[ISN] Student Charged in Airport Scheme

From: InfoSec News (isn@private)
Date: Tue Oct 21 2003 - 03:14:12 PDT

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    [This story is troubling on many levels beyond sneaking box cutters
    and other dangerous items onboard a "secure" aircraft. 
    Think of all the DMCA implications if Mr. Heatwole is actually found
    guilty and begins to serve the prison sentence. What's the difference
    between an amateur like Mr. Heatwole testing airport security, or an
    18 year old kid from Huntsville poking around Microsoft code or Cisco
    routers testing its security?
    Sure airport security (or security in general) isn't going to be 100
    percent secure. But with all the various checkpoints, but one would
    have hoped that on six seperate occasions and multiple screenings,
    someone would have found something.
    On a related note, I have been doing less flying and more driving to
    client sites, this incident cements it for driving just about anywhere
    I am needed.   - WK]
    By Sara Kehaulani Goo and David Snyder
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Tuesday, October 21, 2003; Page A01 
    The U.S. government yesterday charged a 20-year-old Maryland resident 
    with carrying concealed weapons on an aircraft after investigators 
    said he admitted he took box cutters and other dangerous items onto 
    six flights in a scheme to prove that weaknesses remain in the 
    nation's air security system. 
    Nathaniel Travis Heatwole of Damascus told investigators that he was 
    able to take the items through security checkpoints in his carry-on 
    bag and on his body on six occasions at Raleigh-Durham International 
    and Baltimore-Washington International airports this year without 
    being stopped by security screeners, according to an FBI affidavit 
    filed in court yesterday. 
    The affidavit was filed with the U.S. District Court in Baltimore by 
    federal prosecutors. It details the information Heatwole provided in 
    an interview with FBI agents.
    Heatwole, a college student, allegedly told investigators he stashed 
    the items aboard four planes and then left a paper trail for 
    authorities, through notes left with the items and in an e-mail to 
    security officials, which they used to identify him. He said he 
    believed his actions were "an act of civil disobedience with the aim 
    of improving public safety for the air-traveling public," according to 
    the affidavit.
    Heatwole, appearing in court yesterday to hear the charges against 
    him, was not offered an opportunity to enter a plea, and his attorney 
    declined to comment on the case. If found guilty, Heatwole could face 
    up to 10 years in federal prison.
    The discovery of the box cutters, matches, bleach and simulated 
    explosives aboard commercial aircraft last week sparked a national 
    debate and a congressional inquiry into the quality of the nation's 
    air security system since the government took over screening at 
    airport checkpoints in February 2002.
    The Transportation Security Administration was created in the 
    aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, in which terrorists are 
    believed to have used box cutters to commandeer four commercial 
    The TSA has said that it has confiscated more than 8 million dangerous 
    items at the nation's airports, but the items in Heatwole's bags 
    demonstrated that the system can be penetrated.
    When asked how a college student was able to pass through security at 
    two airports with prohibited items, apparently easily and on several 
    occasions, TSA Deputy Administrator Steven McHale acknowledged the 
    security system's imperfections.
    "We do not expect ever to have 100 percent screening at the 
    checkpoints," McHale said, pointing out the multiple "layers" of 
    security beyond the checkpoint, such as reinforced cockpit doors and 
    undercover air marshals. "Amateur testing like this does not in any 
    way assist us or show us where we have flaws in our system."
    The TSA said that it is conducting an internal review to determine how 
    the dangerous items got on the planes and that it will change how its 
    contact center responds to messages from the public.
    "TSA will require contact center staff to flag messages that discuss 
    illegal activity even if it does not contain threatening information, 
    as in this case," said Yolanda Clark, spokeswoman for the agency.
    Thomas M. DiBiagio, U.S. attorney for Maryland, called the actions 
    that Heatwole is charged with "dangerous." 
    "This is a very serious case," DiBiagio said. "This was not a prank. 
    This was not poor judgment. This was a crime. This was a very foolish 
    and dangerous act." 
    Appearing in court yesterday, cleanshaven and wearing khaki pants and 
    a collared short-sleeve shirt, Heatwole readily participated in the 
    proceedings, answering "Yes, your honor" several times. His parents, 
    who were in the courtroom, declined to comment on the case.
    According to the affidavit, Heatwole carried weapons on flights while 
    traveling between his residences in Montgomery County, where he lives 
    with his parents, and Greensboro, N.C., where he attends Guilford 
    College. He allegedly carried dangerous items aboard six flights from 
    February to September and left items on four planes.
    It took a repairman working on a clogged airplane lavatory to launch a 
    federal investigation. Last Thursday in New Orleans, a Southwest 
    Airlines mechanic discovered three zipped plastic bags and an 
    anonymous note. The bags, hidden behind a panel near the toilet, were 
    filled with three box cutters, a small container of bleach, a claylike 
    substance and strike-anywhere matches.
    The note said the items had been taken through security at the 
    Raleigh-Durham airport on Sept. 12 and noted the flight number. The 
    note was signed "3891925."
