| INTERROGATION AT US BORDER
My name is John Clarke and I am an Organizer with the Ontario Coalition
Against Poverty (OCAP). In the early afternoon of February 19th, 2002, I
crossed the international bridge between Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron,
Michigan. I was on my way to a speaking engagement that had been set up by
students at Michigan State University.
When I pulled up my car at the customs booth, the officer asked where I was
bound and I told him. He wanted to know on what basis I was asked to speak
and whether I would be paid. I replied that I was with OCAP and that I had
been told by the organizers of the meeting that an honourarium would be
provided as was normal. The officer was concerned that this meant I was
coming into the US to work. Of course, people on both sides of the border
accept speaking invitations all the time on this basis and the issue of a
work permit is never raised. At this point, the matter was nothing that
could not have been rapidly cleared up if I had been on my way to address a
business seminar or deliver a lecture on self awareness.
As instructed by the officer, I parked my car and made my way into the
offices shared by customs and US Immigration. As soon as my ID was run
through the computer, there was a marked change in the situation. An
officer asked me more questions about my intentions in the US, what anti
globalization protests I had attended and whether I opposed the 'ideology
of the United States'. My car was searched and I was taken into a room and
thoroughly (though not roughly) frisked. I was then told that I would be
denied entry to the US and that the FBI and State Department wanted to
speak to me. Agents were on their way from Detroit I was told.
After about an hour and a half, a man entered the 'controlled reception'
area that I was being kept in and passed by me into the inner offices. He
was carrying a big folder and a pile of files. It struck me that he carried
them the way a highly skilled worker might carry his or her precision
tools. He spent some time in discussion with the local officers and then I
was brought into an interrogation room to deal with him. He introduced
himself and gave me his card. His name was Edward J. Seitz of the State
Department of the United States Diplomatic Security Service and his rank
was Special Agent. I found him to be an impressive and fascinating
Seitz, with the backing of another local officer, interrogated me for some
considerable time. It was not a situation like an arrest by Canadian police
where silence is the best option. Had I refused to talk to him, I did not
doubt that he would order me detained and that it would be some time before
the Canadian consular authorities came into the picture. If I was to avoid
at least several days in detention, I determined that I had no option but
to answer his questions. It was immediately obvious to me that I was
dealing with a specialist in interrogation methods. He told the admiring
locals at one point that he had been stationed in Yemen and I avoided
speculating on how he had employed his talents there.
Seitz's basic strategy, apart from general intelligence gathering, was to
try and set me up to tell him something false that would place me in the
situation of violating US law. He began with some very basic questions on
my personal background, extremely affable in his manner and striking a pose
of mild confusion that was designed to make me underestimate him.
He then asked about OCAP. He told me it sounded like we were good people
but he had heard something about an organization that a year or so before
had been involved in a confrontation with the police at the Ontario
Legislature. That wasn't us was it? The trap was clear and I told him that
we were indeed that organization. His affable manner then vanished and his
difficulties in focusing his thoughts ended.
He gradually moved his chair over so we were right up against each other
and fired questions at me. He wanted to know about the June 15, 2000 March
on the Ontario Legislature where the Toronto police attacked a march
against homelessness that we had organized. He wanted to know about charges
that the police have laid against me. He wanted to know how OCAP is
structured and who are the members of its elected executive committee
(which I refused to tell him).
Seitz then took up the question of OCAP's friends and allies in the US. Are
we involved in anti globalization work. Isn't this a cover for anarchism?
Was I personally an anarchist or a socialist? (In the interests of anti
capitalist unity, I won't say which one of these I acknowledged I was).
Seitz had a huge file on OCAP with him that included leaflets from public
speaking events I had been at in the US. He knew the name of the man I
stayed with the last time I was in Chicago. He wanted to know who I spoke
to in the Chicago Direct Action Network. He claimed that I was an advocate
of violence and that my association with DAN showed this but (in a rare
stumble) could find nothing in their literature that proved that they call
This phase of the questioning went on for a long time. He covered a great
deal of ground and had at his disposal voluminous information on us. He,
obviously, had been in contact with the Canadian police but was most
interested on our US allies. The exception was an enormous interest in
Canadian anti capitalist activist, Jaggi Singh. He knew that he and I had
spoken at the same meetings and was most anxious to find out if he was also
in the US. He showed me a picture of Jaggi and wanted to know where he was
at that moment.
Suddenly, the mask of affability went back on. I was a 'gentleman' and he
didn't want to lock me up. I was ok but he couldn't understand how I worked
with a 'violent man like Mr. Singh'. Then he told me he would have to ban
me from the US but I could go to the US Consulate in Toronto and apply for
a waiver. I could just take a seat in the waiting room while they prepared
some paper work but I would soon be on my way. I had not been sitting out
there long, however, before the Special Agent came out to try a new tack
that I had heard of in the past.
Essentially, his plan was to make me think he was utterly mad and, thereby,
rattle me to the point where I lost my judgement. I assume the method works
better if it is used after serious sleep deprivation. He came over and sat
next to me right there in the waiting area with other people around. He had
a few OCAP cheques that he asserted showed I was bringing with me the means
to live illegally in the US. I was going to jail, he asserted. I explained
that the cheques were in my bag because I always kept a few with me to
cover the cost of office supplies and suchlike and that I had seen no
reason to take them out just because I was going to spend a few hours in
Then came the most astounding part of the whole interrogation. Out of the
blue, Seitz demanded to know where Osama Bin Laden was hiding. I knew were
he was, he insisted. If I grew a beard I would look like Bin Laden. I was
holding back on telling him why I was going to the university and who I was
going to meet there. If I didn't want to go to jail, it was time to tell
him the real story. I replied that I had been quite open with him about my
intentions and that sending me to jail was now up to him. He laughed, told
me there were no problems. I could go home after all. Did I drink tea of
coffee? Would I have a coffee with him if he came up to Toronto. I told him
I would, which was the only lie I told that day, and he gathered up his
files and left.
Shortly after this, the local officials gave me the free ticket for the
bridge which is the only perk that comes along with being denied entry to
the US and, a little over five hours after coming over, I headed back to
the Canadian side.