While the Government of India played down the double frisking of the former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, at a New York airport over a month ago, the United States embassy here has “regret[ted] the inconvenience” to the 80-year old scientist.
The incident occurred on September 29, when Mr. Kalam boarded an Air India flight at New York's JFK Airport. He was already subjected to “private screening,” as he does not come under the category of dignitaries exempt from security screening procedures under stringent American guidelines.
However, after he entered the aircraft, U.S. security officials came and asked for his jacket and shoes, claiming that these items were not checked according to prescribed procedure during the “private screening.” With Mr. Kalam's consent, Air India staff then gave his jacket and shoes to the American officials. It is unclear whether these items were checked by any Indian security personnel before being returned to him.
External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna asked Ambassador in Washington Nirupama Rao to take up the issue with the U.S. administration, which then apologised to Mr. Kalam and the Government of India “that appropriate procedures for expedited screening of dignitaries had not been followed.”
Frisking in 2009
This is not the first time the U.S. aviation security has tangled with Mr. Kalam. In 2009, he was frisked by staff of the Continental Airlines at the New Delhi airport despite the fact that he is on the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security's list of people exempted from security screening in India.
American dignitaries visiting India are informally extended courtesies that exempt them from security checks.
However, India has not objected to the U.S. decision to screen Mr. Kalam in the first place, but only the second request for his jacket and shoes after he boarded the aircraft.
“The MEA had immediately lodged a protest over this incident with the U.S. side,” said a statement by the Ministry, which made it clear that Mr. Kalam had been extended usual courtesies such as “escort and private screening” before he boarded the aircraft.
“The U.S. government has promptly written to former President Kalam expressing its deep regret over the incident and has assured us that it is taking corrective steps to prevent recurrence of such incidents in the future,” said the statement.
“The two governments are also planning to hold discussions to explore appropriate mechanisms for facilitating airport procedures for dignitaries, in accordance with national regulations.”
In a statement issued on Sunday after the incident came to public attention, the U.S. embassy said an apology was hand-delivered to Mr. Kalam by Charge d'Affaires Ambassador Peter Burleigh.
“The United States Government has the utmost respect for former Indian President Abdul Kalam. We deeply regret the inconvenience that resulted for him…” said the statement.