First, it shows how “the authorities” have long been attempting to “control” us as citizens, and in often dumbfoundingly weird and unjust ways! In other words both NDAA and the president’s “cover of night” signing statement on March 16 reflect what has been going on for decades — even centuries, eons! Indeed, it may be that any time a “government” is instituted at a large, territorial level, with no real connection to the people who live “under” it, abuse of power will follow — unless, as Thomas Jefferson famously noted, we learn to (non-violently) push the reset button every ten to twenty years.
And, I appreciate this story even more for how Fred Burks has been gracefully and elegantly working with his yucky, sticky situation for over ten years, seeing through roles in each “official” encounter with an “agent” of the “government,” as human being to human being. I am reminded of Tim DeChristopher’s remark, when speaking with his sentencing officer after the trial that would land him in federal prison as an environmental activist: “I was struck by the fact that he was the first person in this courthouse to call me by my first name, or even really look me in the eye.”
Fred Burks looks people in the eye. Not to dominate, but to connect. I know. My friend Joan Bird and I met and shared meals with him at the 2011 UFO Congress. Fred knows how to shift rigid control dramas into surprising transformative processes. I can learn from him.
March 23, 2012
Back in early 2004, only a year after WantToKnow.info was first started, I had a fascinating and big surprise come out of an official U.S. Department of State investigation against me.
It all started in December 1999, when I went on a three-week vacation to the Yucatan in Mexico with my girlfriend. After a week there, she was feeling bored. Having seen the engaging movie Buena Vista Social Club, which richly depicts the lively music and culture of Cuba, she insisted that we visit this sub-tropical island nation, so I reluctantly agreed. At the time we decided to go, I hadn’t heard about any problems with people traveling there. If I had any idea what was to come, I would never have gone to Cuba and threatened my job as a language interpreter with the State Department.
Our 10 full days in Cuba were filled with great times. On the flight over, we were excited to befriend a fun, vibrant Afro-Cuban drummer sitting next to us who lived in Havana with his family. He not only set us up to stay in the apartment of a friend, he invited us to his beautiful 15-year-old daughter’s colorful quincinera or coming of age celebration. We also enjoyed swimming at the warm sandy beaches, exploring Cuba’s rich music and culture, and lots more in our time there.
Two days before flying there, I found a used Cuba guidebook in the Yucatan. The guidebook stated it was not illegal to go to Cuba, but that technically Americans were not allowed to spend money there, as it is considering aiding the enemy. Yet the guidebook also mentioned they had never heard of anyone having a problem with this, and that well over 100,000 Americans were visiting Cuba every year. So on returning to the U.S. from our trip, I wasn’t expecting any problem from writing on the customs form that we had visited Mexico and Cuba.
Upon then going through customs, we were shocked to be pulled aside and then detained for two hours, during which they first read us our Miranda rights and then separated and interrogated us all because we had gone to Cuba. During the interrogation, I asked the customs agent if it was illegal to go to Cuba. I was most curious that, though we were being treated like criminals, she avoided answering this question and wouldn’t tell me why we were being detained. We were eventually released and told that we didn’t have to do anything, but that we might hear from them again.
About six months later, we received letters stating that we were under investigation, but didn’t need to do anything. Thennothing happened until over three years later, when I was shocked to receive a letter stating that I had to pay a penalty of $7,590 for my visit to Cuba! I later confirmed that it was not illegal to go to Cuba. I was facing this fine because of the regulation against spending money there. This regulation was designed as a way of bypassing the Supreme Court’s decision that Americans have the right to travel freely anywhere in the world.
This all seemed very unfair to me, as it thankfully does to a whole team of lawyers across the US. One member of this team is representing me for free in challenging this fine in court. The case is still in limbo now, well over 10 years after my Cuba visit. Yet as a result of this ongoing case, in early 2004 the State Department sent a special investigator to my house to question me about the case. His duty was to evaluate if I was still fit to work as a language interpreter with the U.S. government.
I had over the years served as an Indonesian language interpreter for Bill Clinton, G.W. Bush, Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and many others (click here to read the many little miracles that led to this). I was very well liked by my boss and many others at Language Services in the Department of State. Yet, if serious concerns were aroused by this investigation into my Cuba visit and the ensuing court case, I might lose my fascinating work as an interpreter.
Upon hearing I would be investigated, I knew immediately what to do. I first opened to my deepest life intention of what’s best for all in this situation, fully trusting that I am always guided to what’s best for me and for all in everything I do. I then opened my heart and energetically communicated with the heart of the investigator who was to visit. I mentally communicated to him that I had no desire to hide anything, and that I warmly welcomed his visit.
As I opened the door on the day of the investigation a week later, I also opened my heart to this investigator and warmly invited him to my room. Within minutes, a deep feeling of friendship bonded us. He commented that he was very impressed at how open I was, and at how I was so willing to tell him anything and everything about myself and my Cuba visit. As he then ran through pages of questions regarding my Cuba case and more, he even told me how to answer some questions.
For example, one question was, “Have you ever used any illegal drugs?” I responded, “Well, back when I was young, I did a few…” But he cut me off saying, “We’ll say no.” I countered, “I am deeply committed to speaking the truth. I think it’s best to write down the true answers to these questions.” He looked at me very seriously and stated emphatically, “I know what they mean by this question, and we’ll say no.” When I questioned him, he said I didn’t have to sign anything, so as he was doing the writing, I agreed to let him do what he felt was best.
Towards the end of the long list of questions, he read this one: “Have you ever been involved in any activities which might embarrass the United States government?” I told him that I manage a website (WantToKnow.info) which is all about exposing major government cover-ups, which some people might feel embarrasses the government. I added that I personally didn’t at all feel that this is embarrassing to the government, but rather that this website was designed as a call to caring American citizens to help bring our government back to full democracy.
At this unexpected response, the investigator put down his clipboard. He looked me straight in the eyes for several seconds with a stern look before finally saying, “Well … I worked for 25 years with the FBI, and I want to tell you about some cover-ups I saw there.” He went on to reveal some valuable information on corruption and cover-ups in the FBI that I had not heard before.
I was truly amazed. Here this man was sent by the government to investigate me, yet he ended up not only actively helping me to keep my job, but also revealing to me some major cover-ups he had personally seen in his time working with the government!
Life often works in wondrous, unexpected ways, especially with those who are deeply dedicated to doing what is best. I give many thanks for this rich experience and for the warm connection I felt on that day with my new friend. I also give thanks for the amazing guidance I continue to receive daily in my life, and invite us all to remember that when we move from the heart with the intention of supporting what’s best for all, many miracles may come our way.
Note: My Cuba court case made the front page of our local newspaper and even was reported in an article in the Los Angeles Times. To see the best article on it, click here. The investigation is ongoing, though we haven’t heard anything now in five years. My lawyer says that’s a good thing. The case may just fade into obscurity, particularly as the mood towards Cuba has now changed. For other fascinating stories from my time interpreting, click here.