The Security State: It’s Getting Worse For Ordinary Citizens–General Aviation is now Targeted.

Submitted by Charlton Stanley (Otteray Scribe) guest blogger

cbpThis has not gotten much national press….yet. I had been hearing of these events through the aviation grapevine, but did not know for sure it was actually happening until the story of Gabriel Silverstein broke on the AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) news web page. Mr. Silverstein is a New Jersey businessperson who was returning from a business trip to California with his husband. He had filed a flight plan, and landed his Cirrus SR22, a small private aircraft, in Oklahoma for a fuel stop. At that time, he was subjected to a ramp check.  By Federal Air Regulations, a ramp check is supposed to be done only by an FAA official. On a standard ramp check, the pilot has to produce documents showing the airplane is airworthy, is registered, and has the paperwork on board as required under Part 91 of the Federal Air Regulations. The pilot must show his or her pilot’s license and medical certificate.  The Oklahoma ramp check was brief, and he went on his way. He had to stop for fuel again in Iowa City. Upon arrival, he went into the FBO (Fixed Base Operator) office to pay for his gas, take a break and file a new flight plan. When he returned to his plane, he found it surrounded by officers, being searched without his permission, and with no explanation. The officers said “Probable Cause” was the K-9 dog had “hit” on the baggage compartment. The officers ordered him to be quiet, and if he asked any more questions, he would spend the rest of the day in the back of a police cruiser in handcuffs.

CPB stock photo by Gerald L Nino
CPB captions this as being at their Air and Marine Operations Center

One officer handed Mr. Silverstein a business card identifying him as being with the Department of Customs and Border Protection.  Mr. Silverstein says the brown uniforms and shoulder patches he saw that day were identical to the one worn by the officer on the right in this stock CPB photo. On their web page, the CPB identifies this location as being at their Air and Marine Operations Center. I think we can safely assume this is not the main operations room, but only part of the operation.

Geography was not my favorite subject in school, but last time I looked, both Oklahoma and Iowa are a long way from any international border.

More Border Patrol and Homeland Security goodness over the jump, including a video interview with Mr. Silverstein.

This link is to the AOPA news page. There is a video  interview with Mr. Silverstein where he gives his explanation of what happened (sorry, I can’t get it to embed). Since AOPA first broke that story, they have followed up with another account: Fresh reports of aircraft searches, CBP has little to say

CPB stock photo by James Tourtellotte
Two CBP Air Interdiction officers stopping a small twin-engine plane on a runway.
Reason given? “Suspicion.”

James Fallows of The Atlantic has also covered the story in some detail. The pilot accounts he reports are chilling. Apparently, the simple fact that one is flying from west to east across the country is enough to arouse suspicion and bring out these guys to greet you.

In one incident, the officers wanted their dog to jump up on the wing of an airplane. The owner said he would allow it if the officer would take personal responsibility and sign a document attesting that he would pay for repainting the plane if the dog’s paws scratched the paint, and it would have to be witnessed by all the other 19 officers present.

Some of the pilots detained for these “ramp checks” report that when CPB agents can’t find anything, they seem to become increasingly angry and frustrated.

There has been at least one report where an agent started taking inspection plates off an airplane. That is illegal, since those inspection panels should only be removed (and replaced) by an FAA certified and licensed aircraft technician.

The CPB has developed a huge electronic net called the Air and Marine Operations Surveillance System (AMOSS). According to an online statement:

“AMOSS utilizes extensive law enforcement and intelligence databases, and tracking and communications networks to provide a single display that is capable of tracking over 24,000 individual targets.”

The CPB admits to monitoring FAA and military radar systems, but its full capability is unknown.

There are increasing numbers of heavy-handed searches. In one incident, a 70 year old glider pilot was forced down and arrested after flying over a nuclear plant, despite the fact no flight restrictions are shown on any chart, there are no NOTAMS (Notice to Airmen), and no listed TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions). Additionally, gliders, being unpowered aircraft, have the right of way over all other air traffic except balloons. Glider pilot Robin Fleming is interviewed here by AOPA:

When his case went to court, the charges were dropped, provided he sign a statement agreeing to not sue the law enforcement agencies and officers involved in his illegal arrest and detention.

This is just another chapter in the growing police state the US is becoming in the name of the “War on Terror” and the “War on Drugs.”

The floor is open for discussion and additional stories if any aviators out there have them. Personally, I would love to get a response from the CPB explaining just what they hope to accomplish by these draconian stops with no probable cause other than a general aviation plane is flying from west to east.

I am offering an open invitation to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Thomas Winkowski to log on and explain themselves.

