email from the field

On Aug. 12, FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith, his co-producer Marcela Gaviria, and cameraman Scott Anger set out on a two-month journey that will take them from London to the Persian Gulf to Pakistan and Afghanistan in an effort to find out what has become of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network, Al Qaeda, since the U.S. launched its war on terrorism. In the weeks ahead, we'll be posting regular email dispatches from Smith and Gaviria as they report back to us on their progress, offering an unprecedented behind-the-scenes perspective on a FRONTLINE documentary in the making. Smith's report will air in mid-November.


photo of marcela gaviria

For over a decade Gaviria has field produced documentaries for PBS, BBC, National Geographic, and CBS News. Currently working with Martin Smith on FRONTLINE programs, they co-produced "Medicating Kids" and she field produced two post-9/11 reports: "Looking for Answers" and "Saudi Time Bomb?"

Rules. There are plenty of rules at the Passport Agency in Norwalk, Conn. You must show up at 10:30 a.m. sharp. You must show your appointment confirmation number when you enter. You must put all your belongngs through the X-ray machine. You must wait for your number to be called before you stand in line.

Once you get to a passport agent, there are more rules. You have to have two pictures. They have to be a certain size. The background must be white, not blue. You can have one passport, not two.

But it does feel like America. The agent hardly speaks English. There are Hassidic Jews waiting in line to get passports for what I assume to be a trip to Jerusalem. There is a Muslim woman, fully covered, filling out a form. An Egyptian man lends me his pen. A Mexican couple are applying for a passport for their three-month-old baby girl. A couple from Russia struggle to figure out how to complete an application form in English.

Martin and I are hoping to trump all these requests and ask for two passports instead of one. By the look on the face of the African-American woman at counter No. 2, this request is the ultimate luxury. And our excuses about visa processing time and security are not convincing to her.

Martin doesn't get very far. He is sent back like a bad little boy in kindergarten. He is told to sit down. There are more rules. He can only stand once he is called. He can ask for his passport only after everyone else has stood in line.

But the system does work, even if takes six hours. We now have two passports instead of one. One passport will allow us to enter into Pakistan and Afghanistan. The other will allow us to enter the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, without getting into trouble in customs.

I now have three passports. Two from the United States and one from Colombia. It's a wonder the INS can keep track of any of us.

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