to boarding the plane.

Got news for you, all air travelers have had to fill out stupid forms, for years.

* On arrival the guest's laptop may be seized without cause and without knowing when, if ever, it will be given back. Data on a mobile phone or memory sticks may get copied.

Take cheap laptop, wipe the harddrive and reinstall OS etc, wear USB RAM stick.
Buy a cheap PPM cellphone, download your contacts onto RAM stick, then buy cell minutes at any US grocery store. If you're being followed, toss the cell phone,
and buy another one at any video store. Sheesh. Like International Citizen 101.

* Also on arrival fingerprints will be taken and checked against some mysterious database. Soon the same procedure will apply when the traveler leaves the country.

Boo hoo. Put a cast iron skillet on the stove, dry. When it starts to just smoke,
tap your finger pads on the surface until they're polished down to the grooves.
If you're too bawk bawk to smear your pads, dig in the dirt for a half hour or so
at some park before you hit the airport. They can't arrest you for having dirty fingerprint impressions. Nothing says you need a manicure first to enter the US.

* The newest idea in Congress is to charge some $25 entrance fee to the U.S. Guess what for ... to promote foreign tourism to the U.S.

Every damn country has entrance and exit charges, that you often don't find out about until the inspection official hisses his gap tooth demand for baaksheesh.
Carry cash, buy a cigar before you check through, it annoys the hell outta them.

Just whatever you do, when you make it through, don't try to go back for something!!

Posted by: Telli Salivas | Jun 25 2008 22:15 utc | 7

I just don't get why any sane person would want to go to the USA right now, just as sane persons weren't dying to visit Germany in 1938.

Posted by: CluelessJoe | Jun 25 2008 23:01 utc | 8

Joe, some of us are stuck here and voting just doesn't seem to mean much of anything. I haven't flown in a few years but the last time the fuckers amde me take off my SANDALS. My fucking SANDALS. I'd rather walk than put up with that kind of crap.

Posted by: mikefromtexas | Jun 26 2008 0:34 utc | 9

In the last few years we have commented several times on the horrors of travel in amerika and to a lesser but no means negligible extent, europe(CCTV cameras do not make me feel safer .the things are usually not manned and are accessed after the fact when 'law enforcement' wants to gather evidence on past events not to prevent some traveller from being robbed by the local street 'tax collectors') our and many others comments complaints here and elsewhere were noticed.

The amerikan travel industry has lobbied any pol who will listen to help them staunch the hemorrhaging of foreign tourists to other locales, but so far it appears the only response has been the imposition of this departure tax to force travelers to pay for lies about the friendly and hospitable reception they didn't receive.

Considering that the gwot scare industry has receded considerably in the last couple of years, the protocols are in place but the fear is cranked up much less often, one has to consider why a decision has been made to continue official harassment of foreign visitors at the same level as 2002 -2003 when amerikans were joyously killing sikhs for looking like the dreaded 'raghead' and therefore regarded the jackboots on the border as a necessary evil.

One must consider the possibility that washington is trying to prevent the amerikan population from being contaminated by internationalism. Yes the internet has done wonders for encouraging ordinary amerikans to communicate with 'aliens' but increasingly those contacts are losing their potency as a combination of familiarity breeding contempt and more capable stifling of 'unwanted' messages has reduced the number of amerikans experiencing dissonance from finding that what they have been taught to believe isn't what the vast majority of the world holds to. That there are other foreign concepts that not only conflict with amerika's view of itself they make sense.

If that is the case one asks, why isn't there more effort to decrease the rate of amerikan travel overseas? Well I would say that these airport hassles do discourage many amerikans from traveling but in addition I would also argue that the way that most amerikans travel which is increasingly becoming the only way to travel into amerika relatively hassle-free, precludes much contact with their foreign hosts.

My experience of amerikan tourists visiting where ever it is I happen to be at the time is that most travel in large groups inter-acting with each other. Some braver souls may inter-act with the locals, but in ways that refer back to the larger group. A sort of cultural interpreter who rarely moves out of the portable amerika paradigm, much less allows any of the less courageous a peek out of the paradigm.

