The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) should check its e-mail more closely. In mid-September, a junior at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC sent the TSA an e-mail with the subject heading “Information Regarding 6 Recent Security Breaches”. While most of us might dismiss such a message as spam, a government organization working during one of the most paranoid periods of the nation’s history should certainly investigate an e-mail that proffers such specific information about security breaches on commercial airplanes.
Nathaniel T. Heatwole, the young man who dreamed up and executed the plan to test airport security, may face hefty fines and up to ten years in prison for violating a federal law which prohibits carrying a concealed dangerous weapon aboard an aircraft. Heatwole wrote in his e-mails that his actions were “an act of civil disobedience with the aim of improving public safety for the air-traveling public.” Clearly Heatwole’s actions were well-intentioned, as he made no attempts to conceal his identity — to the contrary, he made every effort to identify himself and his actions to the proper authorities. Though the manner Heatwole chose to make his point is perhaps questionable, he has undoubtedly called attention to a very serious problem.
The 20-year-old student was able to smuggle box cutters in ziplock baggies, bleach in sunblock bottles, and faux-plastic explosives through security in not one, but two airports. Further, he secured them in the airplanes with affixed notes where they remained unidentified until the TSA finally decided to look into Heatwole’s claims. The TSA is chagrinned, as well it should be, because a student was able to expose existing security weaknesses. But exacting revenge against this student would be absurd. At most, Heatwole should get a slap on the wrist, but any jail time would be excessive. Perhaps the TSA or FBI should enlist Heatwole in their army of creative specialists charged with the task of making this nation’s airports and planes more secure. It may actually make us safer.