Sunday, July 29, 2007

I've been denied entry to the US essentially for carrying my trainings material. Wow.

It appears I can't attend Blackhat this year. I was denied entry to the US for carrying trainings materials for the Blackhat trainings, and intending to hold these trainings as a private citizen instead of as a company.

After a 9-hour flight and a 4 1/2 hour interview I was put onto the next 9-hour flight back to Germany. Future trips to the US will be significantly more complicated as I can no longer go to the US on the visa waiver program.

A little background: For the last 7 years, I have attended / presented at the 'Blackhat Briefings', a security conference in the US. Prior to the conference itself, Blackhat conducts a trainings session, and for the past 6 years, I have given two days of trainings at these events. The largest part of the attendees of the trainings are US-Government related folks, mostly working on US National Security in some form. I have trained people from the DoD, DoE, DHS and most other agencies that come to mind.

Each time I came to the US, I told immigration that I was coming to the US to present at a conference and hold a trainings class. I was never stopped before.

This time, I had printed the materials for the trainings class in Germany and put them into my suitcase. Upon arrival in the US, I passed immigration, but was stopped in customs. My suitcase was searched, and I was asked about the trainings materials.
After answering that these are for the trainings I am conducting, an immigration officer was called, and I was put in an interview room.
For the next 4 1/2 hours I was interviewed about who exactly I am, why I am coming to the US, what the nature of my contract with Blackhat is, and why my trainings class is not performed by an American citizien. After 4 hours, it became clear that a decision had been reached that I was to be denied entry to the US, on the ground that since I am a private person conducting the trainings for Blackhat, I was essentially a Blackhat employee and would require an H1B visa to perform two days of trainings in the US.

Now, I am a full-time employee (and CEO) of a German company (startup with 5 people, self-financed), and the only reason why the agreement is between Blackhat and me instead of Blackhat and my company is that I founded the company long after I had started training for Blackhat and we never got around to changing it.

Had there been an agreement between my company and Blackhat, then my entry to the US would've been "German-company-sends-guy-to-US-to-perform-services", and everything would've been fine. The real problem is that the agreement was still between me as a person
and Blackhat.

After the situation became clear (around the 4th hour of being interviewed), I offered that the agreement between Blackhat and my company could be set up more or less instantaneously - as a CEO, I can sign an agreement on behalf of my company, and Blackhat would've signed immediately, too.
This would've spared each party of us a lot of hassle and paperwork. But apparently, since I had just tried to enter as a 'normal citizen' instead as an 'employee of a company', I could now not change my application. They would have to put me on the next flight back to Germany.

Ok, I thought, perhabs I will have to fly back to Germany, set up the agreement, and immediately fly back to the states - that would've still allowed me to hold the trainings and attend the conference, at the cost of crossing the Atlantic three times instead of once. But no such luck: Since I have been denied entry under the visa waiver programme, I can now never use this programme again. Instead I need to wait until the American consulate opens, and then apply for a business visa. I have not been able to determine how long this might take -- estimates from customs officials ranged from "4 days" to "more than 6 weeks".

All this seems pretty crazy to me. From the point that 2 days of trainings constitute work that requires an H1B visa, via the issue that everything could've been avoided if I had been allowed to set up the agreement with Blackhat immediately, to the fact that setting up the agreement once I am back in Germany and flying in again is not sufficient, all reeks of a bureacracy creating work for itself, at the expense of (US-)taxpayer money.

I will now begin the Quixotic quest to get a business visa to the US. Sigh. This sucks.

116 comments:

alex said...

I'm sorry this happened. It's just plain stupid.

Do you think it was completely the H1B thing and had nothing to do with your content? In other words, if you had been going to do training and speaking at a conference for swimming pool installers, they would have sent you back just the same?

Zach said...

This is beyond ridiculous and irks the crap out of me. I was hoping to catch your talk...

Best of luck with all of this mess.

Dj said...

sux, and shows how much complicated u.s.a is ... instead of being a simple territory to get onto.

Jordan said...

Wow! That's insane. Really sorry to hear that. Good luck getting things straightened out.

Danny said...

Wow that sucks. I looked at this page which seemed to be pretty relevant:

http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html

I would call the embassy first thing and see if they can do anything.

Roland said...

The reason they wouldn't let you do it on the spot is because they're metriced on how many 'violations' they spot and how many 'violators' they deny entry to each day/week/month/year. They don't care about you as a human being; you're just another notch in their belts to help them when review time rolls around.

N074H4x0r said...

quel dommage; c'est entirement riducule.

c0uchw4rrior said...

Halvar,

As a US citizen and an attendee of Black Hat USA 2007, I am embarrassed and ashamed by the treatment that you've been subjected to. Hopefully we can get some media coverage of your situation and push the US Gov't to reconsider its decision.

Cheers,
c0uchw4rrior

Paolo Palumbo said...

This is completely ridicolous: the reason for denying you access to the US is thin like air, and moreover, I cannot see why you are to be excluded from the VISA waiver program.

IMHO, this is one of the signs that show us that the immigration policy in the US needs a serious review (and probably, an almost complete staff change)...

one.miguel said...

Dang, that does suck. Sorry Halvar.

Fergie said...

Halvar,

Halvar,

As a US citizen and an attendee of Black Hat USA 2007, I am also embarrassed and ashamed by the treatment that you've been subjected to. Hopefully we can get some media coverage of your situation and push the US Gov't to reconsider its decision.

- ferg

Jay said...

Sorry you had troubles entering the USA but you did violate the rules and with the problems we here in the USA have with illegals coming here I am glad they enforced the rules. Yes it sux for you but now your visa will be correct next time and you will be within the law.

David said...

Honestly, is there anyone we can contact/anything we can do to make our opinions heard? Nothing like bugging the hell out of someone to get things done.

Glen said...

Sorry, but this is the risk you take when you are working abroad and do not have the necessary papers. Having worked in the UK for a number of years, I had several business partners denied entry because they were "working" in the UK. Immigration officials, while sometimes lenient, are more and more sticking to the letter of the law. You should have gotten your ducks in a row before coming over; the borders have gotten more and more strict.

Thor Larholm said...

I feel sorry for you and can echo the sentiment about needless bureaucracy.

