Nearly a month ago, a college student was getting ready to board his flight at Philadelphia International Airport, when he was asked to step aside, held in a questioning room for hours, handcuffed, and missed his flight for the day.
What exactly was it that made TSA suspicious of Nick George, the college senior from Pomona College in California? It certainly wasn't his appearance. He's got a clean-cut, California-surfer look that should have made it easy for him to breeze past the metal detectors and security.
In fact, it was the packet of Arabic-langauge flashcards in his backpack that had translated words like "terrorist," that alerted security. George, who according to the Philadelphia Daily News, is a senior physics major who was overseas studying Arabic for a semester in Jordan, was deemed suspicious enough to warrant being held for hours in a police holding cell.
George was then questioned and handcuffed for two hours. He showed them that he was using the flashcards to translate the news network Al-Jazeera, a very valuable asset within the U.S. He says that at that point, he should have been given an apology and been released, but wasn't. When the handcuffs were finally removed, two FBI agents arrived to question him further, but when they deemed he wasn't a flight threat, he was let go and given a ticket to fly the next day back to California. George insists that he was polite, accommodating and answered every question.
Another reason that Philadelphia TSA found suspicious about Mr. George? He had longer hair in his driver's license picture, in comparison to his clean-shaven look at the airport. This, compounded with his recent stamps to Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Sudan and his Arabic flashcards led to him being held in the cell.
The TSA stands by their policies and George has even stated that one of the officers questioning him called what they do an "art," and not a science. It is based on intuition and gut instinct, as well as looking out for possibly suspicious behavior. Some officials have said that George had been exhibiting behavior consistent with that of people afraid of being caught, which the TSA officials had been trained to pick up on. George denies that he had anything to hide and said he was very cooperative the entire time.
While George feels they shouldn't have been so quick to judge, there were no reports of any injuries, or any psychological scarring. There was more anger, than anything else.
This is one of the situations where suspicions were raised by innocuous circumstances. This happens every day to men and women who travel around the world on a daily basis. The fact that George was held for as long as he was, shows that they are taking as many precautions as they deem necessary. It is a little disheartening that even though he told his story to the officers, he was still not let go, but it's almost to be expected in this day and age, eight years after 9/11. There are still so many untold stories of other innocent people who have been detained for far longer than Nick George, or who were not nearly as lucky to have been released as early.