is a 20-year-old junior at Guilford College, a Quaker college in Greensboro,
North Carolina. He’s not a Quaker himself but, according to the Associated
Press, he “shares many of the tenets of their religion, including a belief
in pacifism, according to a February 2002 interview with The Guilfordian,
the campus newspaper.” And like most 20-year-old college students,
Heatwole seems to believe his point – whatever it may be at any given time
– is the most important thing anyone can hear.
As far as is known from this distance, Heatwole’s grand causes before now
have been largely symbolic. When he turned 18, Heatwole fulfilled his
lawful requirement to register with Selective Service by sending the service
a blank registration card and a letter explaining his opposition to the system
as a whole, on pacifist grounds. A symbolic gesture on three counts:
1) If he was so opposed to the system, he could have refused to do anything
at all; it’s unlikely he would have ever been called to the carpet for breaking
that law, it being one of those laws very difficult, and time consuming,
to enforce. 2) There hasn’t been a draft in 30 years, but 3) If a new
draft suddenly came to be, the feds would get Heatwole if they wanted him.
One assumes Nathaniel Heatwole’s adolescence and early adulthood has been
replete with spontaneous ideological fits of conscience badly disguised as
cries for attention, and dismiss him as just another college kid with an
that now Heatwole is on to something legitimate, namely gaping holes in airline
security. On September twelfth (one day after the second anniversary
of the Tragedies, it should be noted, a time when you’d think screeners would
be paying extra special attention), he managed to get past security at the
Raleigh-Durham airport with box cutters, matches, bleach stored in sunscreen
bottles and modeling clay made to look like plastic explosives. The
plan was to smuggle the items onboard a Southwest Airlines flight and hide
them in one of the bathrooms. That being successful, he repeated the
task on September fifteenth at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Heatwole’s argument was that security in America’s airports is lacking.
(No kidding.) The kicker: Heatwole sent an electronic mail to the feds
explaining what he did and on what planes they could find the items, signing
with his own name and phone number.
Despite that, it took nearly five weeks for the objects to be found, and
even then the discoveries triggered only a brief heightened search of the
nation’s 7,000 commercial planes. Explained Deputy Transportation Security
Administration (TSA) Administrator Stephen McHale: “Amateur testing of our
[security] systems do not show us in any way our flaws. We know where
the vulnerabilities are and we are testing them …. This does not help.”
McHale is wrong, but what would you expect him to say, given the fact TSA
was smoked by a 20-year-old political science / physics major? That
everything is functioning as designed?
Here we have two things to consider: That very important laws were broken,
but also that Heatwole has made a phenomenal point. To the first, you
cannot take seriously the safety of the people and dismiss this as an amateur
testing of security systems. Had those been actual bomb making materials,
and had Heatwole’s motivation been much more sinister, both those planes
would have dropped out of the air and a few hundred people would have died
(to say nothing of whoever may have been underneath the wreckage when it
fell). Would that have been a better time to see the inherent flaws
that remain in the current system?
To the second, however, laws against this sort of independent testing exist
and must be taken rather seriously, or else there’s no point in having them.
Laws govern certain types of behavior, even if we approve of the behavior
or appreciate the way it taught us certain lessons. The answer to the
question – whether we should throw the book at Nathaniel Heatwole or pin
a medal on his chest – is, we should do both, even if it’s a lighter book
and a smaller medal than would otherwise be the case in individual circumstances.
Offering him some leniency, say in exchange for information and ideas, cannot
be out of the question; we’ve been doing it with selected computer hackers
for years. At the end of the day, offer him a job with the TSA; a federal
gig should be more than punishment enough.
Brian Wise is the lead columnist for IntellectualConservative.com.