I experienced almost the exact same thing two years ago when I went for a working trip to PivX Solutions in California. My prior arrangement had not been changed from a personal connection to a connection with my Danish company where I was also CEO. As such, I was put on the next flight back to Denmark and had a tremendous difficulty in getting a business visa, as the embassy was firmly convinced I was visiting for employment to take away the job from an American.

The end result is that I had to conduct my security research remotely from Denmark and PivX eventually faded away into obscurity (9 hours of time zone difference does present a hurdle). I have not been able to visit the USA since then, but my research has resulted in the creation of several Danish companies instead of American companies. In short, a personal setback for me and an economic setback for USA.

Regards
Thor Larholm

Phil Wolff said...

Hi. Maybe you should call my cousin, a top D.C. area immigration lawyer.

http://www.cynthiagroomes.com/
+1-301-838-4400

Tell Cindy I said hi.

- Phil

Stolen Indentity said...

Whenever a scientist or researcher is denied entry into a country, there's a hint of controversy. However, in this case, it would be way off the mark.

He not denied entry for carrying training materials for Blackhat. He was denied because he was coming to the U.S. as an individual to work without a visa. Customs agents were doing their job -- the commenter's assertion that Customs or Immigrations agents are metriced [sic] on entry denials is totally false -- and they still should have stopped him if his bags contained a contract to dig ditches instead.

Remember illegal immigration? It doesn't just apply to low-wage job seekers from countries people don't like. There are many illegal immigrants from all over the world that come in without proper visas or overstay the ones they have. Personally, since I work in the computer security industry instead of poultry processing, I'm glad they enforced the laws equally.

He's smart and well-traveled. He won't get much sympathy on the "I was too lazy to sign it over to my company" excuse. The fact that he used it shows he knew what he should have done to come over without a visa. Whether it was mistake, or there was some advantage for him not to sign the contracts as an agent of his company, that was the risk he took for not following procedure and breaking United States law.

While I understand his frustration, it's all his own fault. The more he whines on his blog about it, the more respect for him I lose.

joey said...

This isn't just a USA problem - customs in many countries are much more strict about non-citizens doing any work. Again - this is not just a USA problem. Good luck though getting the correct papers done.

Reuben said...

Next time they should hold the bh conference in another country, let the American attendees deal with their draconian airport security.

Peace.

Andrew said...

The same thing happened to me, an American, when I went to Canada, so it's not unique to the US. The bottom line is, you have to lie. Yup, always just say that you're here on vacation. That's what I do now when I go to other countries. I keep all materials encrypted on my hard drive to discourage prying.

Doug Jackson said...

People,

This can be so simply solved by the effective use of technology!

Best yet, this solution will emphasise to the border officials that they simply are not needed...

For just the cost of a little bandwidth, you can make a very special point of holding the presentation and tutorial sessions by video conferencing.

That way, you never have to sully your passport with another USA stamp again!

Imaging the media coverage...

parity said...

Sorry our antiquated immigration droid was malfunctioning. Hope somebody repairs it soon.

I wonder which American the US customs department thinks is qualified to deliver your talk? Aitel? Are you behind all this? :)

Duncan McAlynn said...

Unfortunately, I know all too well the situation you found yourself in. My case, however, was providing training in Canada and having my passport held hostage for a randsom payment. Likewise, some of my political contributions resulted in being turned around in London. Like it or not, you're held at the mercy of the agent you're dealing with at the moment.

Zer0Kn0ck said...

Well Halvar it happens and I know how it feels when this happen. But any how this works and that is ground reality. Speakers feel bad when they are not allowed to speak fro a small sultry reason. Atlast its there.

Best of Luck for your future.

Regards
Aditya K Sood
http://www.secniche.org

Rod said...

Yet another example of US stupidity. They can stop the people who try and make things better, but they can't stop the real terrorists.. go figure. Did you have any WMD's in that suitcase.

yoshi said...

Seriously, how is this different than other countries? As a US citizen who travels abroad I have frequently encountered bureaucratic issues when traveling to Europe and Asia. I have seen your same experience played out in the United Kingdom and Tokyo. So I have a hard time feeling sympathetic to your issue since it appears you just didn't have your paperwork in order. And for those that bash me for this comment - a country can deny entry for any reason so its best to have everything in order prior to starting the trip.

DudeVanWinkle said...

Maybe you should just fly into Mexico and then walk up to Las Vagas ;-)

-JP

BiginJapan said...

This is a fairly common problem and not just in the U.S. When traveling to Canada they ask the same questions and if you 'mess up' and admit to doing some level of 'work' you are sent back to the U.S. I went to a board meeting with an associate, he screwed up and admitted that he was 'working' even though he wasn't getting paid. I just indicated I was attending a meeting. My associate was sent back and I was allowed entry. The same is true for travel from the U.S. to Germany. Anyway, I am sure you won't make this mistake again.

Jeff Nolan said...

I have mixed feelings about this situation. Allow me the courtesy of trying to walk through while I feel this way.

On one hand I am thinking you seem like a reasonable fellow, even though I don't know you, and your intentions are legitimate and unremarkable. So on that I would echo the other comments that this is a lot of bureaucracy.

On the other I see a U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement doing a thorough job of monitoring entry in the U.S. by individuals and investigating as they see appropriate. Quite frankly, as inconvenient as that is for you, I have to say that they get credit for doing their job.

However, as you have documented in your post, the nexus of the issue is your visa status and not the content of your baggage. This moves into the larger issue of immigration law and I do agree that there is a big problem. Having said that, I am reluctant to suggest that ICE should be permitted to allow you entry into the U.S. because you had a good story as to why you didn't have a visa appropriate for your professional situation. While I agree that the laws are in desperate need of change, the fact is that these are the laws that have to be enforced if the U.S. is to have any integrity in our legal system and how it relates to immigration and border enforcement.

While I empathize with the inconvenience (I used to do the SFO-Frankfurt flight regularly, know how frickin long it is!), I have to say that from what you have disclosed ICE was doing the job they are responsible for and from what I can see, doing a pretty thorough job of it.

Good luck in future travels.

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

It depends on how you phrase it. You tell the immigration guy you are going to attend a conference, at the [whatever] hotel.

He's like "Welcome to the USA" and stamps your passport.

You cant enter the USA to do work on a visa waiver program .. and "teaching a workshop" tends to mean "work". "Speaking at a conference" or "attending a conference" doesnt.