Before I get interrupted, yes I'm sure that most MoA habitues don't travel that way but I'm equally sure that most amerikan tourists do.

Now amerika rather like the iron curtain countries of old, only allows visitors traveling in large 'containable groups' to enjoy their visit hassle free. Moving from transport to hotel room with occasional pre-determined stops at eateries and 'sights' or worst of all the dreaded eatery within a tourist sight, these visitors who are only ever going to come in contact with professional tourist inter-actors such as guides, waiters and bus drivers, all of whom are jaded, have 'heard it all before' and are too busy trying to extract a supplement for their subsistence wage to relate to the visitors on the sort of level that can cause contamination. In fact these contacts are more likely to re-inforce amerikan xenophobia since peeps who travel in herds like cattle are usually stressed and rarely behave as exemplars of their nation's culture and traditions.

Yeah I know surely not another conspiracy. Well the thing is these sort of situations are rarely planned by machiavellian neo-cons with rovian ambitions, they develop over time as situations evolve within a strictly controlled environment such as international travel.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Jun 26 2008 0:51 utc | 10

this wapo article is probably related
Climate Issues Tied to U.S. Security

..according to a National Intelligence Assessment on the security implications of climate change by the National Intelligence Council ... presented ... yesterday to a joint meeting of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Select Committee on Energy Independence ...

Overall, the assessment found that while the United States "is better equipped than most nations to deal with climate change," the impact on other countries has the "potential to seriously affect U.S. national security interests." Humanitarian disasters, economic migration, food and water shortages -- all caused by climate change -- will pressure other countries to respond. Such demands "may significantly tax U.S. military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture," the assessment found.
The United States must "plan for growing immigration pressures," the report said...

climate instability in sub-saharan africa or coastal asia is a threat to u.s. national security? only if you imagine that their raw materials & human capital weren't theirs to begin w/, i suppose.

anyway, i've seen more than a few items on controlling population flows the same way that trade & transport in commodities are tracked. airports are one of the obvious points to develop these programs.

Posted by: b real | Jun 26 2008 3:29 utc | 11

Best travel memory of American tourists was chilling in Crete with me homies, when a flock of Bermuda shorts stumbled on down the hill from the bus stop, with a dark haired native drum major in the lead, lilting them gaily shop to shop, pocketing his little backsheesh tip from each shop keeper, while the goys lolled inside, but what's that yellow dot thing on all those Americans foreheads? They got closer and closer to us, we could hear their calm intellectualization of what was basically a guided slo-mo robbery, until as they passed by, we realized that yellow dot was a round happy face decal, plastered on each of their foreheads, with their name scrawled in magic marker, just in case their guide couldn't make his counts.

They're back!!!

Posted by: Happy Phase | Jun 26 2008 4:48 utc | 12


You sure it wasn't, "there's a sucker born every moment" on them stickers? If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, then it's probably a duck. But,... it could just be an ugly chicken...

Congress is about as useless as farming umbrella's.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Jun 26 2008 6:44 utc | 13

McClatchy: U.S. border agents copying contents of travelers' laptops

U.S. border agents are copying and seizing the contents of laptops, cell phones and digital cameras from U.S. and foreign travelers entering the United States, witnesses told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday.

The extent of this practice is unknown despite requests to the Department of Homeland Security from the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution and several nonprofit agencies.

The department also declined to send a representative to the hearing.
Retaining confidential computer files also worries business travelers and companies, said Susan Gurley, the executive director of the Association of Corporate Travel Executives, an international group based in Alexandria, Va..

Her organization surveyed its 2,500 members in February, Gurley said. Of 100 respondents, seven said border agents had seized their laptops or their files.

