Jewish World Review Oct. 24, 2003 / 28 Tishrei, 5764

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Holes in airport security need to be plugged | I understand the need to prosecute Nathaniel Heatwole.

After all, the 20-year-old college student from Damascus, Md., reportedly admits that earlier this year, he snuck box cutters and other banned items aboard aircraft at the Raleigh-Durham and Baltimore-Washington airports. He's even said to have e-mailed security officials, telling them where the items could be found and providing contact information.

Officials say Heatwole sought to demonstrate that there are still a few bugs in the airline security system two years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And, though the idea that he could do up to 10 years for his act of civil disobedience seems exceedingly excessive, authorities haven't much choice but to prosecute him.

After all, they can't appear to encourage or condone a breach of security, even one with a laudable purpose.

Still, I'd be less than candid if I didn't admit that his alleged act, however illegal, strikes me as less a crime than a public service. And that the official response to it has not exactly been reassuring. Meaning in particular, this week's comment from Steven McHale, deputy administrator of the Transportation Security Administration:

"Amateur testing like this does not in any way assist us or show us where we have flaws in our system."

Oh, really?

Donate to JWR

Let me tell you what it suggests to me and, I would argue, any intelligent person whose butt is not in a sling because of what Heatwole did: If an amateur, a college kid apparently working alone, is able to compromise security so thoroughly, how much more could a professional do? It's a terrifying thought, which may be why McHale would prefer we not think it, not infer too much from Heatwole's success.

At this point, a review might be valuable:

  • Sept. 11, 2001: Nineteen hijackers, believed to be armed with box cutters, seize and crash four passenger jets, resulting in countless injuries and catastrophic loss of life.

  • Nov. 19, 2001: President Bush signs a measure handing responsibility for the nation's air security over to the newly created Transportation Security Administration. "The law I will sign should give all Americans greater confidence when they fly," he says.

  • Jan. 23, 2002: A man carrying a hunting knife somehow boards a plane in Greensboro, N.C. and flies to Columbus, Ohio.

  • March 25, 2002: The Transportation Department reports that in a test, security screeners missed 60 percent of simulated explosives, 70 percent of knives and 30 percent of guns.

  • March 31, 2002: A man carrying steak knives gets through security in New Orleans.

  • May 6, 2002: A man brings two loaded semiautomatic pistols through a security checkpoint, again in the appropriately nicknamed "Big Easy." <

  • Labor Day Weekend, 2002: A team of journalists takes 14 flights through 11 airports, carrying box cutters, razors and pepper spray. They get through security every time.

There's more, but you get the point. And now, this.

Call me crazy - not that you need permission - but there's a pattern here, and it's not one that leaves you impressed with the seriousness and efficiency of the people responsible for our safety. We have been given the appearance of increased security, but not necessarily the reality.

With consumer confidence in a multibillion-dollar industry at stake, one gets the sense that more effort has been put into keeping us pacified than protected.

Congress will be looking into all of this, and I can only hope this will be one of the rare times a Congressional inquiry actually leads to something. Because what you have in this latest security breach as well as in all the others is a giant red caution flag we ignore at our own peril.

If our system cannot defeat amateur testing, Heaven help us when the professionals come.

Every weekday publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment on JWR contributor Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s column by clicking here.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. Archives

© 2002, The Miami Herald