The same way you cant say you are a journalist out to cover something for your paper. That again qualifies as "work".. which has bitten many a blogger who has journalistic pretensions and wants to come into the USA.

Nothing at all content based.

Robert Graham said...

As a world traveler, I have the impression that the United States is worse than average. As a patriotic American, I'm embarrassed by this.

Although, we certainly don't have a monopoly on such behavior, I think most countries have the same rule that you fell afoul of. No matter where you travel in the world, you should either be going as (a) a tourist or (b) on company business.

When I did an exchange program in Germany, in order to get a visa, I needed to be enrolled in the university. In order to be enrolled, I needed health insurance. In order to get acceptable health insurance, I needed a visa. There was a way to exit this infinite loop, but it was really irritating (and funny).

In the United States, there are companies that will handle such things for you. A few days before leaving on a business trip, I needed visas for two different countries and an extension for my passport. A company used a courier service to send it to Texas, Washington DC, and New York, and got it back to me in 48 hours for $500. I wonder if there is something similar in Germany -- they could probably take care of your troubles for a fee.

paperghost said...

The visa waiver program has traditionally been a pain to navigate (for me, anyway). Here's my most recent experience.

Rather humorously, after all the quizzing about underwear this happened on the way back...

Visa waiver. All sorts of awesomeness.

gausscannon said...

Wow, one of the poster's statements I read triggered something.
He advised you to announce your visit as holiday journey.... that's much like in former DDR (oder GDR -> German 'Democratic' Republic).

The stupid, ignorant behaviour of these 'I AM IN CHARGE, BOW DOWN'-guys at the immigrations office is not better than what was usual in repressive states.

Oh, wait, we are talking 'bout USA... why did I bother writing the obvious.
Never mind....

icouldhelp said...

One problem is that American companies don't know their own laws. If they did, they wouldn't invite foreigners without being sure the people they're inviting aren't going to be turned away.

Reminds me of the tax issues foreign firms often encounter when doing business with U.S. firms. I've been asked many times to sign IRS forms for U.S. companies wanting to buy services from me in a foreign country. I refuse. Our firm is not a U.S. company and the IRS has no jurisdiction over my firm. If you want my product, you have to pay for it on our terms. I don't give a damn about your U.S. tax issues or your accounting systems.

Want our product, pay for it like everyone else. No special treatment for Americans. Yet I still get asked. And sometimes U.S. companies can't buy from us, but most often they need what we have so badly that they eventually read the tax code and realize that they don't actually need a w8ben, or whatever it is, when buying services from a foreign company making the product in a foreign country, and they don't need to withhold taxes.

So to all these Americans saying its your fault, you should have checked the rules, I say if you want something from a foreigner, better be prepared to pay more than the going rate because its actually a pain doing business with you.

Atilla said...

This happened to me in 1994(!) and I *still* have problems getting into the US. And good luck with applying for a Visa BTW, I was told I needn't apply for one for at least a year or two after the "incident" (coz it gets denied), and boy, they were not kidding :(

David said...

The correct response is to realise that the US's idiotic leadership doesn't want their country and their people to benefit from your expertise. So save your energy and work in places where you are appreciated instead.

John Salomon said...

Vote with your wallet as they say -- don't show up. They may be technically correct to block your entry, but why do you care?

If the US doesn't feel it needs skilled researchers enough, then hey, so be it. Quite a few colleagues of mine no longer attend US security conferences as a result of having been harassed when they truthfully stated they were professionals visiting a security-related event.

nullbomb said...

Oh man. This is a total bullshit... Can't believe they could be "so" anal about such things as simple printouts.. I was indeed trashed on my way to australia thanks for my monkey kyrgyz passport, but even then in oz land they didn't bother to ask me about the prints I was carrying w/ me (quite abit for the con and stuff).. wankers..

Anyway, come to Vienna, man! I hope I can make it there in november. should be fun huhuhu!! :)

-fyodor

Kand.in.Sky said...

>>and why my trainings class is not performed by an American citizien.<<

Well, this says only two things:
1. The Questioneer was a complete moron.

2. This is the result of the "we-are-the-greatest-nation-on-gods-earth"-thinking.


Both is absolutely foolish - and typical for the USA.




greetings from germany,
#k.

mm'chen said...

I have no sympathy for the complaints expressed in this blog, though I do very well understand the affected person's amazement.

Of course the IRS is entitled to reject an alien who appears to enter the US without a work visa if he/she receives payment from a US source for a work done in the US. Such are the rules. And it does not matter how little is paid or how short the engagement is.

And I do not have the slightest sympathy for US citizens who complain that the same happens to them when the enter Canada. What do they expect?

I just wished the EU authorities would treat US visitors the same way the US authorities treat EU visitors.

I know of US colleagues who enter Germany at regular intervals to work here without a work visa and without being interrogated when they enter Germany.

That's the real pain! The same rules for everybody would be okay by me.

But permission to US citizens to work in Germany, unless they stay for more than 90 days, while the same is denied to German citizens in the US is a pain in the ass!!! And the German government knows it and does nothing about it.

And the blogger is a whimp! He is member of a self-founded company and at least has the chance to get things straight.

What are all German self-employed people supposed to do, who have no chance to compete with self-employed competitors from the US? They cannot even apply for a visa, because there is none that they can apply for.

A self-employed person (or what is known as an Ich-AG in Germany) is not considered a business in the US (independently of the revenue) and cannot apply for a work visa. End of story!

Many thanks to our German government for supporting us.

smf said...

This really sucks. Think about how much the US is dependent of foreign intellectual capacity.
If they are not able to distinguish an illegal alien from a visitor of a technical conference they should be left alone.

GrooveHopper said...

Considering the trouble a lot of people, especially from countries which do not participate in the visa-waiver program, have, I suggest we all should try to drag as many conferences as possible to Europe! Considering security conferences, this is especially necessary, because customs may inspect your laptop's content, they can arrest you for breaking the Digital Millenium Act etc.

Conferences in the USA simply suck!

Thomas said...

The problem here (and I guess most Americans posting do no realize it) is that Halvar will never again be eligible for the visa waiver program. EVER! So next time you want to hire him, you'll need 6 weeks lead time. So basically he can't do business in the US anymore because of a friggin' technicality. I'd call that cruel and unusual.

Economist said...

