On Guy Fawkes Day, 2005, I was politely approached by three un-uniformed members of the British secret service. One asked me if he could ask questions regarding my two-week-plus stay in London.
My wife and I had checked in, checked our baggage, and were headed on a restaurant hunt in the area close to our gate. We had arrived early, to make sure our public transportation links from Newington Green to Gatwick had cushion.
The young officer was affable, and I accepted his invitation to leave my wife and join them in the empty area of seats we had been getting close to when the encounter began.
I had been in London for rehearsals and performance of a somewhat controversial musical composition we had premiered on November 1st, 2005, at the Hackney Empire. The officers knew about the news articles and BBC coverage of the concert. They appeared to know where I had been staying – at the house of a member of our sponsoring group, Jews for Justice for Palestinians. They appeared to know that the cultural attache from the U.S. Embassy had been at the concert and had spoken with me afterward for a long time. They appeared to know I had had two beers with Parliamentarian Clare Short.
They didn’t appear to know what my new friends and I had discussed.
Had the lead man — he didn’t give me a card — been pushy or impolite, I might have felt uncomfortable in this confrontation with authorities from a political system without our Bill of Rights. He seemed to sympathize with the viewpoint my music had been driven by, which got me to think he and his small squad had been sent on their merry mission by someone with an agenda he deemed unimportant or silly. On the other hand, he was a suave pro. On the other other hand, I had run a large correctional facility once, and always am wary for a charismatic con.
One guy took the lead. His partner wrote copiously in a notebook. The third guy kept trying to look around as discreetly as you can do that. He wasn’t very good.
They were all in their late 20s or early 30s. They didn’t ask for my phone, laptop or camera, let alone passwords. The lead cop shook my hand when I offered it at the end of the 42-minute interview.
When they walked away and I found my wife nearby, she asked, “What was that all about – as if I can’t guess?”
“They were nice. They knew about everything that has been published about the concert, and some of what we’ve been doing here, but seemed to be reluctantly doing something someone else made them do.”
“I thought we might miss our plane,” she mused.
I laughed, and told Ms. ET, “It was cool to be questioned by them here on Guy Fawkes Day. Too bad we have to leave before tonight’s fireworks.”