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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 Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@gmail . c om> on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @08:31PM (#45841203) Homepage

    Oddly I was going to say something similar. Right along with tossing in a Gestapo and STASI remark, since both of those governments organizations, did exactly this type of thing.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @08:44PM (#45841347) Journal

    You're hissy fits are getting annoying.

  • by hessian (467078) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:04PM (#45841535) Homepage Journal

    That's what happens when you hire fast food workers into bureaucratic roles and give them absolute power over other people.

  • by MacTO (1161105) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:09PM (#45841577)

    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.

  • by circusboy (580130) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:25PM (#45841719)

    the unfortunate thing (that I have learned to my regret) is that certain things are not allowed in carry-ons and will be confiscated anyway. and you *have* to check them. any useful tools for example. I've nearly had pliers and screwdrivers confiscated, (and that was before 9/11.)

    one entertaining example (from 2004) was the day I traveled with a devil stick, (juggling toy,) that looks a bit like a disassembled pool cue. at the checkpoint they asked me if it was a pool cue, I said no and they said okay, but if it were a pool cue they would have had to confiscate it.

    now mind you it looked just like a pool cue, weighed about the same as a pool cue, made out of similar wood to a pool cue, but because it wasn't actually a pool cue, they didn't have to confiscate it. if it had been in checked baggage, it wouldn't have been an issue. but it probably would have broken.

    due to traveling with some odd juggling toys on a semi regular basis, I have taken to writing long, detailed notes to the TSA, explaining what all my props are and leaving it in the suitcase with the props. I have never failed to get a 'your bag has been searched note' and I haven't lost anything, (yet.) incredible pain in the ass.

    on the other hand, I was once driving back into the US from Canada, where I had bought a flute to play. (normal metal type of flute.) and I nearly got penalized and the flute confiscated for not declaring the flute as a 'commercial object'. oddly, they said nothing about the 10 packs of peanuts that it was sitting on when they found it searching my car. I'm beginning to think Customs just has a thing for flutes...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:25PM (#45841721)

    I disagree. What goes on at customs is relevant to all of us, and any calibrations of the people involved, such as this one, are good to have. I hope this gets some nice front page coverage in NY Times and similar papers, but if they follow form, they may treat it as yet another atrocious act by the government, which they may wish for political reasons to cover up.

    I do hope that Mr. Razgui gets compensated hugely, the guilty agent gets fired, and stern policy warnings about this kind of thing get promulgated. Alas I cannot hold my breath for such.

  • by cold fjord (826450) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:31PM (#45841769)

    For the benefit of our (musical) flute/fife fans, a few pieces with a prominent role for flute/fife:

    Bourée []
    Inca Dance []
    Gary Owen [] - Used in this scene from They Died With Their Boots On []
    Petruta Küpper Einsamer Hirte playing []

  • by HighOrbit (631451) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:33PM (#45841781)
    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.
  • by ArhcAngel (247594) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:33PM (#45841783)

    Why in the hell do we put up with such incompetence? Do we not pay enough into the TSA to not hire utter morons?

    Absolutely not! TSA agents are mostly people who couldn't pass the US Postal Carrier exam. Several people I knew who were not "bulbworthy" were getting jobs at the TSA shortly after 9/11. They have a very low bar for entry.

  • by jd2112 (1535857) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:47PM (#45841905)

    Many musical instruments are made of wood. So I guess they are all at risk if the owners come to the US.

    One of these days a customs agent is going to destroy a Stradivarius or other similarly rare instrument. Anyone who has a Stradivarius most likely is famous and/or wealthy, meaning they have (or know people who have) sufficient political connections to make said customs agent's life a living hell long after they leave government employment.

  • 4th Amendment (Score:3, Interesting)

    by njhunter (613589) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @09:52PM (#45841941)
    Why do we as Americans give up our 4th Amendment protections if we fly?
  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @10:04PM (#45842015)
    Lets just face facts, friend.

    The US Army conducts an IQ test as pre-employment screening to determine which job(s) you may apply for, assuming you cross a minimal threshold, and you may hold an infantry position with the lowest acceptable score. Time and trial have taught the military that lower scores make better better soldiers at positions like 8 hour foxhole guard duty.

    There exist occupations, within the military and without, where greater cognitive ability is a distinct advantage.

    But there are some that ain't.

  • by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @10:20PM (#45842145)

    All countries have strict controls on import of agricultural goods. It's an absolute necessity in this day and age when import of a couple of insects can wipe out a whole native species.

    For example several important species of trees in the US have been lost this way. The Ash are right now being decimated by the emerald borer from China. It's likely that this insect will wipe out the entire genus of Ash trees in North America. [] []

    So one guy had his flutes mistaken for agricultural products. Not really that big a deal in the big picture. This is one case when you really want to err on the conservative side because making a mistake in the other direction is a really bad thing.

    It isn't a case of human rights, illegal searches or ethnic profiling or anything like that.

