Student handcuffed for carrying Arabic flash cards

Nick George, a student at Pomona College in California, was grilled by the TSA on “who did 9/11” and asked by FBI agents whether he was a communist after airport security officers found Arabic-English language learning cards in his luggage last summer, according to news reports and the ACLU.

George was boarding a plane to California on Aug. 29, 2009, after visiting his native Pennsylvania when TSA agents noticed the cards. George had been studying Arabic and used the flash cards – which have Arabic on one side and English on the other – to help him translate the Arabic news service al-Jazeera.

I love how he’s questioned about 9/11 and communists. :-/

Communists? What the hell?

To be fair, he does look like the sort of person who’d have two first names.

Perhaps the FBI was using “Enemies of America” flash cards during the questioning.

[draws card]

“So, who did 9/11?”

[draws card]

“Are you a Communist?”

[draws card]

“Come on, admit it–you’re in league with King George!”

Why is that susicious? Why would a supposed terrorist be learning arabic?


Picturing a minimum-wage TSA employee saying that is the funniest thing I’ve read all day.

BTW, the FBI communist question is probably a media mistranslation of a common question about whether you’ve ever been a member of an organization whose goal is to overthrow the government.

I KNOW THIS ONE! Who is Osama Bin Laden!

I wonder. TSA goons I can readily see being this clueless, but the FBI is supposed to be more on the ball. That they didn’t immediately say, “What the hell you morons! Let this guy go!”, leads me to speculate about what else they were screwing up.

Nah, government is under very little pressure to avoid false positives. About the worst that could happen is a few minutes of outrage over a news story, and a little extra paperwork.

Which is what directly leads to me speculating about what else they screw up…

So, this means communists did 9/11? Muslim communist terrorists?

So sad. TSA, what a piece of shit.

My alma mater! I seem to remember something similar happening to one of our professors a couple years ago.

EDIT: Here we are.

Fucking abolish the TSA already.

Our country cannot be safe unless no American understands Arabic.

One of the many ironies here (broadly speaking, not just about this incident) is that during the Cold War–remember that thing, where we were locked in a presumed death-struggle with the Evil Empire?–we spent gazillions of dollars training people to speak Russian, think Russian, get inside the heads of Russians, all of that. We assumed, with some justification, that if we wanted to beat the commies we had to understand them. But now, it seems wanting to understand is equated with sympathizing with. Much better to remain pure in our ignorance I suppose–it’s like the purging of the State Department after 1949 when we got rid of pretty much everyone who understood the Chinese because, well, you know, some of those experts might have understood why Mao was more popular than Chiang or something.

If knowing Arabic is dangerous, how were they able to translate specific flash cards?

Did they grant some FBI agent access to such sinister lore? That seems like an awfully risky move to take in the name of security. I hope they know what they’ve unleashed.


Anyone who flies a lot already knows that the TSA is pure security theatre, the result of giving people enormous authority with little accountability or training. Airport speaker systems really should play “Yakety Sax” near the checkpoints.

One would hope the FBI would know better, though.

True patriots realize it was actually Saddam Hussein as well.