84 thoughts on “The Security State: It’s Getting Worse For Ordinary Citizens–General Aviation is now Targeted.

  1. Karl you are simply wrong since there are a lot of blue collar jobs that allow one to own an airplane and fly it. A lot of my fellow mechanics at United Airlines had their own planes and even some of them were twins, which are more expensive. In fact, I gave flight instruction to a couple of my fellow mechanics who needed to have at least 10 hrs of flight instruction from an instructor like myself who had a lot of taildragger time. In Houston, we had a lot of firemen., and cops who had enough money and time to have their own planes. I know of another fellow pilot who has a couple of planes for his own personal use and he is NOT rich either. It just depends on how you want to spend your money and your time.

    I had a student who had a very bad case of AIDS. He was at the airport more than he was at home. So he told me the last thing his wife said as she walked out the door leaving him, ” NOW YOU CAN GO F**K YOUR AIRPLANE!” AIDS in this case is Airplane Induced Divorce Syndrome. That has struck many a pilot unfortunately.

  2. ARE,
    Your comment got caught in the moderation filter for using one of the “forbidden” words. I did a quick edit for you and cleared it for publishing.

    • Thank you OS. I was unaware that we had censors on this blog for some words. Rather I thought that we were old enough and mature enough to use some words as long as they were correct and needed in the context. In leaving ones spouse, I think her choice of words were quite appropriate and conveyed her feelings and sentiments by the use of that word.

      More to your point, I think that we need to have some means of making such actions on the part of our “protectors” more costly when they overstep their bounds. I was more concerned about the pilot who was forced to sign a hold harmless waiver before they would drop the charges against him. Is that legal to do this? Using such coercive measures would seem to be illegal on its face, and thus the waiver could or should not have any legal standing. Since this is a legal eagle blog, I hope that some of our more learned folks could educate the rest of us on this matter.

  3. Karl,
    Way to go on missing the point. And the logical fallacy of false equivalence. How about leaving the class prejudice at home and look at the larger picture of this country sliding into a security state. This is not something at the neighborhood level, but is a cancer on our government.

    And I am sure Mr. Silverstein has run into prejudice before as a gay Jewish man who finally got to marry his partner.


    World news
    The NSA files

    NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: ‘I do not expect to see home again’

    Source for the Guardian’s NSA files on why he carried out the biggest intelligence leak in a generation – and what comes next


    Ewen MacAskill
    The Guardian, Saturday 8 June 2013

    Link to video: NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden: ‘I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things’

    Edward Snowden was interviewed over several days in Hong Kong by Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill.

    Q: Why did you decide to become a whistleblower?

    A: “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.

    “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”

    Q: But isn’t there a need for surveillance to try to reduce the chances of terrorist attacks such as Boston?

    A: “We have to decide why terrorism is a new threat. There has always been terrorism. Boston was a criminal act. It was not about surveillance but good, old-fashioned police work. The police are very good at what they do.”

    Q: Do you see yourself as another Bradley Manning?

    A: “Manning was a classic whistleblower. He was inspired by the public good.”

    Q: Do you think what you have done is a crime?

    A: “We have seen enough criminality on the part of government. It is hypocritical to make this allegation against me. They have narrowed the public sphere of influence.”

    Q: What do you think is going to happen to you?

    A: “Nothing good.”

    Q: Why Hong Kong?

    A: “I think it is really tragic that an American has to move to a place that has a reputation for less freedom. Still, Hong Kong has a reputation for freedom in spite of the People’s Republic of China. It has a strong tradition of free speech.”

    Q: What do the leaked documents reveal?

    A: “That the NSA routinely lies in response to congressional inquiries about the scope of surveillance in America. I believe that when [senator Ron] Wyden and [senator Mark] Udall asked about the scale of this, they [the NSA] said it did not have the tools to provide an answer. We do have the tools and I have maps showing where people have been scrutinised most. We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians.”


  5. ARE,
    There are only four words the moderation filter will catch. You used one of them. On the other hand, WordPress’ spam filter has been acting strangely lately with a higher than normal number of false positives.

    You thoughts on the coerced agreement are in line with my own thinking. It seems to run afoul of the fact that a contract under duress is invalid. I think some of the lawyers here may have a take on that “agreement.”

    As for divorces. When I was looking for a plane to buy after I sold my Cardinal, somebody told me about a Beechcraft Debonair with a for sale sign on it at one of the local FBOs. I went and looked, and sure enough, it was marked for sale….with a $5,000 price tag. I went in and talked to the manager, and it seems the wife was selling her soon to be ex husband’s stuff at flea market prices. I told him I refused to be a party to something like that. It ended up that no one bought the Debonair under those circumstances. Spite like that carries bad Karma. I heard the guy got his plane back. Wifey did not want to pay the ongoing parking fees for an airplane no one would buy and she couldn’t even give it away.

