This originally ran as a Facebook post; it is reprinted here with permission.
So, arriving from Paris to Chicago with my 2 1/2-year-old daughter after a nine-hour flight, I had my and my daughter’s U.S. passports taken away. We were escorted to a section for special cases by Department of Homeland Security officials. They were very polite but chilly the whole time and ordered me to wait. I informed them that I was a journalist from the very beginning. I usually don’t mind and even thrive in such circumstances (I always learn more new things about them than they do about me). But I just visited the U.S. in November and April with no problems, and have had my background thoroughly checked by spooks when I received my Baghdad Green Zone badge in 2005, so I was rather confused and just a little worried for my daughter (if they took me away, what would they do with her?).
After 30 minutes or so, they called my name and asked me some questions about who I was and what I did. I told them I am a journalist who works in a lot of tough places like Iraq, Egypt, Libya. When I mentioned southern Turkey, the guy said, unprompted, “So you cover ISIS?” and then everything fell into place. I have spent the last two months referring to ISIS on the phone and internet and communicating via Skype with their members and hangers-on, and I probably came up on some list.
They let me and my daughter go in less than 45 minutes, but the experience reinforced what has long been said about U.S. intelligence: incredible data-collection abilities but horrible analytical and collation abilities. I mean, how hard would it have been to just Google my name vs pulling me from immigration and risk exposing their trade craft and capabilities (and weaknesses) to the public, as I am doing now? It seems that the departments that read the articles probably don’t coordinate or are outright hostile to the departments that listen in on Skype or read my emails. So we get the mess that we have now.
Anyway, before we left, my daughter soiled her diaper and there was nowhere to change her except right there, and no bin to dump the dirty diaper except right there under the seat in the waiting area. So that was our little present to Homeland Security.
Based in Cairo, Borzou Daragahi is a correspondent for the Financial Times. He is the former Baghdad bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times and has been a Pulitzer finalist several times.