Posted by: b | Jun 26 2008 8:21 utc | 14

We can get all paranoid and/or liberty conscious about this 7% hit rate on data gathering but the reality is likely to be far more prosaic yet infinitely worse.
That is it is only a matter of time before these homeland security workers recognise they have the power to mine for gold every day. Peeps have all sorts of data on their computers and not just credit card details.
pretty soon these border guards would run outta time to check out potential terra-ists. They be far too busy on their own profile developed to find travellers most likely to have saleable info on computers and memory sticks.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Jun 26 2008 9:41 utc | 15

American Travels

I was in Vegas and Philly not long after 9/11. The fear was palpable I think. Never had to fill a pre-trip form.

One guy in Philly had his room searched

We got patted down in Vegas

Most Americans I've met are nice.

But there are assholes everywhere (he says staring into a mirror)

Friends went on a honeymoon cruise that was aboot 95% American

Many were not exemplars of people, much less their tribe

Like their neighbours

Two 40 something women acting like drunken frat boys, partying to all hours every night

Until my buddy slammed, with his foot, the chair into the paper-thin wall right behind the frat twat that had fallen back against that wall, slid down and began banging her head against it as they both chortled and snorted in their drunken reverie at 4AM...

A favourite question asked of the stewards was "What religion are those with the pads behind their ears?"

Another passenger asked Mrs. Buddy what part of the States they were from.

"We're not"

At which, the inquisitor acquired a very confused look as she tried to process the reply and sputtered, "Well, you must be from the ocean then." She then turned on her heel and marched off...

In Vegas, a nice older woman was shilling for something or other and said hello and asked what state we were from.

"The 51st", drawing a confused look. "Canada".

She laughed and thought it clever as we chatted

All three times we passed by her on the way to aomething or other

Won't go back since 19/03/2003

Posted by: jcairo | Jun 26 2008 9:58 utc | 16

Telli: glad to see you aren't concerned over increasingly draconian security measures targeting foreign visitors to the US. if confiscating labtops and checking info against databases like maincore doesn't pique your sense of privacy, then BIG BRO's incrementalism is working as intended. is it really that difficult to see where these trends ultimately lead? yeah, yeah, i'm just a paranoid amerikan eager to brand any hint of nefarious activity as conspiratorial, right?

Posted by: Lizard | Jun 26 2008 15:09 utc | 17

...and Uncle $cam's evil twin.


Posted by: beq | Jun 26 2008 16:36 utc | 18

Ha! beq, too true...and forgive me if i seem to parrot Uncle's line of thinking, but there are a great many things we see eye to eye on, like how quickly we amerikans are sliding into the trap. that is why i have no patience for Telli's patronizing boo-hooing. i'm sitting here, in amerika, watching the equivalent of a mentally deficient sociopath plodding toward a cliff with a gaggle of commentators broadcasting the event live describing every tedious step while morons from the peanut gallery jeer and bellow totally clueless there's a giant chain connecting the dumb psycho to the bleachers.

Posted by: Lizard | Jun 27 2008 4:22 utc | 19

“Security” is a hugely lucrative business. Of course Gvmt. approval is needed for much of it, the financing. The Gvmt. does not care, or encourages, either because of dark motives (amply echoed here, but also empty of any real aim, utility) or simply because it is all another scam based on Gvmt. perks. -- The US Gvmt. also subsidies ethanol from corn and abstinence-only sex ed. as well as other madcap schemes.

To qualify for bucks one has to freak out about terrorists and act serious and solemn, want to be invested with badges, uniforms and special phones, use barked orders, guns, forms to fill in, investigations, spying, senseless wire tapping, etc. Fine, it’s all good...

Meanwhile, people who need to travel quickly, and are approved by the US, do, a few phone calls, and cash on the barrel are enough (last time I looked at the US gvmt. visa/immigr. site there was mention of these special programs, about 1K and up per person, mostly used by corporations.) The information gathering and restrictions apply only to the common folk. All very bad for science/technology, diplomacy, universities, etc. but the Bush Gvmt. hates all that anyway, they want State Science (e.g. Lysenko.)

As for the tourism industry, let the Chinese buy it up, or now the low dollar compensates, or whatever. One guesses the Hotel/travel lobby has little influence. (?)

Posted by: Tangerine | Jun 28 2008 16:46 utc | 20

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