Breach in TSA security can be used to teach; some slips inevitable

Posted: Thursday, October 23, 2003

As any air traveler knows, the 48,000 screeners employed by the $5-billion-a-year Transportation Security Administration since 9/11 are proficient at confiscating small objects like pins and nail scissors. But not always, it seems, at detecting the very weapons that were used on Sept. 11, 2001 box cutters. The real question, however, is how much that matters.

The case of Nathaniel Heatwole, a 20-year-old college student who warned the TSA by e-mail that he had planted plastic bags containing box cutters, bleach and other banned items on Southwest Airlines planes, has Congress in an uproar. ...

All the outrage on Capitol Hill omits the fact that air security wasn't radically threatened by Heatwole. With about 2 million passengers a day, a certain number of slips are inevitable. ...

The TSA receives about 5,700 e-mails a day. If it makes every conceivably threatening e-mail a priority, the word ''priority'' will have little meaning. If it hands every possible threat to the FBI, the bureau will start ignoring them.

Better judgment, not a panic reaction, is what's called for. ...

Instead of taking a Chicken Little approach, however, lawmakers should recognize that air security is far better than before Sept. 11. The next step is to call for regular evaluations of which forms of security are most effective, to improve crew training and to remind passengers to remain alert.

As showman-like as Heatwole's acts were, better to learn from them than to use them as a club.

Los Angeles Times

Oct. 22

Even though the college student's actions might eventually land him in prison, Nathaniel Heatwole apparently believed that exposing the security gaps that exist in the nation's airports was worth the risk. ...

It's to the Transportation Security Administration's shame that no one came across the weapons and the simulated weapons that Mr. Heatwole smuggled aboard the planes until ... five weeks after the student claims to have put them there.

Granted, no system is fail-proof, but it's infuriating that it took TSA officials five weeks to find the items when apparently Mr. Heatwole made the agency aware of what he'd done on Sept. 15. Also, TSA officials didn't let the FBI know what the agency knew until the day after maintenance workers found the items in the rear lavatories of the planes. ...

TSA has let us down and the American people should be concerned.

The Times-Picayune, New Orleans

Oct. 21

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