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Clinton promises review of airport pat-down policy

December 10, 2010 11:52 IST

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed concern over the humiliating pat-down Indian Ambassador to the US Meera Shankar was subjected to at the Mississippi airport by transportation security administration personnel and has promised to get to the bottom of it and also reply to the demarche protesting the treatment meted out to Shankar from the ministry of external affairs.

Clinton was asked for her reaction to this incident when she appeared with her Nigerian counterpart Henry Odein for joint press availability at the state department Thursday afternoon, after spokesman Phillip J Crowley at the noon briefing had passed the buck to the department of homeland security and the TSA, saying that these were the two agencies that would have to respond and/or apologise for Shankar's pat-down despite her showing proof that she was a diplomat.

Told of External Affairs Minister S M Krishna's statement that this "is unacceptable" and that New Delhi is issuing a demarche protesting this action by the TSA, Clinton said she came to know of the incident only very recently and even though she had met with Shankar and other Indian officials as recently as Tuesday, she had not been informed of the incident that had taken place last week.

"Although I was not until just recently aware of the incident, we obviously are concerned about it," she said, and pointed out, "I met with the Indian ambassador and other representatives of the Indian government on Tuesday (when the prime minister's special representative to Afghanistan, S K Lambah, accompanied by Shankar and other Indian officials met with Clinton)."

Clinton said. "It was not raised with me or raised directly with the department," but she reiterated, "Certainly, we will be looking into it and not only responding to the Indian foreign minister, but also reviewing the policies."

However, she noted, "As you know, the matter is under the jurisdiction of the department of homeland security and all questions about it specifically should be referred to them."

But again, she pledged that "we will be looking into it and trying to determine both what happened and what we can do to prevent such incidents in the future."

But news agency Reuters reported that Janet Napolitano, secretary of homeland security, had told the media that she had looked into the matter and concluded that it was by the book.

'It was a pat-down that followed our procedures, and I think it was appropriate under the circumstances,' Napolitano told reporters.

She said there are protocols in which if US authorities are notified before a passenger with special credentials gets to an airport, they can try to expedite their security check.

'In this particular instance, that protocol had not been utilised. I think what was done by the officer was done appropriately and by the book.'

Earlier, Crowley said he came to know of the December 4 incident only five days later.

Though Krishna had said India would protest the incident, Crowley said they have not received any protest. "All I will tell you is we have had meetings with officials from the embassy since the incident in Mississippi and, as far as I know, they have not raised it with us yet," he said.

"We have actually just learned about this, are looking into it ourselves. But probably the department of homeland security and TSA would be in a better position to describe what happened," he said. "I think from a TSA standpoint, they followed their normal procedures, and I will defer to DHS to explain what happened in this particular instance. We weren't there."

Asked if the state department would at least offer some sort of an apology, Crowley replied, "Again, I'll defer to the department of homeland security. I mean, it is the responsibility of the transportation security administration to assess each passenger and then work each passenger through security based on what they see. I'm going to defer to DHS on this."

"The fact that you're a diplomat does not necessarily mean that you are not subject to basic screening as is any other passenger on any particular flight."

Crowley acknowledged that "there's a policy that all passengers, whether a diplomat or a non-diplomat, are subject to screening before boarding any flight -- we recognise that, and the diplomats themselves recognise that. As to this particular case where the ambassador was pulled aside for secondary screening that involved a pat-down, I'll refer to TSA as to as to what factors went into that decision."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC