Last August, Nicholas George, 22, was getting ready to fly from Pennsylvania to Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., when TSA agents found Arabic-English flash cards in his pocket -- the 200 cards included such words as "bomb" and "explosive" -- two stereo speakers in his carry-on bag, a Jordanian student ID card and a passport that showed he had visited Egypt, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sudan. TSA agents detained George for questioning. They determined he was not a security threat and released him less than five hours later. Now, he is suing.
Of course the ACLU is representing George. The group explained in a press release that episodes like George's "may actually make us less safe, by diverting vital resources and attention away from true security threats."
Nonsense. If ever there was a person you want the TSA to look at very carefully, it's a young male who has Arabic flashcards with words like "bomb" in his pocket, studied in Jordan and recently spent time in Sudan, a country that the State Department believes to sponsor terrorism. Add the fact that George had stereo speakers -- remember an explosive-laden tape recorder was used to bring down Pam Am Flight 103 in 1988 -- in his carry-on luggage, and it would amount to professional malpractice if TSA and FBI agents did not search and question George.
When I first read this story, I had to wonder if, in a world with no shortage of individuals hungry to be victims or discredit the system, the young man was trying to be detained.
ACLU attorney Mary Catherine Roper assured me that George is not the type of person who would try to start trouble. If he had wanted to get the TSA's attention, she said, "There are far more provocative things he could have done than having flashcards in his pocket."
Fair enough, but surely the ACLU understands why the TSA would want to question and search George. Her answer: Not really. Roper thinks the TSA was right to search his speakers, but because they contained no explosives, airport security should have let him on the plane.
"Learning the Arabic language and traveling to the Middle East as a college student, I don't think that's a suspicious circumstance," Roper explained.
You know, I'm one of those people who has no patience for people who complain every time a white grandmother undergoes a TSA search, because profiling doesn't always work.