(CNSNews.com) – While six-year-old girls and retired school teachers with bladder cancer were subjected to intrusive pat-downs by Transportation Security Administration officials at U.S. airports after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate his underwear on a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas 2009, officials from Sudan--one of just four countries the State Department lists as a state sponsor of terrorism--were “exempted from enhanced screening” at airports, according to a State Department cable obtained by CNSNews.com.
The cable indicates that Sudan, upset that its citizens traveling to the United States would be subjected to increased scrutiny--as were those from 13 other countries--threatened to subject U.S. passengers traveling to Sudan to the same stepped-up body pat-downs, bag checks and other security measures.
“We will have to accord you the same treatment,” it quotes a Sudanese official telling a U.S. diplomat in early 2010.
In response to the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound aircraft, the TSA on Jan. 3, 2010 announced new security measures.
People headed for the U.S. holding passports issued by countries deemed to harbor people who were terror risks, as well as anyone traveling to the U.S. from or through those countries, were to face “enhanced screening” before boarding their flights.
The countries listed were Sudan, Cuba, Iran and Syria – all designated state sponsors of terror – as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.
According to the State Department cable dated Jan. 13, 2010, Robert Whitehead, charge d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, had met with a Sudanese foreign ministry official two days earlier. The Sudanese official, whose name was redacted, expressed outrage that Sudan was included among the 14 countries listed.
The cable said the Sudanese official “also expressed concern over whether official delegations or government ministers would be subjected to the new security procedures, given the upcoming trip to Washington for the consultations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by GOS [Government of Sudan] Finance Minister Awad Aljaz [REDACTED].”
“Asked whether Aljaz should be advised to cancel his trip, CDA [Whitehead] responded that while government ministers were exempted from enhanced screening under TSA guidelines, he could make no guarantee for treatment of Aljaz by security personnel in transit countries,” the memo said.
The cable to the Secretary of State’s office was written by the political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Alexander Tatsis, and marked “immediate.”
It is among several documents obtained by CNSNews.com through a Freedom of Information Act request for information relating to Abdulmutallab's Detroit bombing attempt.
Asked about the policy of exempting officials from state sponsors of terror from enhanced screening at airports, TSA spokesman Kawika Riley said, “For security reasons, the specific details of our security directives are not public.”
“TSA uses multiple layers of security to reduce risk to aviation security and the traveling public,” Riley said in a written statement. “Physical screenings at the checkpoint are partnered with numerous other layers, such as intelligence gathering and analysis, checking passenger manifests against watch lists, federal air marshals and federal flight deck officers, and other security measures both seen and unseen.”
A State Department spokesman did not respond to inquiries from CNSNews.com.
On Christmas Day 2009, Abdulmutallab, a 23 year-old Nigerian, tried to blow up a passenger jet traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit. After he set alight his explosive-laden underwear, passengers and security personnel were able to stop him and put the fire out.
The TSA then announced the new security measures.
The State Department cable quotes the Sudanese foreign ministry official as saying, “It’s not clear to us what these new procedures are.”
The official also “argued that Sudan should not have been singled out, noting that GOS continues to cooperate closely with USG [U.S. government] on counterterrorism issues,” it said.
The official warned Whitehead that Khartoum may impose the same enhanced security measures on U.S. travelers to Sudan.
“We have been quite lenient in the past [toward Americans], but we will have to accord you the same treatment,” the official was quoted as saying.
The TSA measures have been controversial at home.
News stories surfaced this year of a six-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy facing pat-downs and other enhanced screening tactics before boarding flights.
In one reported incident, a retired school teacher and bladder cancer survivor was humiliated in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport after a pat-down burst his urostomy bag, leaving him covered in urine.