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ISSUE 117 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/31/2003

Heatwole's actions childish

By Jenna Barke
Copy Editor


Friday, October 31, 2003

College students often have a reputation of embracing causes, but sometimes the path one takes to champion a concern can move all too quickly from influential to immature. From Feb. 7 to Sept. 14 of this year, Nathaniel Heatwole, a 20-year-old college student at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., smuggled box cutters, bleach, clay (simulating plastic explosives), and matches past security on six different occasions at Raleigh-Durham and Baltimore-Washington airports.

Heatwole hid plastic bags containing these items in airplane restrooms on four of the six flights. According to Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Heatwole “stated that he was aware his actions were against the law,” but considered his plot “an act of civil disobedience with the aim of improving public safety for the air-traveling public.”

Heatwole claims that he was trying to be useful, but all he proved is something every American already knows: there are no safety guarantees. What did Heatwole accomplish besides showing that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is not always perfect? According to TSA Deputy Administrator Steven McHale, “amateur testing like this does not, in any way, assist us or show us where we have weaknesses in our system.”

In any organized system, there is always the potential for an oversight. Heatwole needs to remember that human institutions are imperfect just as humans are. Our nation cannot expect government officials to always make airplane travel perfectly safe. By trusting our country’s system of airplane security, we place our safety in their hands. In every action, there is always a risk involved.

Heatwole’s story only serves to reinforce the point that if someone wants to get by security badly enough, they will find a way to do so. No amount of manmade rules and regulations are a warranty against crime. Heatwole is no better than the security breachers he claims to be working against: his actions were illegal, just as theirs were. If a St. Olaf student took a rifle, marched right past a gun ban sign into a campus building, and then complained that the college doesn’t protect him from guns, what would he prove? He knew the rules, and he violated them. Heatwole did the same: he cannot use the guise of “civil disobedience” to excuse his own behavior.

Heatwole’s actions also prove that there is virtually no defense against the unexpected. His planted items were left untouched for nearly five weeks before they were found. Why? Because no TSA administrators expected any flight passengers to put box cutters in their bathrooms. The reason that our country’s past terrorist attacks, such as Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, have been so devastating is because they’ve taken the nation completely by surprise. If another terrorist organization plans a future attack on our country, they won’t formulate a plan that Americans can figure out ahead of time; the whole idea behind most acts of destruction is hitting the enemy when they least expect it. Heatwole may have opened the TSA’s eyes in regards to bleach and box cutters, but now that the administration is aware of these items, the door is wide open for different substances to be smuggled in. There are countless ways to commit a crime: hiding bags in a restroom is just one of the many possibilities on the list.

If Heatwole was truly concerned about the welfare of our country, why did he orchestrate a plot that has sent both its officials and its citizens into turmoil? Under the tenet of free speech, Heatwole has every right to make his point, but the way he chose to make it was both childish and counterproductive.


Jenna Barke is a sophomore from Roseville, Minn. Her major is undecided.


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