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On the night of April 26, Officer Ali was returning from a trip to Britain to visit his fiancée, with a side trip to Istanbul. At J.F.K., the officer checking passports led him to a holding area with two officers at the door. Another officer instructed Officer Ali to give her his passport, which he did.
“I told her, ‘Hey, you know, I’m a veteran.’” he said. “‘I should be in the system. It shouldn’t be too hard to find me.’”
The search for this particular Syed Ali should have been easier than most, he said, because he is all over the federal record system. He said the Army knew everything down to his cholesterol level and how many times he had been vaccinated against anthrax.
“The federal government has my DNA on record,” he said. “The government, they know every little nook and cranny about me.”
After an hour and a half of waiting, Officer Ali began to wonder what the holdup was. “I do identity checks all the time,” he said. “If I’m digging hard and digging deep, I might spend at most 15 minutes.”
That was when he asked the officer who had taken his passport what his status was. “I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, no, ma’am,’ when I spoke to her because that’s what I was taught,” Officer Ali said. She responded with the threat to lock him up, he said.
After that, half a dozen officers surrounded him “as if they’re going to intimidate me or take me down,” he said. “Honestly I think the only reason they didn’t stick me in a cell is it wouldn’t look good to stick a major and a cop in a cell.”