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United States Government Music Security Transportation

US Customs Destroys Virtuoso's Flutes Because They Were "Agricultural Items" 894

Posted by samzenpus
from the this-one-time-at-customs-camp dept.
McGruber writes "Flute virtuoso Boujemaa Razgui performed on a variety of flutes, each made by himself over years for specific types of ancient and modern performance. Razgui has performed with many U.S. ensembles and is a regular guest with the diverse and enterprising Boston Camerata. Last week, Razgui flew from Morocco to Boston, with stops in Madrid and New York. In New York, he says, a US Customs official opened his luggage and found the 13 flutelike instruments — 11 nays and two kawalas. Razgui says he had made all of the instruments using hard-to-find reeds. 'They said this is an agriculture item,' said Razgui, who was not present when his bag was opened. 'I fly with them in and out all the time and this is the first time there has been a problem. This is my life.' When his baggage arrived in Boston, the instruments were gone. He was instead given a number to call. 'They told me they were destroyed,' he says. 'Nobody talked to me. They said I have to write a letter to the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. This is horrible. I don't know what to do. I've never written letters to people.'"
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US Customs Destroys Virtuoso's Flutes Because They Were "Agricultural Items"

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  • by Bartles (1198017) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @08:33PM (#45841235)
    The Gestapo and STASI only wished they had the ability to do what the NSA does.
  • Has he checked Ebay? (Score:4, Informative)

    by ebonum (830686) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @08:49PM (#45841411)

    TSA agents have been know to do unscrupulous things.

  • Re:Saw this earlier (Score:5, Informative)

    by jythie (914043) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:01PM (#45841511)
    This is not even the first time this has happened. There have been a small but published number of other instances of musical instruments being destroyed without appeal. It is a flaw in the TSA`s procedures and a problem with how its authority is structured. If they were law enforcement they could not simply destroy things, but they are not.
  • by jedidiah (1196) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:02PM (#45841525) Homepage

    No. I sounds like one exceptional moron decided to go on a power trip. This is like that bitch at the American Airlines counter that can decide that you aren't flying today.

  • Re:Saw this earlier (Score:4, Informative)

    by MightyYar (622222) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:16PM (#45841631)

    It think because it's about out of control security apparatus, so it's kind of topical?

    Yeah, I think an editor went a little knee-jerk. It's customs, not security. Customs has been pissing people off since the Union was founded.

  • Re:Inexcusable (Score:5, Informative)

    by MightyYar (622222) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:18PM (#45841645)

    This wasn't the TSA - it was US Customs.

  • Re:Saw this earlier (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:41PM (#45841849)

    " It is a flaw in the TSA`s procedures..."

    This was customs, it had nothing to do with the TSA whatsoever.

  • by przemekklosowski (448666) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:47PM (#45841899)
    Polish pianist Kristian Zimerman had his Steinway grand piano seized by the TSA twice: the fist time around they destroyed it, the second time they just detained it for a week: []
    No, they didn't confuse it with a vegetable---apparently Zimerman recently modified his instrument and the piano smelled of glue. As a result he ended up travelling with just the mechanism, fitting it by hand to the boxes at concert halls he plays in.
  • Re:Serves him right! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Chris Mattern (191822) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:47PM (#45841903)

    That's because it's not scientific notation; it's engineering notation and perfectly proper.

  • by geekmux (1040042) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:50PM (#45841931)

    An important sentence was left out of the summary, which explained that customs mistook the instruments for pieces of bamboo. Judging from the photo accompanying the article, the confusion is almost understandable. It looks like a home made instrument that may or may not have been prepared properly given restrictions on agricultural products. (Example: they may not have been concerned about the bamboo per se, but rather invasive insects that may be in it since the reeds may not have been treated.)

    The moral of the story is to verify that the stuff that you're taking across the border is actually legal for import or export. After all, it could have been much worse for this man. I would imagine that charges could have been pressed if they so desired.

    (From TFA)

    "Razgui, who’s been performing with The Boston Camerata since 2002..."

    Perhaps another important sentence you overlooked. Had I been flying back and forth, performing in the same city for over a decade, I would have ZERO reason to suspect any wrongdoing. And assuming someone should know better is like assuming someone should know the 2014 tax code before they go shopping at the mall.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @10:36PM (#45842233)

    I've learned the hard way, if I want stuff to arrive in a reasonable condition, buy a cheap plastic Coleman cooler from your store of choice (if you can sit on the cooler without it collapsing, it is good enough), put your stuff inside, well padded, then seal, box, and ship the cooler via your freight delivery service of choice. Yes, it might be opened, but it likely will not get lost unlike most stuff from plane baggage carriers.