    A few hours after the discovery in New Orleans, a Southwest Airlines 
    repairman in Houston came across a similar package containing the same 
    items. It also contained a note, which said the items had been taken 
    through security at BWI on Sept. 14, and mentioned the flight number. 
    It was signed, "Sincerely, 3891925."
    Investigators later learned that the signature was Heatwole's 
    birthday, May 29, 1983, written backward.
    Southwest notified the TSA, and overnight the agency, the airline and 
    the FBI decided to search the airline's entire 385-plane fleet. The 
    next day, the TSA ordered every airline to search every commercial 
    aircraft -- more than 6,500 planes.
    DiBiagio said two other packages with dangerous items were recovered 
    on Southwest planes in April, in Tampa and Raleigh-Durham, but he did 
    not elaborate on how they were found.
    On Friday, the TSA searched a database of e-mails it had received from 
    the public and found an indication of who might be responsible for the 
    packages. In a message received on Sept. 15 with a subject line saying 
    "Information Regarding 6 Recent Security Breaches," the writer said he 
    had smuggled several items onto planes and referred to the notes he 
    had left behind.
    "The e-mail author also stated that he was aware that his actions were 
    against the law and that he was aware of the potential consequences 
    for his actions," according to the FBI affidavit. 
    The writer of the e-mail, which was signed, "Sincerely, Nat Heatwole," 
    said his actions were "an act of civil disobedience with the aim of 
    improving public safety for the air-traveling public." The e-mail also 
    provided a telephone number.
    Authorities quickly contacted Heatwole, who was interviewed by FBI 
    investigators at his home in Damascus on Friday with his mother 
    present. Several attempts to interview his parents for this article 
    were unsuccessful.
    Heatwole was not taken into custody after his court appearance, 
    through an agreement between his lawyer and the U.S. attorney. As a 
    condition of not being held, he agreed yesterday not to set foot in an 
    airport or board a flight until after his next court appearance on 
    Nov. 10.
    According to people who know him, Heatwole, a junior majoring in 
    physics and political science, was not afraid to speak out about his 
    political beliefs.
    In an article about Heatwole published in the Guilford College 
    newspaper during his freshman year, he explained why he did not 
    register for Selective Service, as required by U.S. law, when he 
    turned 18. He returned his draft card unsigned, he said. "I wanted to 
    let them hear the voice of dissent," he told the newspaper, "just in 
    case they were listening."
    The article cited "his belief in non-violence" and reported that he 
    considered the punishment for not registering before he decided to 
    take that action. "It's the five years in jail that's the big one," 
    the Guilfordian quoted Heatwole as saying.
    Heatwole graduated from John T. Baker Middle School in 1997 and from 
    Damascus High School in 2001, said Kate Harrison, a spokeswoman for 
    the Montgomery County school system. Damascus High, which serves a 
    large swath of rural northern Montgomery, has about 1,900 students.
    At Guilford, a 2,100-student college founded by Quakers in 1837, 
    Heatwole is one of about 35 Dana Scholars, recipients of the school's 
    top academic scholarship for returning students. He was described by a 
    professor yesterday as "a deeply committed person of integrity." 
    The professor, Max Carter, who teaches Quaker studies and serves as 
    director of the Friends Center, said he has had many conversations 
    with Heatwole, including some about Quaker philosophy. "He was asking 
    questions about conscientious objectors. We had discussions about 
    pacifism," Carter said.
    Heatwole had a two-hour rock-and-roll program on the college radio 
    station, according to the station manager. He was also an avid 
    ham-radio enthusiast, and he and his father, Antony, are members of 
    the Potomac Valley Radio Club.
    Students at Guilford and neighbors in Damascus describe him as 
    intelligent and well spoken but quiet. He acted older than he was, 
    acquaintances said. Neighbors in Damascus and at Guilford described 
    him and his family as inscrutable.
    Brad Stohr, a freshman who lives two dorm rooms down the hall from 
    Heatwole, said: "I rarely saw him leave the room. . . . He was always 
    on his computer. He seemed like a nice kid." 
    The Heatwoles moved into a two-story farmhouse in Damascus four years 
    ago from Gaithersburg, property records show, but the family made 
    little mark on the neighborhood, neighbors said. They erected a radio 
    tower nearby. The garden always seemed well tended, neighbors said. 
    The Heatwoles have two dogs.
    The family mentioned Quakerism once or twice, neighbors said, but 
    didn't seem preoccupied with their faith.
    Neighbors said Antony Heatwole, his wife, Janet, and Nathaniel's 
    younger sister, Mandy, lived in the house year-round. Nathaniel, who 
    neighbors said was known as Nat, came home during the summer. "For 
    having two teenage kids, that house was amazingly quiet," one neighbor 
    said. "No parties, nothing."
    In Greensboro, students returned from fall break yesterday to the 
    sight of TV satellite trucks and reporters waiting to ask them for 
    insights into Heatwole.
    "Everyone is talking about it, everyone is trying to figure out what's 
    going on," said Ryan Taylor, a senior. 
    Staff writers Allan Lengel, Katherine Shaver and Bill Broadway and 
    researcher Carmen Chapin contributed to this report. 
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