There is a very simple solution I would recommend to Blackhead (and everyone else who wants to run an international top-notch conference):

Just organize your conference in Europe or Asia. People are not fingerprinted at the airport and I have never heard of US scientists/specialists being sent home because they happened to be in the wrong visa category or being a borderline case between regulations. (Remember that visa waiver applies for strictly academic/scientific conferences)

In addition, scientists/specialists all around the world should think about boycotting conferences in the US. Maybe someone could set up such an initiative?

The problem with US immigration laws is the political economy behind it: Toughening them is a very nice way to show the median voter that some politician is tough on terror/illegal immigration while the costs of tougher controls are entirely shifted to the rest of the world (via the higher risk of being sent home and via the increased costs in applying for a visa).

Only if the US academic world and US companies somehow start feeling the pain, they might start lobbying congress to end this nonsense!

Alex said...

My own personal opinion is that you (and anybody else) should quit working with "The land of the free"!

If the USA went crazy after 9/11 then let them go down alone.

It's ALWAYS bad to rank business higher than ethic

Just my 2 cents.

Bouncer said...

Perhaps they should move blackhat from the USA, as entering the country is like entering a prison.

Bruno said...

I'm really wondering why you'd do any effort to return to the USA. Give up on these idiots in the USA. Let them figure out their security issues in software themselves.
I've never been treated as bad as you have, but I've been to the USA numerous times and always felt treated like a criminal entering. Now, I decided to simply not go anymore. Let these arrogant US zealots solve their own crap.

Mu2 said...

There are so many ways to fall afoul of custom regulations, I once got napped for carrying illegal food - canned sausage. Now, the regulations say canned food is exempt from the food regulations, since it's presumably always safe. But you need to read the fine print. Only INDUSTRIALLY canned food is exempt. Cans from you local butcher "in business since 1765" is no good - it doesn't have a bar code.
Ok, $50 penalty wasn't too bad, but for the next 5 years I was sent to "agricultural inspection" every time I entered the US. Computers have such a long memory.

Nivag said...

I used to be non-US citizen working in the US, and lived and worked in Germany as a non-German citizen. I agree with Stolen Identitiy and others that are basically saying that the law is the law and I am personally glad to hear that US ICE is applying it without exception. I can assure you that if it was the other way around: an individual US citizen trying to work in the Germany without a proper visa, the German authorities would have been a LOT less accomodating.

godzilla said...

I do not think that some people took the time to really grasp the issue. 1) He was allowed through the passport check. That means that this agent got the story right OR did not care
2) He was unlucky: he was searched by customs.
3) He probably repeated the same story as in 1). However, that time a different agent had a different mood.
4) An interview for 4.5 hours after 9 hours of flight is simply not human and is insane.
5) A law is not the only resource of justice, there is also common sense and jurisprudence used by judges. So why this top, world wide known researcher is refused the access?
6) What about that first agent that let him through? What about if he did not have his documents printed? I think he would pass without any issues... here you find your justice... it is simply luck!

What about the fact that all researcher do attend conferences worldwide and most of the time they are INVITED to do so because of their expertise and not because they are less paid then a US citizen?
BTW did you see many countries taking your picture and your fingerprints at entry cite, except US of course???? I'm a Canadian and I was traveling with my family and two of my German friends to US: we have spent 2 hours on the border all of us detained and passports confiscated. Then my friends payed a fee, gave their pic and fingerprints. Only after this All of us got our passports back. We were explained that this is a standard procedure: all foreign citizens (except Canada) go through this... The question is. who gave them the right to confiscate our Canadian passports??? We did not do anything and there was no reason to detain us like this!
Here you go for American justice and system!

Marlon said...

I don't understand why couldn't you simply say you were coming to visit las vegas or going to disney world. I hope this is an eye opener to you, and to the rest that the USA is no longer a free country, but a fascist country waiting to implement martial law...oh yea, next time, just wear some blue jeans with a plaid shirt of your favorite colors, a mexican sombrero, and you will have no problems getting in; you will also be amazed at the vip treatment you get from the so called immigration officials. :)

Technocrat said...

Totally lame. Hopefully we can get enough media attention to jump-start some action on the part of the government.

Just another example that the US immigration system is broken and needs to be addressed.

Efrain said...

Halvar,

Thank GOD that you are not Colombian or travelling from Colombia......

PS/Forget about H1B visas .. Now they are assigned by a random process... Next time just cross the river is easier than doing things the right way.

John said...

Consider yourself lucky. Due to a freak foul up of incidents by the bureaucracy, I am marked as a suspected terrorist "in the computer."

I get interrogated by several people and all luggage searched each and every time I enter the US.

And Im a US citizen =(

Yerushalayim said...

Halvar,

You came into the US for business purposes without a business visa and you got caught. Put another way: in the past you frequently used port 80 to get to the backend DB, and now you got caught because someone did a bit of packet inspection and found some suspicious SQL stuff encapsulated in your HTTP request and realized what you were up to. After doing some forensics they decided to block your access, unless you play by their rules. So what’s the problem? Play by their rules!

The mutual visa waiver program between the US and Germany is for tourist purposes and tourist purposes alone. As a repeat business traveler to the US, it was your responsibility to clarify that you were not violating the terms and conditions of the tourist visa waiver program. This program does not give you blanket coverage to work in the US. This information is available from US consular offices in Germany and US govt. web sites. Ignorance is therefore not an excuse.

You claim that in the past US immigration officials knowingly allowed you to enter the country for business purposes on a tourist visa. I’m sorry, but that part of your story just doesn’t wash. As an immigrant (legal) to the US, I and family members have experienced immigration bureaucracy first hand, and it is highly unlikely that immigration officials would turn a blind eye to your visa dual intent.

I empathize with your frustration and embarrassment at the hands of US govt. officials, but it was presumptuous oversight on your part.

emerson said...

Since he passed immigration, customs had no reason to deny him entry. That can only lead me to believe that if he were carrying notes on swimming pool installers, he wouldn't have been stopped.

ThomasB227 said...

As a US citizen, I am glad these measures in place. However, they are obviously flawed and hassle people doing legitimate business. These same rules also do not keep the bad guys out.

I only wish our little minions would look up from their papers and deal with you a little more fairly and our leaders establish a more open business model.

Anyway, sorry from a US citizen.

hedonics said...