    • OS I have flown the Debonair a few times since I took my first aerobatic lessons in one. It had a beefed up empenage for that and it was a bit slow given the increase in weight. The Cardinal is a nice airplane and I have flown that one too since I gave instrument instruction in it for the owner. The only bad thing was the huge doors since you had to control them when you openned them with any wind blowing. Was yours an RG and why would you sell such a nice airplane?

      I hope some of our lawyers here can answer the questions raised about the coerced agreement the law enforcement guys demanded.

  6. ” We collect more digital communications from America than we do from the Russians.”
    That said it all right there. Our federal government is worried more about the American citizenry than it is of a foreign power that has more nuclear warheads than anyone else in the world. If that is not telltale of this administration’s paranoia and ill intent I don’t know what else is.

    • Darren, I doubt that the government is collecting the intel out of paranoia. All it proves is that they have more access to our channels of communication than they have to the Russians. This has been going on since WWI by the way when ALL overseas telegrams were sent to the US Navy first before being sent. All return telegrams were likewise scanned. For more on this program, I suggest you read the Puzzle Palace which is about the NSA. I have a personal connection with that since my Uncle Col. Robert Jackson worked there as his last station before retiring from the Army after 34 years.

  7. ARE,
    My Cardinal was the 177B model. It was the ‘straight leg’ version. I sold it because the engine was WAY past TBO and so was the prop and hub. It needed a lot of maintenance I could not afford at the time. I am still kicking myself for selling it. It was a great instrument plane, because once in trim, pitch control was solid. You could fly an ILS like you were on rails.

    I eventually got a 337 Skymaster, but that was a real bear to maintain. There are 23 interlocks on the landing gear and if any one of them have a bad day, the gear won’t work. I had the gear hang up once on a cross country in IMC. Fortunately, it stuck in the down position. Seems a pebble got caught in the nose gear squat switch and the gear would not retract.

    I finally sold the 337 when it needed both engines overhauled, both props had been dressed so many times they were getting too thin to dress again, so had to be replaced. I sold it to the FBO who had his own shop and could do all the maintenance himself. Two months later his son took it out for a night flight after the bar closed with the inevitable result. My daughter has not forgiven me for selling it. She loved it. You can look it up. The NTSB accident number is MIA98LA090 and the date was 2/27/1998.

    • I have heard that the C337 is not much on one engine and has a hard time staying airborne if one fails just after takeoff. We had another accident out of La Porte airport near Houston which involved a drunk pilot and a 337. Seems a good buddy of the owner of Hydes Aviation flew into the airport and brought a bottle of alcohol with him. So they spent a pleasant afternoon drinking and telling stories. His buddy went out to his plane, started the front engine, but forgot about the rear one. He got about halfway down the runway and noticed something was amiss.So he continued the takeoff while trying to start the rear one. Unfortunately he ran out of runway, but he had enough airspeed to hop it into the air to clear the fence. The plane rolled as it came down between two houses, and crashed. A guy who worked with me at the refinery and was a reserve policeman with La Porte PD, told me that the officer who responded to the woman who complained about an airplane next to her house, found the guy upside down in the airplane, and laughing about it. He got him out, and arrested him on the spot since he reeked of alcohol.

      Another one crashed at La Porte when a guy had bought the plane the same day. He gave the cashier check to the owner, took off, but the rear enginve failed as he lifted off. Turns out the seller had flown the plane into the airport, and one person said the rear engine was not operating at all. So fortunately the pilot lived, but he made the one mistake of NOT telling his insurance agent about it. So he got to pay for a destroyed airplane.

      So I have to say that I am not too impressed by the plane, but I have not ever flown one. I know the Forest Service loves them for attack spotter planes. I like the retractable gear on Cessnas like the C172, and up. We had one couple which had a problem getting the gear down on their C172 RG. They had their tow bar in the cabin, so they slowed down, openned the door, hooked one of the gear legs with the bar, and pulled the gear down all the way. From what I know the plane lands pretty well even with the gear up and does not sustain too much damage.

  8. We have failed in our parenting and education system to teach our children our constitutional rights and how we became a free self governing people and drifted into this easy come easy go “big brother” socialistic form of government which is now violating the very rights which have made America so different from the rest of the world. Now thru passive parenting and a shallow subserviant education system we are headed into the same delima which our forefather fought and died to save us from. It is time to wake up and be heard…it is still our government, at least for now…beware of the future if we do not turn around and protect our heritige by Faith, hardwork and the ethics that were handed down to us from God and our forefathers.

