Guy Adams: A ghost in America's security machine

Los Angeles Notebook
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It's early days, but I wouldn't mind betting that someone's already working on a Hollywood script about Clark Rockefeller, the 40-something socialite who last month prompted a nationwide manhunt by kidnapping his seven-year-old daughter. Police eventually discovered that Rockefeller was not who he seemed: their fugitive's real identity was Christian Gerhartsreiter, a German student who'd visited the US in 1977 and remained illegally ever since – living, social-climbing, and even marrying under a variety of aliases.

This week, the "Crockefeller" circus arrived in LA, after police in San Marino began using radar to search for bodies under the patio of his former home. Apparently, he's now a "person of interest" in a local murder case going back to 1985.

To my mind, though, the real mystery is this: how, exactly, did he spend three decades in the USA, without a proper identity? How could a man the FBI has dubbed a "ghost" manage to live, work, and con his way into the country's highest social circles, but not get caught?

I speak as a recent immigrant wearily familiar with the Kafka-esque visa and social security systems by which the US keeps track of its citizens, and mildly perturbed that my every passage through an airport involves the submission of fingerprints and mug-shots to Orwellian immigration officials, who do little to boost their country's international image. Yet despite seven years of post 9/11 security baloney, Gerhartsreiter was able to alter his identity – and therefore subvert the entire apparatus of government – by simply telling a few careful lies. This demonstrates an enduring truth: neither ID cards, nor iris scans, nor America's gun-toting Homeland Security officials will ever be any match for a clever man's ingenuity.

Tourist attraction

Speaking of Orwellian, the Department for Homeland Security has announced plans to make tourists register online three days in advance of visiting the US (or face deportation). The tourist trade says the scheme, to be introduced in January, will cripple their industry and add to the soul-sapping queues at US airports. Finally, this may allow LAX to steal Heathrow's crown as the worst airport in the Western world.

Fur coat, no knickers

Thwack! The September issue of Vogue has landed on LA's trendiest doormats. It's 798-pages long and, according to my kitchen scales, weighs four pounds. In her editor's letter, Anna Wintour says the economic climate has prompted her to edit this month's collections "with value for money in mind". In keeping with this noble aim, the magazine carries an approving feature on Fendi's new range of mink coats, which come dipped in 24-carat gold and start at $64,000. Such austerity!