I'm glad for our military, I really am, but these guys are quite a serious bunch. I'm working on a project at Fort Meade right now, and I had to attend a one hour long progress meeting on the site. Some of my team members have "escort privileges" but I have "no privileges". So, I was told to enter through the "NSA Deliveries" entrance. Here, I wasn't even aware that the NSA was on Fort Meade.
I was told this would involve a lot of waiting, so I parked my little 'ole Cavalier in line with the contractor's pick up trucks and the semi's carrying produce, and pulled out my current book ("Good In Bed" by Jennifer Weiner, it is OK). It was 7:10am, and my meeting was to take place at 0800 hours.
Around 7:30, I arrived at the front of the line, and followed suit. The other drivers got out of their vehicles, and opened all the doors, trunks, and tailgates. I must have given myself away as a newbie, because the man who took down my license number and checked my ID began barking detailed instructions for my next steps as I nodded my head vigorously, wishing to be ultra compliant and non-threatening. Next, a military police officer came through with a very happy bomb-sniffing dog. The dog sniffed all around every car, at each door, and each trunk in a very enthusiastic manner. My car passed the test, naturally, but even when one is not guilty in this situation, it is nerve racking. I began worrying about the possible stray empty beer bottle that could have fallen from my weekly recycling run, or the flares that I routinely carry in case of emergency. Could these items be considered contraband? Will I be shipped off to Guantanamo?
Instead, I was told to get back in my car and drive 50 yards to the visitor center parking lot, where I would show my vehicle tag and my ID. When prompted, I typed my social security number into the keypad, and was denied access to the base. My number was in the system, but it had expired, so I had to make a bunch of phone calls from the parking lot because cell phones are not allowed in the building. It was now approximately 7:40am. At 8:20am, my number had been successfully entered, and I was free an clear except for one thing. It is NSA's policy to fingerprint everyone who enters the base. Good lord, Big Brother is thorough. I was printed, and had to tell a perfect stranger my place of birth, birthday, social security number, hair color, eye color, height, and worst of all, weight. For the first time ever, I did not lie about my weight.
You are not allowed to print maps of the base, so I had to wait for them to give me directions to the building. I drove to the nearest lot, and drove the wrong way down a drive aisle before I was called over by a guard. Again, he sensed my newbie status and my mounting distress at the many many protocols. He directed me to another lot and recommended I drive in the correct direction down drive aisles.
Successfully parked, I walked to the next gate house where I was to meet my escort. There, my bag was searched, I had to go through a metal detector, and I had to enter my social security number on a keypad, where I was promptly denied entry again. Not my fault, it turned out, but the visitor badges were not properly reading so the guard had to call in my information and manually verify my escort was present. At this point, I was so flustered by the "stand here" and "enter over there" and the "state your weight please" orders that I was beginning to lose it, just a little.
We finally entered the building at 9:25am. The meeting was over except for my part, and my escort turned on a flashing red light as we entered, which meant that I, and uncleared person, was in the room. Everything was bathed in the redness, which had to be very annoying. I silently apologized to people as I walked past in shame.
Not that I want clearance. I don't think I could take it.