Just a thought, you have worked for the DoD and various other agencies, is it possible that someone frome these agencies can help?

It seems silly to me that your "training" has been used to further the efficacy of our government and perhaps even enhanced the government's security, and yet because of someone failure to grasp the situation, you're inconvienced.

Unfortunately, this sort of thinking is common amoung government officials. It's why what ever "goodwill" the US had, it seems to be disapearing rapidly.

Sorry about that....

P Garin

me said...

Wow, so you can sneak a fake bomb through BWI, but, you better hide your research, and in some cases underwear (paperghost). Thats just effin silly.

hesaigo999ca said...

Hey...sorry to hear that..but honestly, it is a black hat conference, they should have had everything on the up and up at the beg. as I am sure they know that the amount of guest speakers with shady pasts may bring alot of heat, spare alot of embaressment and confusion to everyone. You could have held it anyways virtually, although watching a big screen aint as good as being able to shake your hand afterwards... : )

spikethedog said...

Rod commented that incidents like this keep out the good people but allow the terrorists.

First, we've had no terror attacks since 9-11 so apparently someone's doing something right.

Second, unfortunate as it may sound, Halvar was naive about our tightened immigration policy, perhaps as a consequence of the relaxed policies throughout the EU.

Sorry, Halvar, but we're not in that EU thing and we've got our own rules.

You're certainly the kind of person the USA wants to enter the country, but Germany's got its own long tradition of numbing regulations and, alas, you got caught in ours.

Next time wear a camera around your neck, a Hawaiian shirt and carry a brochure describing gambling and nightlife in Vegas.
Forget that "work" thing.

Good luck,

Doktor Future said...

America is becoming increasingly insular and inward-focused. An 'us vs. them' attitude pervades. Certainly not a 'worldly country', and certainly anything but 'free'. Sad really.

It's in a major decline.

Rob said...

Real sorry to hear of your experiences. Had my country not been attacked 11SEP01 things could have been simpler.

Perhaps you should simply tell them you were going to Vegas to gamble.

Works great for house Saud and house Al-Sabah.

Zerchen said...

I wonder why do you still try to fly into the U.S.?

Of course, it may be needed for business reasons, but I like to ask, if the U.S. has probably disqualified itself to be taken as a serious location for important events, since they threat all non american citizens as possible criminals.

I also do not any longer want to travel into the U.S. because I don't accept that they collect data sets of me that they will probably never delete

Al said...

Well, you did violate the Visa rules. But the guys from Customs shouldn't have been so harsh. Welcome to the I'm-Harassed-Coz-Of-The-Visa Club by the way ..

Diogo said...

Dude, at least you had your individual rights respected, there were cases of brazilians who were travelling to the U.S, either on vacation or to atend conventions and the likes and after arrival were denied entry.
They were put on small rooms crowded with people, there was no official accusation of anything and couldn't contact the embassy nor received water and food, after several hours they were put on a plane and sent back to Brazil. There was this case of a group of plastic surgeons who would atend a convention and were denied acess because one of them "seemed" middle-eastern...
America is getting more and more paranoid and not doing their homework right...

Jim said...

my company instructed me to say that i'm in the host country for 'business meetings'- the implication being that i'm not there to take away anyone's job.
never been stopped.

Inger said...

Perhaps this was mentioned in an earlier comment that I missed (& to focus on my understanding of why the "interview room" pandora's box opened)- but why carry printed material at all? Shipping or even emailing material to a copy center saves hassle of lugging around something as heavy as -paper-..

Aside from that, this experience seems absurd. I'm inclined to believe the post that alluded to "turn away" quotas- the "excuse" that you are an employee so you have the wrong visa type is just dumb. How frustrating.

Mousky said...

So while the US allows hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to cross the US-Mexico border (how is that border fence coming along?), a guy who travelled by plane to give two days of training at a conference attended by government employees, among others, gets sent back. Yup, nothing is wrong with immigration and customs in the US (or any other country for that matter).

Fuzzy2k said...

Sounds pretty bogus, however, there are some remedies available.

1.Following the rules sometimes pays off:

So, Continue with your efforts to "go legit" by jumping through the hoops that these petty beaurocrats have now set up for you.

2. "I am with the band" is another valid avenue

In the past 6 years of training people who are in the US Gov't. did you make any friends? Have you considered asking any of them to take up your cause? Sometimes a seemingly insignificant contact can make all the difference.

3. Let's write our Congresspeople

Of the various people who have posted here, how many actually know Halvar and his work, AND are US Citizens? It may seem a stupid idea, but Senators and Congress persons actually do pay attention to the mail they get (snail mail more than email, sorry, but be brave and

1. endure the risk of the papercut
and
2. spend the 41 cents to get a stamp
and
3. risk the embarrassment you may have to live with from your peers when they see you heading for the post office, mailroom or mail pickup point of your choosing with an actual piece of snail mail.

Please Note: SOme may not even realize what it is.)

So write a freaking letter and mail it. The odds of this working for this years are minimal at best, but it may help for next, or whenever the next conference is.

But, yeah - sux to deal with government sometimes.

helly said...

haha!

but you do read news and read information on working in other countries, do you?

and it occured to you that usa are pretty strict on people working there?

it is no secret at all that they do not let you in if you work there illegally and btw any other country would do the same. Only usa look more these days.

The easy solution would be to say that you are attending the conference. And you could say that your company gets paid or that you just get an reimbursement for your flight etc. But well you might need to pay taxes then - ouch - you probably didn't want that

grimholtz said...

Let me get this straight: you're upset because you've been entering the country illegally for 6 years and finally got caught?

halvar.flake said...

A brief reply to those that have claimed that the visa waiver is for tourist uses only: This is incorrect.

It clearly states that business travel is allowed.

I have since spoken with experts on the topic, and they have explained that in essence, the DHS/INS officials are looking for "keywords". Instead of saying that the contract was with me personally, I should've said that it was with my 'business (of which I am the sole proprietor)' (which describes my freelance status) and that generally one shouldn't use the word 'work' and substitute 'business'. Sigh.

MIB Marcel Bos / Sweden said...

Inofficial rules for matters into US:
Do never NEVER ever bring in something that no other than you self understand.

Do not bring in computers laptops to videotapes -

Do not bring in stuff that relates to your intrests

Do NEver ever bring in something that can be misstanken as something else.

