updated 10/30/2003 5:03:43 PM ET 2003-10-30T22:03:43

Twenty-year-old college student Nathaniel Heatwole was charged today for taking a dangerous weapon on an aircraft. He did just that, sneaking on box cutters, matches, bleach. He new faces up to 10 years in prison.And while he should be punished, he should not be treated like every other person who intentionally brings box cutters on an airplane.

Why? Because he fessed up well before he was caught. In fact, he sent an e-mail to the Transportation Security Administration providing details of exactly where he’d hidden the bags. He gave the dates, the flight numbers. He even included his name and telephone number.

In the letter he said that he hoped this would improve safety on airplanes. I am far more concerned about what he exposed than what he did. And keep in mind, when criminals provide assistance to the government, they get a break in their sentence. If anyone deserves a break, I think it’s this guy. The TSA said today that this did not expose weaknesses in the system and did not show them any of their flaws. Oh, really?

So you knew somebody could sneak this stuff on and you didn’t do anything about it? Even after he sent the e-mail with all the details, it still took the authorities five weeks to find the items. Now, this is an embarrassment to the relevant authorities. I fear that shame has led them to come down on this guy harder than they otherwise would have. He deserves some punishment, but I also think he deserves some gratitude, which so far no one, except for me, is offering him.

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