U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Al Jazeera journalist stopped and questioned in Los Angeles airport

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 27, 2017

Border Stop

Target Nationality
US Citizenship Status of Target
U.S. citizen
Denied Entry?
Stopped Previously?
Asked for device access?
Asked intrusive questions about work?
Equipment Seized
Status of Seized Equipment
Returned in full
Search Warrant Obtained
May 27, 2017

Ali Latifi, a journalist for Al Jazeera English, was flagged for secondary screening by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers when he flew to Los Angeles from Istanbul on May 27, 2017.

Latifi is a dual Afghani and American citizen who has reported for the New York Times, the Telegram, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune. He told the Committee to Protect Journalists that when he arrived in Los Angeles, he scanned his U.S. passport at the customs area and received a document with an ‘X’ printed over his face. When he reached the passport counter, a CBP officer instructed him to step aside for additional screening.

Latifi said that the CBP officer emptied his backpack and took both his U.S. and Afghan passports. The officer also asked Latifi to unlock and turn over his phone, which Latifi told CPJ he did, believing he didn’t have much of a choice. Latifi said that the officer looked through his phone for approximately five minutes, but did not ask to search his computer.

After finishing the search, the officer asked Latifi a number of questions, including details about where he lives in Kabul, Afghanistan. He also asked Latifi for his U.S. address and phone number, although Latifi hasn’t lived in the United States in four years. The CBP officer also asked Latifi about his occupation and, upon hearing that he was a journalist, what he writes about. He then asked Latifi to name a recent article that he had written that he had really liked and asked, “If I Google your name and LA Times, will it come up?”

All told, Latifi said, the questioning and search were “annoying but fine.”

This was far from Latifi’s first secondary screening, he told CPJ that he has been stopped everywhere from Heathrow to Dubai. He plans to file a FOIA request to see what information he can glean about the rationale behind his repeated stops. 

“I’ve always wondered what they see on the screen and what makes them suspect,” he said.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].