    As far as I'm concerned this is just another misplaced slashdot article.

  • by Rich0 (548339) on Wednesday January 01, 2014 @11:54PM (#45842709) Homepage

    One tactic I've heard of in the US is to buy a part to a gun (something small and convenient like a grip or a trigger or something). Then get a nice big lockable gun case and place it and everything else you care about inside. Declare your "gun" at the counter (gun parts are treated the same as assembled weapons). They will direct you to someplace to have your luggage screened in your presence, and then you lock it up and keep the key (which doesn't have to be TSA-approved). The case will generally not be opened outside of your presence.

    You'll still need to pay any fees you'd pay for other checked bags (by weight/size/number/etc), but you'll avoid having your stuff go missing on you. While the TSA doesn't mind your valuables disappearing they don't like the idea of having guns used in crimes traced to them, so gun cases are exempt from the "we can cut/open any lock" policy. The airline probably feels the same way and will probably give the case extra care - even if just to make sure it is secured/etc.

    The reason you use a gun part and not a gun is that while parts get the special treatment from the TSA, they're usually exempt from local gun control laws (though obviously you need to check).

    None of this will do you any good for international travel though, which is what the original article pertained to. I'm sure there is lots of paperwork around importing/exporting weapon parts from the US, and that is probably nothing compared to what most other countries would impose.

  • by LynnwoodRooster (966895) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @12:05AM (#45842759) Journal
    Not to mention the great Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull []...
  • by Kunedog (1033226) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @02:19AM (#45843383)

    One tactic I've heard of in the US is to buy a part to a gun (something small and convenient like a grip or a trigger or something). Then get a nice big lockable gun case and place it and everything else you care about inside.

    Here is a video explaining this: []

    and a video presentation of the same: []

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

    by meerling (1487879) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @03:59AM (#45843695)
    By that kind of loose definition, you're clothes (cotton, wool, silk, etc) are 'agricultural products', unless of course you're wearing all 100% polyester or other synthetics. Of course, that also means they can now confiscate your leather briefcase, and so many other items they've been wanting to steal for ages.
    I'm sorry, did I say steal? I meant to say confiscate and 'destroy'.
    (I know they aren't supposed to do things like that, but it actually happens a lot.)
  • Re:Saw this earlier (Score:5, Interesting)

    by meerling (1487879) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @04:23AM (#45843787)
    Really? Guess you don't travel across borders very often. It happens on a regular basis. Also, there are lots of incidents of 'confiscations and destruction of confiscated goods' that are the agents taking a liking to something, and then taking it home. It happens, I've seen it happen, and I've even talked to a retired agent that told me a bunch of stories of this exact kind of theft and lies. Whatever agency was involved will even go along with the whole official excuse just to try and pretend they did nothing wrong so they don't have to make an apology and reimbursement. Of course, that makes the situation worse on a legal standing with much greater possible repercussions, but it's a bitch to sue them and get a criminal investigation into it.

    IMO, the musician should sue them for the instruments, and the loss of income since he's definitely not going to be able to participate in at least 2 concerts. After all, it's not like he can just go down to the pawn shop and pick up that exact type of rare hand carved flute. And no, the metal ones or different types will not sound/play the same, just ask a musician trained in wind instruments. (It's kind of like if your Cellist loses their cello, it's not like a bass guitar is a comparable substitute. I know, those are string instruments, but the idea is the same.)
  • by Almost-Retired (637760) on Thursday January 02, 2014 @07:50AM (#45844373)

    Nah, I've watched the progressive loss of our freedoms since the 1940's. And I've railed against it since. Dec 7 1941 was an eyeopener for me when I saw my father & grandfather crying after we'd heard the evening news on Grandpa's battery powered radio. They understood what it meant. But we rallied, did without, and whuped their butts in about 5 years and change, then taught them how to do business. 9-11, had it not been the demolition job it was, should have resulted in our ruling the middle east. But the stage was already set when Truman flew in and fired Mac because he wanted to stop the Mao driven Chinese on their side of the river. That, quite likely would have been one we lost fair & square.

    But Ike was right, when he warned us, everything we've done since has been designed to entrench the military as a standing, and uncontrollable draw on the treasury.

    One thing is glaringly obvious today, and that is that the present tyrannical situation could be a major source of energy just from the likes of Thomas Payne, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson's spinning in their graves. Its intolerable to me, but my kids grew up with it, as have their kids, and now my great grandchildren. And it makes me sad because of the things I got to do that they will never be able to do until our Constitution and Bill of Rights are restored to be the final law of the land. Like T. Jefferson said, "the tree of liberty needs refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants from time to time, and God help us if we go 20 years without it." The much needed reset, will not be bloodless. Will I live long enough to see it? I'd toss a quarter and call it heads, but some SOB would invent a law that says he can legally catch it and run while its in the air.


It is not every question that deserves an answer. -- Publilius Syrus