The Wand Beneath His Wings
By Al Kamen
Friday, July 16, 2004; Page A19
So let's get this straight. Contrary to what was in former deputy secretary of state (and former Time magazine editor) Strobe Talbott's new book, former Indian defense minister George Fernandes was not exactly strip-searched on two occasions by U.S. airport security workers when he visited in 2002 and 2003. The notion sent the Indians into a tizzy.
But Fernandes told reporters on Wednesday that he had to remove his coat and shoes and raised his arms "like a suspect," according to the Hindustan Times. Sounds like standard "wanding" of the sort often done. Happened just a couple of days ago, in fact, to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at LaGuardia. Fernandes said he won't be back.
So why is Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, now in India, going on about his "sincere apologies" and what a great guy Fernandes is and hoping he'd please come visit?
One State official said Armitage wasn't groveling and compared his remarks to the very contrite telephone recording about how "all lines are busy . . . we regret any inconvenience . . . your call is very, very important to us."
This is not to say that there has been no tension between diplos and the Transportation Security Agency. The president of the European Union has been wanded, as have foreign nuns, we're told. A North African ambassador here went to an airport to meet a dignitary and was searched when he came back through security because he wasn't on the cleared list -- even though the dignitary was. TSA folks "are bureaucratic automatons," one diplo said, "harassing folks" for no good reason when they should be doing other things.
TSA inspectors, however, have their own grievances. We've received several complaints that State Department officials try to usher not just senior officials around airport security, but senior officials' aides, family members and all manner of hangers-on. And these are not on flights going out of the country, the angry TSA folks say, but rather on flights from New York or Washington to Chicago and Los Angeles.
State and TSA, one source said, "have been working out the kinks of late."
Armitage better remove all metal objects when he leaves New Delhi.
Hollings Is on Fire
It's pretty hard to imagine having a fun time at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on setting new fire safety standards for furniture and such.
But remember, Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) is on the committee. Hollings, who speaks like the cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn, recalled his friendship with President John F. Kennedy.
That prompted Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), who chaired the Wednesday hearing, to say: "Senator Hollings, when you said that you were a friend of Jack Kennedy's, I was afraid you were going to notice I'm no Jack Kennedy."
"You're better-looking than Jack Kennedy," Hollings said. "Yessiree."
"Anyway," Smith tried above the laughter.
"That's the first time I've complimented a Republican," said Hollings, who was first elected to the Senate in 1966 and is retiring this year.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company