Since bush did his control socity - Stay out - and let your firends bring up a videolink for you.

MIB Marcel Bos / Sweden said...

Do never bring in something that other than you self understands. Meaning customs do not understand Computer tech.

Do not bring in something other things than "common sence"..

My equiment got destroyed in custom since they got lose on
my videoediting studio that I self had putted togehter. Since then I can´t trust custom to let off from my stuff.

if its too many wires - its probably a bomb... Not good!

Tobias said...

Halvar,

Sorry to hear that. bummer.
Having traveled much through Africa and elsewhere I can tell you that rule #1 when dealing with immigration/customs officials is: lie! You're not there on business or teaching etc, you are "on holiday", the materials is "a gift for a friend", etc etc. Its unfortunate but it's the cold hard reality of living in todays world and dealing with 'robots'.
On a lighter note, can't you just hack in to the visa waiver program computers and reset your status? =:-) ...well it IS called "black"-hat...
(no disrespect... humour is the best medicine)

gerrit.schwartz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kelvin said...

Get your DOD, DOE, DHS clients to provide you a letter and apply for an O-1 visa.

Arian said...

Halvar -- man I am very sorry to read this.

Anyway -- Hope to see you over here again soon; you are an intelligent and valuable contributor to the infosec community without the ego and pomp of some folks with half your skill. It's appreciated by many folks.

Thanks for babysitting and dancing with the girl a bit last year at Rain (at BH), too. I appreciate it.

Take care, hope all is well.

Arian email at anachronic dot com

farmeunit said...

Good luck man. Wish there was more people could do. Everyone in the US is getting carried away with security. Might be more to this, but where you're going might have more to do with it than what they say. Stupid since you're training the people that are supposed to protect us anyway.

elisabeth said...

What a night of the living dead! I hope you come back again and don't take it too personally. This happens to my Chinese friends all of the time. One day they are denied, the next day a fresh face and its OK...you never what silly thing will trigger the folks at the border. Small power, small minds.

BTW - I like your brains!

Alexandr Katalov, ElcomSoft said...

Hi, Halvar! Welcome to club ;-)

Alexandre said...

I believe that the US immigration practices are correct and I fully support them.

Furthermore, I believe that the US Government should close the US borders to any non-American citizen and kick out all non-Americans from US.

By doing that there will be plenty of work for the Americans in the US. So, other countries in the world can also kick-out the American citizens back to US.

After that, the US government can build a wall surrounding US and forbid all international flights.

Finally, after these measures, all US problems are gone, as all of them ARE DIRECTLY CAUSED by immigrants. US will be a place for Americans and the US economy will flourish as never.

Good luck! I promise that I will not miss you.

Fazlul 'Rahuman' Fazal said...

Man, I am sry to hear that you had to endure such hardship. Its plain crazy to reject someone just because of that.

Well Hope u get in soon. Good Luck.

Regards / Rahuman.

John said...

It won't do much good, but let me apologize as an American for the absurdity of our immigration and customs department. It is a tragedy when a country allows millions of illegal immigrants to receive free services (paid for by taxpaying citizens), but makes it near impossible for a man like yourself to provide critical training to its security personnel. Best of luck to you as you attempt to navigate the convoluted system of visas, waivers, and other garbage that has been put in to appease one special interest group or another.

Marc-Antoine Ruel said...

American citizen don't understand how troublesome it is for any software security specialist to enter the US.

Halvar is right, you have to use keywords. As a non-English speaker, the visitor may not always understand the subtleties in the language that the agents are looking for. Even if all your paperwork is fine, you tell exactly what you are going to do in your visit, you may have troubles, because of your wording.

I've been denied last year because of some paperwork and since then I'm always questioned. It's a lot of useless stress. :(

Mario said...

Those who suppress freedom to achieve security end up being devoid of both.
Fewer worthy people will enter the U.S., while illegals will enter continually. That is a recipe for social disaster in a country.

Larry the Open Source Guy said...

Halvar is right. Our trusty State Department has this to say about the visa waiver program:

Nationals of the 27 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (Note: Germany is one of the countries) may use VWP if: The purpose of their stay in the United States is 90 days or less for tourism OR BUSINESS (emphasis mine).

As a member of the media, I'll pass this on to a couple of reporters who might be able to make a difference.

Jim said...

It may sound stupid, but you should double check your status EVERYTIME before you enter the US. The person you probably talked to may be up-to-date, but the Visa system changes on a monthly basis. Considering the fact that you were entering the US for only a couple of days at a time, you were probably "flagged."

I am a US citizen who is married to a German national. We have visited the US from time to time. Each time, we were checked by customs. That is because we were flagged. That is always a possibility.

Nothing wrong with that. You just have to keep yourself informed and follow the rules. As a German, you ought to know that. I have had no problems in Europe by following their rules. You should do the same when coming to the US. Be glad that they sent you back to Germany instead of sending you to jail.

paperghost said...

"Nothing wrong with that. You just have to keep yourself informed and follow the rules."

The problem is, he did follow the rules. The rules are - if you're going on a visa waiver for a holiday, tick the holiday box. If not, tick the business box.

End of story, problem solved. I've done it myself, many a time. If they changed the above "rule", they'd presumably need to change the visa waiver form too because there isn't a lot of room for interpretation where ticking "yes" or "no" is concerned.

The problems BEGIN when you get to the gate and (depending on what mood the guy behind the desk is in) you quickly become embroiled in a stupid game of catching people out via spurious uses of the English language.

Every time I go to the States, I am hassled more and want to go there less. You can't get a bigger chilling effect than that.

abhip76 said...

With the A-list sponsos all of whom seem to have amazing technology it should be possible to setup a virtual classroom fairly easily to avoid the hassle for you and Blackhat every year.

S.Murigi said...

If the US begins to treat Europeans like Africans (one here) what should Arabs expect?

john said...

As an American citizen, I apologize for the time you lost and the rudeness of this situation.

Governments in general, and my government in particular, often mistake nit-picking attention to detail as security. As others have pointed out, such challenges are typical of the new American atmosphere of militarism and the martial stance of the people who think they are guarding the national interest. The BlackHat conference should have investigated possible problems for presenters and offered you some guidance before your travel plans were finalized.

