Hero or fool?
Is Nathaniel Heatwole a hero or a fool? Both, we’d say. Heatwole is the 20-year-old college student who planted box-cutters, bleach and other prohibited items aboard two Southwest Airlines planes.
No, Heatwole isn’t a terrorist or a threat – we know now. He took it upon himself to break the law – an act of civil disobedience, he called it – in order to expose flaws and weaknesses in the nation’s airline security system.
Boy, did he.
After Heatwole went through ordinary security procedures and planted the potential weapons, he e-mailed the federal Transportation Security Administration in mid-September saying exactly what he had done. The e-mails were ignored. A month later, the items were found and Heatwole was arrested.
So he’s a fool for taking into his own hands a serious, dangerous mission. He may well go to jail for his acts.
There are plenty of professional investigators who are exposing similar flaws in the security system. Only recently, agents for the Homeland Security Department were able to walk through security at Boston Logan International Airport – the very airport from which the World Trade Center-destroying jets embarked – with knives, a bomb and a gun.
These security lapses have been routine since Sept. 11-heightened security went into effect. Many precautions, such as routinely scanning for explosives the cargo loaded onto passenger jets, are not even in place yet.
That makes Heatwole a hero, simply for shining a spotlight on the problem. The Transportation Security Administration is moving at the pace of a glacier to fix its shortcomings, and it is downplaying these profound security lapses so as not to frighten passengers away from the debt-riddled airlines industry.
Heatwole’s no threat to the public. The threat lies elsewhere, burning in some fevered mind bent on doing destruction for whatever purpose, and the Transportation Security Administration is helpless to stop it.