  9. Randy Contributed:
    “Darren, I doubt that the government is collecting the intel out of paranoia. All it proves is that they have more access to our channels of communication than they have to the Russians”
    The access might have been easier but that does not excuse the government from taking all of it on everyone. We are looking at an adminstration that attacks whistleblowers, goes after the press, limits freedom of expression, stifles dissent, investigates reporters,and has kill lists against US Citizens . If these were not sufficient elements of paranoia I don’t know how much more is needed.

  10. ARE,
    Single engine performance in a 337 is better than a Baron even with less horsepower. Max altitude with one engine in a 337 is considerably more than the Baron on one engine. The main reason is centerline thrust. You are not presenting the side of the airplane to the relative wind.

    I lost my rear engine on takeoff once when the vacuum pump departed the crankcase. It is a wonder it did not catch on fire, but when the oil pressure went to zero and cylinder head temperature headed toward the red, I shut it down, feathered the prop and told the tower I needed to land. He asked if I wanted to declare an emergency, but I told him to keep the binoculars on me, and as long as he didn’t see smoke or fire, I was not declaring. The tower guy knew me, so he just said I was cleared for immediate landing any runway.

    What I did NOT do was to retract the gear. Cycle time is 13 seconds at minimum, and when the gear is cycling, it has a -150 fpm rate of climb on one engine even at takeoff power. On one engine, it flies about like a Cessna 150 at gross weight. The rear engine is the critical one, since a pusher is always more efficient than a tractor configuration. The Wright brothers discovered that early on.

  11. The idea that ALL aircraft owner/pilots are rich (or even well-off) is simply untrue. Ask the Light Aircraft Association (formerly the Popular Flying Association) in the U.K. or ask anyone who has constructed – over several years – something like an Evans VP-1, powered by a Volkswagen engine, in their garage. I’ve seen motorcycles that cost more!

  12. Shortinals,
    We have run into this “dog in the manger” attitude before on various blogs, not just this one. People who know little of aviation are quick to savage it because it is somehow seen as an “elitist” activity that people on salaries cannot afford. While true that aviation can be expensive, and there are many well-to-do aviators, lots of folks fly for the fun of it. Two of our local deputy sheriffs are pilots, one owning his own small plane and the other rents when he wants to fly. Our former Episcopal priest is a pilot, and I know for a fact he is not rich, because I know what the church pays in salary. They also forget that for every airplane out there, somebody has to maintain it, repair it, put gas in it, run the airport office and keep the grass mowed.

    I just read an article that general aviation is slowly being strangled by regulations, airport closures when developers buy (or condemn) the land, and noise restrictions. Not to mention insurance rates going up. This latest push by the Border Patrol and Homeland Security to hassle private pilots a thousand miles from the nearest border is definitely not going to help.

    It seems strange to me that housing springs up near airports that have been there since Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. The new residents suddenly discover airplanes make noise and have their lawyers down at city hall petitioning for the airport to be closed. An airport that was there before their parents were born, but claim they didn’t know if they built a house at the end of a busy runway, airplanes would be flying over.

    According to data collected from various sources, the general aviation industry employs 1.3 million people and contributed more than $150 billion to the U.S. economy last year. That ranges from pilots, to the guy who pumps gas, to the assembly line worker and mechanic. But it is being strangled.

    Amusing story about noise. When my oldest son was in the Coast Guard, they were still using the HU-16 Albatross as a search and rescue aircraft. The Coast Guard is like the fire department. When an emergency call comes in, they have to go. When a distress call comes in, the aircrews must get airborne as fast as possible. Under those circumstances, noise restrictions do not apply and they take off at full combat power. The Coast Guard office switchboard would light up. It was worse if they had a mission at 3:00 in the morning. People screaming at the poor operator, threatening to call their Congressman, the Mayor and anyone else they could think of because they were awakened from a sound sleep. Wonder what they would say if their own fishing boat were sinking and the USCG took their own sweet time getting there?

  13. Robin Fleming, the glider pilot who was illegally arrested after he flew over a nuclear power plant, has died. I wrote about him in this story, and the original information about his illegal arrest was in this link:

    The charges were dropped, because he had not violated any laws or Federal Air Regulations. The nuclear power plant does not have any airspace restrictions above it. According to reports, Mr. Fleming had filed a lawsuit against both the utility company that owns the plant and Darlington County, S.C.

    The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association reports that Mr. Fleming passed away at the age of 71.

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