That said, I wish to re-ask the obvious: Why move people around to have a conference? The costs of travel alone makes me wonder why we all go to the same place to discuss things? Is it because we really just want a trip to 'Vegas?

In a world running out of resources, lets advocate for telecommunications and telepresence at every possible opportunity.

The conference can display you, live, via several methods and you would have full interactivity with the conference participants.

Of course the "after party" won't be the same!

But please, all readers of this, we owe it to those who come after us to promote telecommuting at every level. If the high-tech community says its "cool" then it might catch on.

Please, let us all tell our bosses, reporters, and governments that telecommuting will save more fuel than all the new drilling in Alaska or Arctic could ever produce.

Lights, Camera, Action!

Boney said...

im from India.
All i want to say is, this is bullshit. Unhuman.
if you want to cause damage, u can do it from any part of the world.
What does it need?
a computer and internet.

Johan said...


You claim that in the past US immigration officials knowingly allowed you to enter the country for business purposes on a tourist visa. I’m sorry, but that part of your story just doesn’t wash.


First of all the visa waiver program is not a tourist visa. Secondly I've repeatedly stated "business" as my reason for visiting without problem.

Halvar's probably right about that "work" word, though. That's really sad.

Mike said...

The way I interpret this, there was a bit of an error on your part for not digging into the entry requirements for the United States and securing the appropriate paperwork. Entry requirements to the U.S.A shift in varying degrees.

That being said, I do believe the way it was handled was inappropriate and over the top. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents can deny or allow entry based on their "good judgment" if the see fit. Speaking at a conference should not be grounds for denying entry to the country, much less causing you to no longer enter the country on the work visa waiver program.

I wish you the best of luck securing entry into the U.S.A and I look forward to someday having a chance to attend one of your presentations.

damjan said...

To all that say "Ou you were coming in US on business you should have visa, it is the law" this is a matter o interpretation. As godzilla nicely pointed the first agent cleared him while the second had another opinion.
This and the fact that he had no problems entering US before shows how lame excuse it is that he simply didn't follow the law. If he would state the purpose of his visit a bit differently or the agents interpreted the purpose of his visit differently (remember they needed 4 1/2 hours to make the interpretation which of course confirmed how right they were to stop him) he would enter as he did before. He was attending a conference where he intended to do what people do at conferences, so does one need a business visa to go to a conference in US now? If this is indeed the case, just state it out clearly. I'm certain that there is a lot of reasonable and influential people, who would oppose to that since this is not in the best interest for US

Mathew Innes said...

I was banned from NEW ZEALAND after marrying my german wife(now ex) I had to goto germany and live, i mean "start again from scratch", so i am sure you must be either laughing to yourself or wondering if actually helping their unintelligent beings within their government is actually worth its weight in gold... hmmm. I ended up with BMW and loved every minute of it, designed software and learnt to speak the language over the five years there, now im back in NZ and not feeling like giving any help to the people who I thought were on the same team as myself. What does a "Samurai" do when his hands are tied? He sits on them. Kia Kaha brother! Renton.

Bill F, Minneapolis said...

DUH - some CEO that doesn't check the rules.

Oh, thats right, you intended to do it the right way but never got around to it.

Rob said...

I am an US Citizen married to a Canadian Citizen who has her green card (living in our home in the US). While I can also empathize as I had a similar experience while entering Canada, I will say that I am pleased that they followed the letter of the law and did not let you in under those pretenses. The proper documentation for anything not "recreational" that you do while in the US is crucial to timely passage into/out of the country. I had an analagous experience one time while going to do a favor and "fill in" for a Canadian reseller partner whose trainer fell ill. Bottom line, I had to awaken the VP at his house late on a Sunday night and have him fax over the proper documentation to Canadian Customs.

Sorry about your experience (very untimely) but we all have to cut our teeth sometime!

gostak said...

My apologies for your inconvenience, your frustration, your waste of time and money.

There is no sense to what is happening in this day and age.

Unreasonable reality said...

I've read a lot about you and the (in my opinion) critical training and insight you give to various government agencies... this is a slap in the face and while i agree that you probably could have been better informed and possibly more prepared, I still concur that the immigration policy is overhauled entirely too often... I can see why Mr. Gates is opening an office in Canada... there is a lot of overly reduntant laws involved in aquiring a business visa... and no matter how much americans want to believe that we are the best and the brightest... we aren't. I've worked the IT field in the U.S. Government for almost 5 years and I have learned many lessons from your intellectual genius in the field. As for those of you on here that are degrading this blog for saying what happened then you are both naive and ignorant... When a person is frustrated they vent it through whatever source they choose to convey the information... it doesn't sound like whining to me... it sounds like frustration at a situation that while it might have been avoided through better preparation and information, still ruined an instructors lesson and no one is happy about that if they have any passion about the subject matter they instruct... So in closing, best of luck, and hopefully they don't play any games with your new visa...

MikeR said...

I have refused all work in the US for the past 3 years as a result of this sort of Immigrations nonsense. Their loss not ours.

North Carolina Crime Net said...

Next time, just ooze over the Mexican border as an illegal alien. You'll not only be welcomed, you'll get welfare, free housing and medical care. Simple. You just did the stupid thing by being honest, employed, and European. We can't have THAT, now can we?

Jose Leo said...

03aww..pretty harsh..do you give out sessions in other countries too..like in asia,middle east or wherever..they wont treat you that harsh...

Key McMahon said...

To the people that said it was his own fault: Maybe that's true but then why didn't the immigration morons follow the letter of the law when he came to speak the 7 other times? It's the inconsistency and the lack of flexibility that is frustrating. There is no reason other than pure bureaucracy that this happened to him and it is ridiculous. I am embarrassed and ashamed of our customs people too.

punkypaul said...

as its a catch all it will never be right 100% of the time but I think its a case of ,best to upset a few folk than let some sneak past ? I had a friend from japn try to visit me in london but she was sent straight back because a pair of scissors were found in her luggage? and as she is a hairdresser they sumised she was here to work! nonsense of course but there is a logic to the madness.

punkypaul said...

as its a catch all it will never be right 100% of the time but I think its a case of ,best to upset a few folk than let some sneak past ? I had a friend from japn try to visit me in london but she was sent straight back because a pair of scissors were found in her luggage? and as she is a hairdresser they sumised she was here to work! nonsense of course but there is a logic to the madness.

Christian said...