    Of course, bicycles and larger items will not fit, so you are on your own there.

    The company I work for has moved to Citrix XenApp desktops for remoting in, so for remote users, all the computer needs is a Citrix client. This allows the computer to run Windows 7 with BitLocker and a TPM chip, with the user logging onto an account they don't have admin access. This way, if a laptop gets seized, there is no data that can be taken. If modified or tampered with, it will be obvious (the new Dells use Secure Boot and TPM chips to ensure that the OS doesn't get tampered with.) It isn't 100%, nor NSA-proof, but it would stop some overzealous LEO from slapping their own keyboard logger on a device because they didn't like the hairstyle of someone.

    If large amounts data has to be sent, it gets sent encrypted with BitLocker via a freight service, and the key is sent via USPS registered mail. That way, if the employee's phone and data is seized at an airport and the employee made to enter passwords [1], there is no access to any data. Of course, the drive and registered mail can be seized, but that actually takes a lot more work than just a stop and search at a checkpoint.

    As for flutes and such, one is far better off insuring them with a specialty company and having them shipped separately than taking the risk of some goons destroying them.

    [1]: With the RIPA act, the UK can order someone to log onto the domain and give them full access to any contents stored there, so if one is a domain admin, it can mean complete, total compromise of the enterprise. This is solved by two accounts, one user account, one admin account, and the admin account gets locked when the employee leaves.

  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @11:00PM (#45842371)

    I used to work in a port. We once received an automobile from Thailand in a 20 ft shipping container. The auto was tied down with ropes and the ropes were tightened by twisting with shafts of bamboo (which, by the way, is about the crappiest way to tied down a car and very non-standard). When we opened up container, the bamboo was riddled with holes from some kind of Asian woodborers that had chewed their way out during transit. Anyway, we had to call the Department of Agriculture inspector (this was before the ag inspectors were merged into customs) who had us fumigate the whole container. So the moral of the story here is, based on experience, if I opened a box with reeds full of holes originating from a foreign land , I'd burn it too.

    I currently work in an air cargo facility. I've had CBP have me help them while they looked for 15-20 just to see if 1 wooden skid that the freight was on had markings that indicated it was heat treated. Every skid used has to have those marks, and any shipment using wood has to have documentation that is was heat treated and adheres to US, Canadian, and Mexican laws. Having seen this firsthand, I am really not surprised that CBP destroyed the flutes, however if I didn't work where I do it probably would never have crossed my mind that they would do it.

  • by demachina (71715) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @11:03PM (#45842389)

    How exactly have you gone ten years without hearing about rendition. The U.S. especially JSOC and SOCOM, have been snatching people all over the world since 9/11 and making them disappear. Many of them have been rendered based on the flimsiest of evidence or have even been totally the wrong people because of mistaken identity. These people have been disappeared in to secret U.S. prisons abroad and to states like Egypt for interrogation and torture where they have no access to the Red Cross, lawyers or family. They actually totally disappear. Try reading Jeremy Scahill's Dirty Wars [].

    There is also an issue with the U.S. using drones and cruise missiles over large swaths of the globe to conduct summary executions of individuals based on often flawed intelligence, and frequently killing large numbers of women and children in the process. At least three of the executions have been U.S. citizens, including a 16 year old boy.

    Just because they are Muslim does that mean they don't count in your book?

  • by the plant doctor (842044) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @11:11PM (#45842429)
    If this really is a website for nerds, I can't let this pass. Woodborer? Bamboo is a grass, not wood.
  • by QQBoss (2527196) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @11:18PM (#45842495)

    While I question this thread even being on /. in the first place, from personal experience, the concern was for the possibility of wood boring beetles or other insects hiding in the wood. I once brought back from China 4 sets of large, disassembled picture frames. If it hadn't been one of the first flights back from Asia after 9/11, the inspector would have summarily destroyed them, but he was apparently feeling sorry for all of us on the flight and took me and the frames to the side. He looked up and down each piece looking for any indications of what could indicate any kind of infestation (given that they were solid wood, any penetration should have been visible to the naked eye). Not finding any, he let me continue on with my frames. But if he hadn't had a week or so off, I am quite certain I would have left frame-less and not quite as pissed as this guy has every right to feel.

    Given that the inspector knew he would have had to have had the hollow tubes X-rayed to do a proper inspection followed by fumigation almost certainly led him to take the short cut and summarily destroy them. However, the fact that they were (probably) not freshly made musical instruments to anyone with a modicum of intelligence should have led the inspector to do a more detailed inspection, at an absolute minimum questioning the guy about the provenance of the wood sticks.

