The Tip-Off: Bikes!

“The lives and liberties of Americans are protected by the Patriot Act,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said recently. He added, “We are using proven crime-fighting tools to win the war against terrorism, while protecting our constitutional rights. We are preserving lives and liberty.”

That’s exactly what the alert cops standing in the Arlington, Texas, police parking lot thought they were doing when on a recent Saturday they spotted two young men on bikes approaching. And when the two claimed to be students from the University of Texas who had lost their way trying to find a climbing gym, the cops knew something was wrong, got on the radio, and sounded the alert. “I heard the male officer say into his radio that we are Pakistanis,” Pavel Lachko told the Dallas Observer. “We said, ‘No, no, no. We are not Pakistanis. We’re Russians.’ ” And, indeed, Pavel Lachko and his friend Boris Avdeev claimed to be Russian students studying at the University of Texas.

Understandably, the police officers thought the men were trying to pull a fast one, and they weren’t going to fall for it. They slapped the cuffs on the would-be terrorists, charging them with criminal trespass. Then they called in agents of the Department of Homeland Security for a proper interrogation. When the department agents determined the two actually were graduate students here on legal visas, they were released on bail. The charges are still pending and the cops think they were in the right. “We take building security extremely seriously in the wake of 9-11,” Sergeant Will Johnson, an Arlington police spokesman, explained. “We follow the directions and information provided by federal authorities. One of the precautions taken is to ensure that the security of the police department is maintained.”

Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel