Another Peace Organizer Detained by Airport Cops

On July 28 I was returning home after two days of speaking in Louisville, Kentucky. While in the Louisville airport, after having just received my boarding pass, I got a call on my cell phone from a reporter with the Columbus Post-Dispatch (Ohio) who wanted my comments about the Global Network’s position on NASA’s “Project Prometheus”–the nuclear rocket to Mars.

The interview lasted 10 minutes at the most and in it I outlined these three key points:

1) The exponential escalation of launches of nuclear power into space dramatically escalates the chance of an accident

2) DoE has a long and sad track record of local contamination of workers and communities building bombs. Can we expect anything else as they now ramp up the labs to produce more plutonium for nuclear space missions?

3) NASA has announced that from now on all space missions will be “dual use”, meaning that each NASA mission will be both military and civilian. Thus the development of nuclear reactor technology for space missions will also become a military technology.

Immediately after finishing the interview I bought a newspaper and headed for the airport security screening line and my boarding gate. Just as I entered the line two policemen asked if I was BRUCE GAGNON. They then directed me to follow them to the other end of the airport and would only say that I had been overhead making dangerous statements.

Amazingly they knew my name and had a copy of my boarding pass. All of this within 12 minutes after checking in at the airport.

As we walked to their office I racked my brain to understand what I might have said and to whom! Once inside the police inner sanctum I was questioned by three cops who wanted by name, my ID, my reason for being in Louisville, where I had spoken, to whom had I spoken.

Then they informed me that I had been overheard talking about bombs and contamination.

They searched by bag and one officer found my copy of the constitution and asked if I always carried it with me. I told him “Yes, you never know when you might need it.”

It took me a moment to realize that someone must have heard my statements to the reporter about the nuclear rocket. So I explained the situation to them. Luckily I had remembered the name of the reporter and I gave that to them as well. One of the cops then called information and got the number for the Columbus newspaper and called the reporter. He verified that I had just spoken to him about bombs and contamination and suggested they let me go.

But the cops were not done.

They then ran a national ID check on me to make sure I was not on some terrorist wanted list. Then they let me go and I headed for my gate.

I still made my plane but as I was boarding one of the cops stood by the door at the gate to make sure I got on the plane. (Must have thought I’d slip out the back way or something.)

The remarkable thing to me is just how paranoid everyone has become that people are now reporting anyone that says any “key” word in airports, or probably anywhere else. I told the cops that I thought potential terrorists were not likely to stand in the middle of an airport and talk on the phone about bombs and contamination.

My trip to Louisville was sponsored by the local Fellowship of Reconciliation chapter. On Sunday, July 27 (my birthday) I spoke at the Central Presbyterian Church about the militarization of space and then on Monday at noon a different group heard me talk about the “Price of Endless War” at a local restaurant. Veteran activist Jean Edwards was the leading organizer of the trip and I stayed in the home of retired Presbyterian minister David Bos.

Just the week before David Bos has arranged for me to fly to Daytona Beach, Florida to deliver two workshops at the annual conference of the National Association of Ecumenical & Interreligious Staff. This was an important opportunity to present our message to religious leaders from throughout the nation.

One person who attended one of my workshops, and added much to it, was former Congressman Bob Edgar, now the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.

My Louisville airport experience underscored to me the dangers we face in our nation today. While we all are concerned about terrorist attacks, I am frankly much more concerned about the loss of our civil liberties in the name of protecting us from terrorism.

The constitution is a very fragile document. It is something we should all carry with us and fight to hold onto.

Bruce K. Gagnon is coordinator of Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space based in Brunswick, ME. He can be reached at:


Bruce K. Gagnon is coordinator of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space based in Brunswick, Maine.