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As Long as We Remember...

January 13, 2010

Spontaneous Incompetence

Kevin E. Dayhoff

In an incident, almost totally ignored by the dominant United States major news media, comes word that an American hero, the renown Army Green Beret-turned-Iraq/Afghanistan war correspondent, Michael Yon, was “arrested” January 5 as he entered the country for failing to disclose his income.


No, as unbelievable as it may seem, I am not making this up.


The news comes barely 10 days after a 23-year-old Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was essentially given a pass by authorities to fly about the country, as a result of bureaucratic bungling of byzantine proportions, with a bomb in his pants which he planned to kill nearly 300 airplane passengers on Christmas Day.


It is in this context that Mr. Yon, the award-winning American combat-journalist, wrote on his Facebook page at 11:05 A.M. January 5:


“Got arrested at the Seattle airport for refusing to say how much money I make... Their videos and audios should show that I was polite, but simply refused questions that had nothing to do with national security….”


Mr. Yon, the iconoclastic writer who has been reporting on the front lines of combat in the Middle East since December 2004, had flown into the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport from Hong Kong when he was handcuffed, detained, and interrogated by U.S. Customs Border and Protection.


According to Aleksandra Kulczuga, writing for the web publication, The Daily Caller, Mr. Yon said: “I was caught off-guard by the question [about my income]…”  Yon, an American citizen traveling on an American passport, said he cooperated fully when asked standard security questions about what was in his suitcase: “I was on better-than-normal behavior.”


At 12:03 P.M. on January 5, Mr. Yon wrote on Facebook: “When they handcuffed me, I said that no country has ever treated me so badly. Not China. Not Vietnam. Not Afghanistan. Definitely not Singapore or India or Nepal or Germany, not Brunei, not Indonesia, or Malaysia, or Kuwait or Qatar or United Arab Emirates. No county has treated me with the disrespect that can be expected from our border bullies.”


To be as fair as possible to the Customs authorities and the Transportation Security Administration, flying anywhere in the world these days has its moments of insane incidents with incompetent Keystone Cops on acid.


Indeed, even Mr. Yon wrote several hours later: “Actually...the Gold Medal for border harassment goes to Israel. The U.S. gets the Silver on border bullying. Among the most professional that I've encountered is UAE [United Arab Emirates] and also Singapore. Very professional. UAE confiscated my body armor during one trip, but took good care of the armor and gave it back at the airport when I left.”


However, for those who still believe in our great nation, we would like to believe that America would be the gold standard for protecting our citizens. In the wake of the Christmas Day underwear bomber debacle a national conversation has raged over just how safe we feel and just how well the policies and practices of the administration of President Barack Obama are protecting us.


It is events like this that give us little in the way of reassurance.


Meanwhile, Bob Owens, writing for the web publication, Confederate Yankee, notes: “Let me tell you a little about what I know of Michael Yon. We've worked together on several stories in the past, and his concern for accuracy and fairness in reporting is second to none.…


“And if Janet Napolitano's DHS [Department of Homeland Security] is targeting critics for harassment, they certainly picked the wrong former Green Beret to start in on.”


For those who are not familiar with Mr. Yon, there is no better place to start than with his web publication, “Michael Yon Online Magazine,” It introduces Mr. Yon by observing that “No other reporter has spent as much time with combat troops in these two wars.” A point of which even The New York Times noted in a January 21, 2008, article by Richard Pérez-Peña, “Frontline Blogger Covers War in Iraq With a Soldier’s Eyes.”


“Michael Yon was not a journalist, and he wasn’t sure what a blogger was. He had been in uniform, but not in combat; and he wanted to keep it that way. He went to Iraq thinking he would stay for a month, and maybe find a way to write about the war after he got home,” wrote Mr. Pérez-Peña.


“Instead, he has spent most of the last three years in Iraq, writing prolifically and graphically, and racking up more time embedded with combat units than any other journalist, according to the United States military. He has been shot at, buffeted by explosions, and seen more people maimed — fighters and civilians, adults and children — than he can count.”


Mr. Yon’s magazine reports: “Michael’s dispatches from the frontlines have earned him the reputation as the premier independent combat journalist of his generation. His work has been featured on “Good Morning America,” The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, ABC, FOX News, as well as hundreds of other major media outlets all around the world.


Mr. Pérez-Peña continues by noting Mr. Yon “was a Special Forces soldier more than two decades ago. He insists that he still does not really know the rules of journalism, but says he has recently, grudgingly, accepted that he has become a journalist.


“His detailed, mostly admiring accounts of front-line soldiers’ daily work have won him a loyal following, especially among service members and journalists and bloggers who follow the war.”


According to Ms. Kulczuga, Mr. Yon said that the incident seemed neither contrived nor politically motivated. “It was more like spontaneous incompetence.”


When it comes to our national security and our personal safety, it appears that our nation and foreign policy has come under siege in the past year by an epidemic of “spontaneous incompetence.”


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at


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