How My 35mm Camera Almost Became a Tool of Treason

“I’ll confiscate your camera,” the Customs officer growled.

I was walking down the pavement on the US side of the border a stone’s throw from Ciudad Puerto Palomas, Mexico. I was rewinding film back into the canister.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“If you take a picture, I’ll confiscate you’re camera,” the officer repeated.

I don’t know how much Customs officers know about cameras. It was obvious I was rewinding film. Even so, I quickly stashed the camera in my bag. I’ve had the camera since 1986. It’s worked flawlessly over the years and I didn’t want to lose it.

I smiled but the officer remained grim. I walked past him over to the Customs station. The officers there were not much friendlier, but at least they were not interested in my camera.

Later, I read an article about a newspaper photographer in Vermont. He was detained for taking pictures of the Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon. Officials saw Jason Henske of the Brattleboro Reformer taking digital pictures and called the cops. Although the police insisted Henske delete the images from his camera, he felt it was his right, under the First Amendment, to keep them. “I was able to take my photos with me, and the images were published the next day in the Brattleboro Reformer, at the insistence of my editor, and under threat of being charged with a felony for treason,” Henske
later said.

Apparently, under an obscure Vermont law, it is illegal to take pictures of nuclear power plants during a time of war.

Windham County State Attorney Dan Davis, according to an article published in the Times Argus, said he became aware of the treason statue after 911. “I don’t think it’s a good time to be publishing photos of Vermont Yankee,” Davis said. “But I didn’t write the law.”

Meanwhile, Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said there were no federal laws prohibiting photography of nuclear plants from public property, and he expressed surprise that Vermont had such a law on the books.

All of which makes me curious – when am I taking a potentially treasonous photograph? New Mexico has a lot of military installations, millions of acres of posted government land, even a missile testing site not too far away from where I live in Las Cruces. New Mexico’s where the first atomic bomb was detonated.

I don’t know if we have a law similar to Vermont’s, but if we do I wouldn’t really be surprised. I may have treasonous images on the hard drive of my computer and not even know it.

A lot of us may be traitors and not even know it. That’s how crazy things are since 911.

I don’t know if it’s an act of treason to photograph a Customs station. Not doubt it would look bad. No doubt the likes of Top Cop John Ashcroft would frown upon such reckless behavior. I mean, as an American, I should probably know better. We’re at war, after all.

For now, I’m just glad the Customs officer didn’t confiscate my camera. I imagine he would have had the right to do so if he thought I was compromising national security in some way. After all, I might we part of a sleeper cell. I might be casing the Customs office for an attack by al-Qaida. The last time hostile forces crossed the border was in 1916 when Poncho Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico. He crossed not far from where the Customs officer threatened to confiscate my camera.

In the future, I’ll think about what I photograph.

I don’t want to be sharing a cell with Jose Padilla anytime soon.’

Kurt Nimmo is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. He can be reached at: nimmo@zianet.com


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KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent no holds barred blog at www.kurtnimmo.com/ . Nimmo is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s, The Politics of Anti-Semitism. A collection of his essays for CounterPunch, Another Day in the Empire, is now available from Dandelion Books. He can be reached at: nimmo@zianet.com

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