He may be one of the highly respected men in India, but when it came to the US immigration officials’ treatment of APJ Abdul Kalam, India’s former president was frisked like a suspected terrorist. The incident resulted in a major backlash in the Indian media and prompted the US embassy to issue a hurried apology.
The US embassy says its charge d’affaires Peter Burleigh had hand-delivered a letter of apology from the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) administrator to Kalam.
The embassy says it deeply regretted the “inconvenience that resulted for Kalam” as a result of the September 29 incident involving security screening at John F Kennedy airport in New York.
“We are actively working to prevent similar incidents in the future from occurring,” the statement said.
This was despite the fact that India’s former president is exempt from security screening. And this was not the first time that the former president was mistreated by the US airport authorities.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs had immediately lodged a protest over this incident with the US side, says the ministry’s the official spokesperson
Kalam, who is a regular visitor to USA, was to return home on September 29 by an Air India flight from New York.
“US authorities have explained to us that under existing US regulation, former President Abdul Kalam does not fall into the category of persons exempt from security screening. However, US authorities extended usual courtesies to him at the airport, including escort and private screening.
After former President Kalam had entered the aircraft, US Transport Security Agency (TSA) agents requested Air India staff for President Kalam’s jacket and shoes, reportedly as these had not been checked according to the prescribed procedure during the private screening. Air India staff then sought former the consent of former President Kalam, who had by then removed his jacket and shoes and settled in his seat, to hand over the jacket and the shoes to TSA authorities. These personal belongings of former President Kalam were returned shortly thereafter.
“The US Government has promptly written to former President Kalam (to) express 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.
“The two governments are also planning to hold discussions to explore appropriate mechanisms for facilitating airport procedures for dignitaries, in accordance with national regulations.”