Box cutter incident puts airport security under microscope
Box cutter incident puts airport security under microscope

Online Exclusive, Oct 23 2003

On Thursday night, Southwest Airlines maintenance workers found small plastic bags containing box cutters, bleach, matches and modeling clay in lavatory compartments on planes in New Orleans and Houston. Notes in the bags "indicated the items were intended to challenge Transportation Security Administration checkpoint security procedures," according to a statement from the airline.
And once again, airport security has been thrust into the spotlight. This time, college student Nathaniel Heatwole apparently wanted to call attention to aviation security by putting the banned items aboard the planes. Now, the 20-year-old junior at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., was expected in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Monday.
"Following the discovery of box cutters and other items on two Southwest Airline flights last night, the TSA and the FBI immediately initiated an investigation and took actions to address security concerns," TSA Administrator Adm. James M. Loy said in a statement. "Federal Air Marshals were immediately notified and took steps to ensure the safety and security of passengers on flights with Marshals aboard. In addition, when the items were found last night, TSA quickly began a database search and linked the situations to an e-mail received by TSA's Contact Center last month. In less than 24 hours, TSA and the FBI were able to locate and interview an individual believed to be responsible for the items found on the planes. TSA and the FBI have had this individual's activities under investigation for several months. Based on the investigation conducted thus far, this individual does not appear to pose any further threat to airline security."
Nonetheless, the discovery triggered stepped-up inspections of the entire U.S. commercial air fleet -- roughly 7,000 planes. But after consulting with the FBI, the TSA rescinded the inspection order.
The modeling clay found aboard the Southwest planes was made to look like an explosive, while the bleach could have been used to demonstrate how a corrosive or dangerous liquid could be smuggled aboard a plane.

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