I'm sorry to tell you this but that's your fault...Lesson learned: "Work" and "B1/B2 visa" can't be used in the same sentence!

Good luck with your visa...

Nikki said...

I'm sorry this happened, but the exact same thing happened to my boyfriend from England. We further complicated matters by taking bad advice from a Visa agency, only for him to get subsequently denied for a visa (visitor's or worker's!). We are currently at a loss, so I am incredibly interested to see how your situation works out; and if you speak to an immigration lawyer, please let me know what (s)he says. Ours was of no help. I'd love to hear from you! Thanks! nwilinski@gmail.com

cleotheobeo said...

Respect for all who comment on this subject in such a considerate mood. I am a 47 year old photo-journalist working for the int. media worldwide since 1986 and have just experienced a nightmare of going through the third I-Visa renewing process in my life at the US-Embassy in Berlin with no succsess.Since a year you have to go through a personnal interview in Berlin and provide different documents. Offcourse I did'nt read the small printed lines that say, you cant take a cell-Phone into the building. Coming from Hamburg by train I did need it anyway.They send me away but I found a deposit at the bakery around the corner..., second, realising I have lost my bank receipt for the fees to be paid in advance.... the second shock and allready I felt like a criminal because the lady was anything than polite... so I paid my second 94,32 Euros (in addition to the train fare and a day with no income) third after 3x finger prints I got the unpleasant news that my 3 different photos dont match the regulations,..too dark ! ( I am a photographer), another 6,-Euros one floor above... after another hour waiting time I was happy to hear my name announced and I proceeded to a little interviewing box that reminded me of the old dark east German times... It took the clerk only 10 seconds to make clear that I can walk without my visa. I did'nt bring the contract with my Media Agency. I tried to explain that I am freelance. Which means no contracts with no one. The reaction : "I told you you need a contract" Me: I cant bring a contract because I dont have a boss... and so on, 2 Minutes later I was in the street again, having spent 265,44 Euros and 10 hours for nothing. The only person that was interested in my story was the old lady at the bakery... Her comment was'nt anything nice about American people. Still I am totally confused, after 22 years of international work I have been denied to enter the US with the Visa that I have had 3 times before already. Still I dont know what kind of contract with what kind of Media-Company I should have... It has become a very dark world out there...I felt like a little dumm schoolboy. My head was hot and read and I was so embarrassed and felt humiliated like a sick dog. What can I do ? I am getting afraid of what happens in the world and in the USA after beeing a great fan of american life for such a long time. My suggestion : Stay out when ever you can !

cleotheobeo said...

I am a 47 year old photo-journalist working for the int. media worldwide since 1986 and have just experienced a nightmare of going through the third I-Visa renewing process in my life at the US-Embassy in Berlin with no succsess. Since a year you have to go through a personnal interview in Berlin and provide different documents. Since my laptop incl. my passport with a I-Visa (Journalist) was stolen from my car during a job in southern France I needed to renew all the stuff,...sifff what a hazzle ! Offcourse I did'nt read the small printed lines in the internet documents of the embassy saying, you cant take a cell-Phone into the embassy building. Coming from Hamburg by train I did needed to take it anyway. They send me away but I found a deposit at the bakery around the corner..., second, realising I have lost my bank receipt for the fees to be paid in advance.... the second shock and allready I felt like a criminal because the lady was anything than polite... so I paid my second 94,32 Euros (in addition to the train fare and a day with no income) third after 3x finger prints I got the unpleasant news that my 3 different photos don't match the regulations,.. too dark ! ( I am a photographer), another 6,-Euros one floor above... after another hour waiting time I was happy to hear my name announced and I proceeded to a little interviewing box that reminded me of the old dark east German times... It took the clerk only 10 seconds to make clear that I can walk without my visa. I did'nt bring the contract with my Media Agency. I tried to explain that I am freelance. Which means no contracts with no one. The reaction : "I told you you need a contract" Me: I cant bring a contract because I dont have a boss... and so on, 2 Minutes later I was in the street again, having spent 265,44 Euros and 10 hours for nothing. The only person that was interested in my story was the old lady at the bakery... Her comment was'nt anything nice about American people. Still I am totally confused, after 22 years of international work I have been denied to enter the US with the Visa that I have had 3 times before already. I never spent more tha 7-10 days in the US, leaving a lot of good old cash in many places. Still I dont know what kind of contract with what kind of Media-Company I should have... Why did'nt the man from the embassy allow me to explain my situation and look up all my papers and magazines that I brought to prove what a nice photographer I am. It has become a very dark world out there...I felt like a little dumm schoolboy. My head was hot and read and I was so embarrassed and felt humiliated like a sick dog. What can I do ? I am getting afraid of what happens in the world and in the USA after beeing a great fan of american life for such a long time. My suggestion : Stay out of that country if you can ! There is some bad memorys in my German soul...

thepartycrasher said...

Typical US "we're the center of the known universe" beauraucratic nonsense. One of the main reasons I am trying to get papers to move to Europe for good.

I'm sorry this has happened to you, it's really a disgrace. This really irritates me because they don't make things any easier on it's citizens.

For what it's worth, I was detained and interviewed for 2 1/2 hours upon entering the US recently--And I'm a citizen with a valid US passport!!

Again, I am sorry this has happened to you. Best of luck in the future.

mcarrieri said...

I'm a resident of Silicon Valley, and am sorry this has happened. Your service is very valuable to the Tech industry. I don't think sending you home will help the Web security hole that was recently found. Good luck and let us know when you will be in San Jose again.

Gina said...

That's too bad!!! I'm really sorry. By the way great to know that you love South America, I'm from Colombia and I know you would have no trouble at all getting here. You're welcome anytime! ;0)

Ignatious said...

Only just came across this blog. I was denied entry about 18 months ago. Plane landed at 6pm, cleared immigration, just picked up my luggage and inbetween the 100 meters from the baggage area and the exit to the airport I was intercepted by a CBP officer. 6 hours later I was transported to a detention facility prior to my removal from the states. (Entry under Visa waiver also). 17 hours I was locked away in a cell, isolated from the rest of the world. I'm not famous or known in any circles such as yourself (Blogger host) or Russell Brand, (British comedian also denied entry) But I have been there and shared the experience. The cornbread wasnt too bad, much better than the cold milky looking pancake also known as grits.