  • Re:Saw this earlier (Score:5, Informative)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @11:31PM (#45842585) Journal

    The bigger concern is that nearly all non-digital musical instruments (and some digital instruments) contain agricultural products by such a loose definition. Almost every oboe, clarinet, stringed instrument, etc. worth more than a hundred bucks is made out of wood. Even brass instruments and metal woodwinds (e.g. saxes and flutes) use cork for pads, for stops on keys, for tunable joints, for the ring at the top of trumpet valves, for water key/spit valve corks, and so on (though in some cases, it may be a synthetic cork). Even the felt used in various parts of the instrument may be made from agricultural products.

    What this effectively means is that the United States government has declared all musical instruments to be illegal contraband that may not be transported into the United States. Musicians around the world would be advised to avoid travel to the United States and its territories for any reason, or if you cannot avoid travel to this country, arrange to rent an instrument after you get here. It simply is no longer safe to carry your own instruments across the borders of this country until Congress passes a law explicitly forbidding these acts of grand theft.

  • by humphrm (18130) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @12:09AM (#45842777) Homepage

    In most U.S. ports, it's not Customs that makes the decision to inspect, it's actually ICE.

    In the olden days, back when I worked as a contractor for Customs, entry into the U.S. went like this:
    1. You went to Immigration Control first. Pre-ICE (US Immigration Control) checked your passport and entry form, OK'd you to enter, and then you reclaimed your baggage (whether you were traveling onwards or not).
    2. You then had to clear Customs, which looked at your itinerary (e.g where you'd been), your bags (i.e were they bulging, smelly, etc.) and your face and non-verbal cues to determine if you warranted a further inspection. If you did have something questionable, there were actually expert (!!!) customs agents available to determine compliance.

    Today, it goes like this:
    1. You go to Immigration (ICE) first. Based on your facial expressions, non-verbal cues, and passport history, they determine if (1) you're OK to re-enter the US, and (2) if you need further "assistance" with customs. They make a mark on your entry form, which you later turn in to a customs agent, to indicate if you should be further "assisted". The decision regarding inspection and possible seizure of goods is left almost entirely with ICE, who specialize not in Customs enforcement but Border Control.
    2. You move on to Customs Enforcement, which looks at your ICE-noted entry form and either inspects, detains, seizes, or lets you go based on ICE notes on your entry form. If ICE didn't mark your entry form for further scrutiny, you move through Customs very quickly.

    The reason for the change? Efficiency. Most people re-entering the US don't need any re-entry assistance, and Customs agents are otherwise very busy. Giving ICE the job of determining 90% of Customs work saves time for travelers and money for the government. But the downside is that most ICE agents aren't trained to sniff out the difference between a guy with handcrafted musical instruments made of foreign raw materials from a guy bringing foreign raw materials into the US with the intent of defeating embargoes and/or tariffs.

    The point is, it's not Customs that are dim, it's ICE... and as long as it saves most travelers some time at the desk, it probably won't change.

  • by demachina (71715) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @12:10AM (#45842781)

    There was a well known case of an innocent Canadian who was on a flight connecting through New York City who was seized at the airport and rendered to Syria where he was tortured. He was apparently targetted because he was mentioned as a refernce on an apartment application of someone under suspicion. No one really knows how many other people have been rendered out of the U.S., you only know if they are released at some point and speak out.

    There have been well publicized cases in Italy and Germany. A number of CIA agents were tried and convicted in absentia by Italy for kidnapping because they rendered someone off the streets of Italy consulting the Italians.

    There was a person rendered from Europe who had the same name as a suspected Islamist, but he was completely innocent and was completely disappeared for months, his family didn't know what happened to him, until the mistake was discovered months later and he was released.

    One of the three U.S. citizens executed by drone was Anwar Awliki's son. There is no evidence he ever had anything to do with Al Qaede. He was 16 years old, though at the time he was killed the U.S. claimed he was 21. The U.S. claimed they were targeted someone else from Al Qaeda when they killed him but that person was no where near the drone stoke. The boy was at an outdoor barbecue with cousins when he and all the innocent people around him were killed by a drone strike. They were disappeared in a way, they were turned in to small peices of meat and bone and were buried in a communal grave because they couldn't be identified.

    Early in the dirty war in Yeme the U.S. didn't have enough drones so they used cruise missiles from a submarine loaded with cluster bombs to level a village. There may have been one suspected Al Qaeda affiliate in the village, but thats not even certain, nearly everyone killed were innocent bystanders, many women and children.

    The dirty wars are certainly killing a lot of Al Qaeda affiliates. They are almost certainly killing a larger number of innocent civilians which will fuel new generations to hate America.

