- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

Lawmakers want to know why the Transportation Security Administration ignored e-mail from a student who wrote that he had smuggled box cutters, bleach and a simulated bomb onto airliners at two U.S. airports.

The chairman and the ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee have written to the TSA, asking for copies of the e-mail and for records of any action taken by any TSA officials in response.

They gave the agency until Nov. 21 to comply.

In the letter, Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican, and Rep. Jim Turner, Texas Democrat, say they are “deeply concerned” that despite being told “the exact dates that the contraband was hidden [and] the flight numbers … TSA did not provide this information to the FBI or Southwest Airlines for over one month, and then only after the airline accidentally discovered some of the items.”

On Oct. 17, the TSA ordered the entire U.S. commercial-air passenger fleet searched after maintenance staff discovered the smuggled items in the lavatories of two airliners.

Notes found with the objects said they had been put there to demonstrate flaws in checkpoint procedures that allowed such items to be taken on board passenger planes.

Box cutters are thought to be the weapons used by the September 11 hijackers.

On Oct. 20, a 20-year-old student named Nathaniel Heatwole appeared in a Baltimore court, charged with smuggling the items through security checkpoints at Baltimore-Washington and North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham airports.

In the letter, Mr. Cox and Mr. Turner point out that Mr. Heatwole provided his name, address and telephone number, along with details of his plans. After the accidental discoveries, a database search by TSA revealed his identity.

The incident was seized on by critics of the TSA.

TSA officials could not be contacted for comment yesterday, but said at the time they were taking remedial action to address deficiencies in their testing and training procedures for passenger screeners.

A House Homeland Security Committee staffer told UPI that the letter was the first step in an effort to discover why the agency apparently had ignored the warnings from Mr. Heatwole.

Another inquiry, launched Oct. 18 by the House Government Reform Committee, is focusing on passenger screening, and in particular, the training, testing and supervision of screeners.

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