Customs Agent Allegedly Harassed Journalist With 'Propaganda' Questions At Virginia Airport

The officer reportedly asked the question four times before handing back the man's passport.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is investigating a report that a journalist was harassed at Dulles International Airport in Virginia by a passport screening official who repeatedly asked whether he writes “propaganda.”

Ben Watson, a news editor for Defense One, told HuffPost on Saturday that at first, he thought the officer was kidding when he questioned him while holding his passport.

Then the officer asked a second time.

“That’s when I realized his tone was not a jokey tone, and I realized this guy is serious,” Watson said of the Thursday incident. “Unfortunately, I knew I was dealing with a certain type of individual at this point, and it was unlike any individual I’d ever dealt with.”

Watson shared the full account in a story for Defense One, recalling that he was asked the question a total of four times upon his return from an assignment in Denmark.

The exchange, as Watson wrote about it, was as follows:

CBP officer, holding Watson’s passport: “What do you do?”

Watson: “Journalism.”

CBP officer: “So you write propaganda, right?”

Watson: “No.”

CBP officer: “You’re a journalist?”

Watson: “Yes.”

CBP officer: “You write propaganda, right?”

Watson: “No. I am in journalism. Covering national security. And homeland security. And with many of the same skills I used in the U.S. Army as a public affairs officer. Some would argue that’s propaganda.”

CBP officer: “You’re a journalist?”

Watson: “Yes.”

CBP officer: “You write propaganda, right?”

Watson waited five seconds. Then: “For the purposes of expediting this conversation, yes.”

CBP officer, a fourth time: “You write propaganda, right?”

Watson, again: “For the purposes of expediting this conversation, yes.”

CBP officer: “Here you go.”

Watson has since filed a civil rights complaint, and a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told Defense One that the agency’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is reviewing information on the interaction.

In a statement to HuffPost, a CBP spokesperson told said it is “aware of the allegation posed by a Defense One editor about an officer’s alleged inappropriate conduct at Washington Dulles International airport and we are investigating the allegation.”

“CBP officers take an Oath of Office, a solemn pledge that conveys great responsibility and one that should be carried out at all times with the utmost professionalism,” the spokesperson added. “We hold our employees accountable to our core values of vigilance, integrity and service to country, and do not tolerate inappropriate comments or behavior by our employees.”

Watson told HuffPost he doesn’t know what prompted the agent’s line of questioning.

“The bottom line is this was not normal,” he said, adding that “it wasn’t like any previous episode” he’d ever had with a homeland security employee.

Since coming forward with his story, Watson said he has heard from dozens of individuals, both men and women, who have had similar experiences of what he described as “bullying behavior.”

“I heard from a lot more people since this happened,” he said. “I have come to the opinion at least so far that this is a good thing” that people are sharing their stories.

In February, BuzzFeed News reported that CBP apologized to one of its journalists after an agent aggressively questioned him at New York City’s JFK Airport over his coverage of President Donald Trump.

British journalist James Dyer said in an August Twitter thread that he was stopped by a CBP agent who accused him of being a member of the “fake news media” at Los Angeles International Airport.

DHS did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment on Thursday’s incident.

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