Michael Yon's claim that he was handcuffed for refusing to answer unreasonable questions at Seattle's airport is, of course, just his side of the story. I've offered some reasons in earlier posts to think that his story is a bit odd, since he seems at first to have blamed TSA for the actions of the customs and border authorities, whose justification for asking the questions is a lot easier to imagine.
But why do we have to imagine CBP's justification for the questions? Commenters here and elsewhere have complained that border officials haven't been allowed to tell their side of the story. Declan McCullagh, a journalist who wears his libertarian sympathies on his sleeve, has disclosed that one border official may have posted comments revealing that Yon has a longstanding beef with CBP . With Declan's parentheticals, here's the post by the apparent border official:
"Just refusing to answer a question about yourself and your travel does not get you handcuffed during a secondary inspection in customs. You have to do alot (sic) more. And Yon was lying in his post where he claims that the airport police rescued him. CBP does not answer to the airport police and the airport police has no authority to interfere with CBP actions. Conservatives should get their facts straight before they go off. Yon actually has a history with CBP. His Thai girlfriend got stopped and questioned by CBP and he has a hissy fit afterward." (This may be a reference to Aew, Yon's Thai friend, who he said a year ago was unreasonably hassled by Minneapolis CBP agents.)
There's a lot to chew on in that short comment, which can apparently be traced to a dhs.gov domain. It calls into question Yon's impartiality about CBP. And it raises questions about why Yon left so much doubt about which agency asked him questions and handcuffed him; after the Minneapolis event, surely Yon is quite familiar with CBP officers and what authorities they have. In fact, it's easy, after reading his account of his friend's experience, to suspect that he was eager for a confrontation over border questioning.
But most interesting is Yon's threat to sue the government for this post. McCullagh reports that " Yon is saying he's "going to ask" his attorney "to examine a lawsuit for libel against the federal government for the post on BlackFive."" That would be a Privacy Act lawsuit for disclosing facts about an individual without statutory justification.
I am not comfortable with the leaking of private data, even in these circumstances. But neither can I justify Yon's tactic of trying to punish the government employees who contradicted his tale of oppression. Think what we all would say about a mainstream journalist who tried to use lawsuits to prevent the disclosure of bias in a story he had written. In equity, if not in law, when Yon published his account of the encounter, he should have waived any privacy right in keeping the event out of the public record. All the Privacy Act is doing now is suppressing speech about an event that has attracted lots of public attention.
I don't agree with Declan often, but he's got this dead right. He challenged Yon to authorize the release of the CBP records about the event, so we can all evaluate what happened ourselves.
One possibility, if Yon is interested and CBP is willing, might be an authorized disclosure. The CBP cited the Privacy Act; if you read the text of it, you'll see that the law allows disclosure "pursuant to a written request by, or with the prior written consent of, the individual to whom the record pertains." So if the Privacy Act is the sole obstacle to setting the record straight, a mere written request might do the trick.
Until that happens, it looks as though the truth is a privacy victim too.