  • by Jarik C-Bol (894741) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @12:20AM (#45842827)
    I have a second cousin who plays with a big name orchestra in Denmark or somewhere, (upright bass) Anyways, he, and most other big time orchestral music people say that If you travel with your instrument, you buy a seat for yourself, and one for your instrument, and it comes on the plane with you. NEVER trust it to baggage handlers, or any other person you can't see. It never leaves your line of sight. (like the article says, that object is your living, it is your life, treat it as such.)
  • by demachina (71715) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @12:55AM (#45843001)

    There is another great story from Scahill's book that shows how flimsy and flawed the intelligence JSOC has been using to execute people is.

    An informant apparently figured out he could finger just about anyone and JSOC would sweep in and kill them without even minimaly checking the intelligence. He told JSOC there were Al Qaeda or Taliban at a certain compound. In reality people there were a police commander and his family there. He wactually worked with the U.S. and was having a christening party with music(which should have been the first tip it wasn't Taliban or Al Qaeda since they shun music).

    JSOC swept in, shooting first and not asking questions later. The police commander and another man were shot when they stepped out and tried to tell the people with night vision and lasers they were in the wrong place.

    Three women then stepped out to try to help the two men and they were shot. About this time JSOC figured out they'd made a mistake. They dug their bullets out of the women with their knives while they were still alive. The official line from NATO for several days was the two dead men had stabbed the women as part of an honor killing and JSOC killed the men to protect the women. This lie quickly unraveled when journalists started investigating. Eventually the JSOC commander, McRaven, had to come to the family beg forgiveness, slaughter a sheep and buy them off with cash.

    The basic point here is once you start extrajudicial killings based on often flawed intelligence, and you are accountable to no one, you can literally get away with murdering just about anyone, anywhere and there is next to nothing anyone can do about it. The main failure in this case is they failed to keep journalists away from the victims. They also probably should have used a drone strike since all they leave behind are small peices of meat so its often hard to tell what happened or even who was killed.

  • Re:Saw this earlier (Score:5, Informative)

    by SeaFox (739806) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @01:41AM (#45843217)

    This was customs, it had nothing to do with the TSA whatsoever.

    Customs has been a division of the Department of Homeland Security since 2003, which is the same happy family as the TSA, Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (you know, that group that likes to illegally seize people's domains for the copyright cops), and others. I think the only decent division of it is likely the Coast Guard. Other than that It's become a nice little beehive of government out to control people in the name of fighting "the terrorists".

  • by Your.Master (1088569) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @03:51AM (#45843663)

    Read all about it: []

    Yes, it's a wikipedia cite, but that article itself has 118 citations for whatever particular aspect you need.

  • by Savage-Rabbit (308260) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @03:59AM (#45843701)

    There is another great story from Scahill's book that shows how flimsy and flawed the intelligence JSOC has been using to execute people is.

    Again, a lengthy story with no references provided. Please back it up somehow. You'd do your cause a favor by not just saying stuff without citations.

    Try reading the book mentioned earlier in the thread and cited by him: []

  • by corbettw (214229) <> on Thursday January 02, 2014 @05:03AM (#45843879) Journal

    I've had an account at /. for over 15 years; you don't even have an account. So shut the fuck up and go to Techdirt if you don't like it. /. has never been solely about "science and technology". It's always had a very strong political part to it, and this cock up at US Customs plays to that part of the site.

    Don't like it? Too bad, we won't miss you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 02, 2014 @08:25AM (#45844495)

    Parent is wrong, this was CBP, not ICE. CBP secures the boarder, ICE is law enforcement/investigations inside the U.S.

  • by drinkypoo (153816) <> on Thursday January 02, 2014 @09:08AM (#45844677) Homepage Journal

    I would hire a quality instrument from another performer or collector within the US. When you can't be safe with your possesions, the only option is to not have posessions.

    Spoken like someone who has never played an expensive instrument. Neither have I, but I know an internationally famous cello player, and I have some idea of the issues involved. You can't just switch to any old instrument and expect your performance to shine. Even many of the supposedly fine instruments are actually crap. And if your playing style is vigorous, as is the style of the individual I am thinking of, if someone loans you some well-aged example of the instrument you might well destroy it by playing it too hard. Or, you'll have to cramp your style for fear of oblitering an instrument which costs as much as does an automobile.

    The correct answer is do not visit the United States of America, or other countries which are abusive to musicians, and make a strong public statement explaining why. This may affect income, but then, so will having your livelihood destroyed. Meanwhile, visiting the US when we are doing things like this is simply lending your support to our actions. It's an irresponsible thing to do.

Real computer scientists don't comment their code. The identifiers are so long they can't afford the disk space.