Diplomats not exempt from ‘pat down’, says US

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Thursday, December 9, 2010

WASHINGTON - Amid an uproar over the frisking of Indian ambassador Meera Shankar in Mississippi, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says diplomats are not exempt from the searches.

Meera Shankar “was screened in accordance with TSA’s security policies and procedures”, spokesman Nicholas Kimball said.

A number of factors could prompt a pat-down search, including bulky clothing, but he said the agency did not generally discuss specific cases.

Kimball said less than three percent of passengers received a pat-down search and anyone who asked for a private screening would be taken to a room out of public view.

However, Indian officials say Meera Shankar was pulled from an airport security line and patted down by an American security agent in Mississippi despite being told of her diplomatic status.

The incident took place Dec 4 at the Jackson-Evers International Airport where the sari-clad Meera Shankar was about to board a flight to Baltimore after attending a programme at Mississippi State University, an Indian embassy official said.

Meera Shankar presented her diplomatic papers to officers and was escorted by a Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) representative and an airport security officer.

Witnesses said she was subjected to the hands-on search, the official said.

She was taken to a VIP waiting room despite being told she was an ambassador. She was later pulled from a security line and patted down by a woman TSA agent.

The official said the Indian embassy will take up the issue with the State Department.

This is for the first time that Meera Shankar, who has travelled across the US in sari over the last two years, has had to undergo such a pat-down search.

But this was her first visit outside Washington after the new TSA regulations went into effect allowing federal officers at airports to switch to more thorough “pat-downs” for passengers who don’t wish to undergo full body scams.

The Jackson airport does not yet have full-body screeners, which meant that the ambassador became subject to the pat-down.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s spokesman Dan Turner said the governor’s office was looking into the incident. “At this time, we’re trying to find out exactly what happened,” Turner said.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in )

Filed under: Diplomacy

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