Indian ambassador to the U.S. Meera Shankar’s all-too-warm welcome to Mississippi’s Jackson-Evers International Airport last week—she was singled out and pat-down by a security agent—has sparked an international debate. Should diplomats and other dignitaries be exempt from searches when the TSA is feeling frisky?
Shankar had come from delivering a speech at Mississippi State University and was headed to Baltimore when she was pulled out of the airport security line and subjected to a hands-on search by a female agent. The diplomat’s bulky sari may have prompted the additional screening, which took place even though she didn’t set off the metal detector and made her diplomatic status known in advance. “Officers must use their professional discretion to determine if a particular item of clothing could hide a threat object,” a TSA spokesman told POLITICO in a statement Thursday.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed concern over the search and told reporters that the State Department is looking into the matter. But Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna is downright miffed. “Let me be very frank that this is unacceptable to India,” he told the AP, noting that this is the second time a senior Indian official has been selected for additional screening in the past three months. The incident also embarrassed the university officials who invited Shankar to speak to their international studies program; they have since sent her a letter of apology.
The public outcry that has followed the incident raises questions about the TSA’s handling of dignitaries and flyers in various styles of dress. In April of 2009, former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam was frisked by Continental Airlines staff before he was permitted to board a flight to the U.S. The airline later apologized, but the TSA maintains that VIPs are subject to the same security measures as other flyers. Apparently, annoyances at the airport don’t discriminate. (via AP)