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Tuesday, August 17, 2004

UPDATE: Indian Defense Minister Strip-Searched?

A commenter expresses some skepticism that Indian Defense Minister Fernandes was really strip searched in a U.S. airport, as reported in the article I linked to yesterday, and has been headline news in dozens of Indian newspaper articles. And indeed, Fernandes has recently tried to downplay the incident as little more than a "wanding."

But Fernandes has a strong motive to lie. The incident happened a year ago, and only came to light in a recently published book by former State Department official Strobe Talbott. Fernandes has been widely criticized in India for "compromising India's dignity" by failing to protest the incident. So he has every reason to play down the incident now.

In his book, Talbott says
"Fernandes regaled us with the story of how he had been strip-searched by officers of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service at Dulles Airport when he arrived for an official visit in early 2002, and again, in mid-2003, when he was passing through the US on his way to Brazil. He seemed to enjoy our stupefaction at this tale. He and other Indians who later referred to the incident clearly regarded it as more than merely a lapse of protocol or just another example of the post 9/11 excesses and indignities that air travellers had to endure for the sake of security."

Fernandes has since vowed never to return to the U.S. again.

Now, it's possible that Fernandes was just way over-reacting. But I think it's more plausible that he's now denying the strip search ever happened because of the criticism. Either way, the Indian press has been full of strip search headlines, which aren't doing our reputation much good. If I were in charge, I would encourage homeland security guards to to treat the high officials of a nuclear power with kid gloves, but I guess I'm just being too "sensitive."

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