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Halvar Flake a no-show at Black Hat thanks to Customs mix-up

Halvar Flake, a fixture at the Black Hat training and briefings for the last several years, won’t be there this year, thanks to a mix-up with customs. Flake, whose real name is Thomas Dullien, arrived in the U.S. this weekend from his home in Germany and passed through immigration without any trouble, but was then stopped by customs inspectors after they saw printed training materials in his suitcase that he planned to use for his classes in Las Vegas this week. As Flake writes on his blog, the customs folks wanted to know “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 citizen. 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.”

This all sounds a bit extreme for what is essentially a paperwork error, but unfortunately it’s not all that uncommon. Adam Shostack points out on his Emergent Chaos blog, this incident likely will cost Flake time and money down the road:

Halvar has been coming to the US to train people for six years. So here’s my question: Has the law changed? Why did this happen? What’s happened may be that he didn’t use precisely the right words to get through the line, and now he’ll be spending (my guess) $10,000 on lawyers to be able to re-enter the US.

I’m increasingly concerned about this–the police can detain you in a variety of ways, offer implicit threats of arrest, and there are certain very specific legal formulas you can invoke. For example, I’ve been told that you must ‘demand’ an attorney, rather than saying “I’d like an attorney,” in order to preserve your rights. If a cop is asking you questions, you must ask “are you detaining me?” in order to get an honest answer. No one should be required to know these formulas–not me to preserve my rights through an encounter with the police, and not Halvar to preserve his ability to enter the US.

Flake is known as one of the top reverse engineers in the industry and his training classes typically sell out well in advance. Hopefully he’ll get things put right and this won’t prevent him from coming back to the U.S. in the future.

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