Sudan Officials Who Travel to U.S. ‘Exempted From Enhanced Screening’

October 31, 2011 - 3:37 PM
Southern Sudan

Southern Sudanese police forces stand guard in front of a petrol station in the southern capital of Juba on Friday July 8, 2011. Security throughout the city has been tightened as the southern government prepares to declare independence from the north on Saturday July 9. (AP Photo/Pete Muller)

(CNSNews.com) – Government officials from Sudan – one of just four countries on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism – were “exempted from enhanced screening” at airports imposed after the attempted Christmas Day 2009 terror attack, according to a State Department memo obtained by CNSNews.com.

Sudan, upset that their citizens traveling to the United States would be subjected to increased scrutiny, as was the case for 13 other countries, also threatened to subject U.S. passengers traveling to Sudan to the same increased pat downs, bag checks and other security measures, with a Sudanese official telling a U.S. diplomat, “we will have to accord you the same treatment.”

Increased measures by the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) implemented since the attempted terror attack in 2009 have been controversial.

While government officials from a state sponsor of terror are allowed to bypass intensive screening, many Americans are subject to the random checks. News stories surfaced this year of a six-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy who faced pat downs and other enhanced screening tactics before boarding a plane.

In a separate story reported earlier this year, a retired school teacher and bladder cancer survivor was humiliated in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport after a pat down burst his urostomy bag and left him covered in urine.

Robert Whitehead, the Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, met with an official with the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose name was redacted in a memo on Jan. 11, 2010. The Sudanese official expressed outrage that Sudan was among 14 countries that would face increased scrutiny by the TSA.

A memo two days later, Jan. 13, 2010, described the meeting and 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 memo was written by the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum Political Officer Alexander Tatsis to the Secretary of State’s office, marked “immediate.”

This memo and others were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by CNSNews.com to the State Department for information about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas 2009 underwear bomber.

CNSNews.com inquired to the TSA about exempting government officials for state sponsors of terrorism from enhanced screening. 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 told CNSNews.com 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 at press time.

The new security measures taken by the TSA occurred after the Christmas Day 2009 attempted underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, tried to blow up a passenger jet over Detroit. The plane was traveling from Amsterdam. After lighting his explosive-laden underwear on fire, passengers and security on the plane were able to stop him and put the fire out.

After the attempted terror attack, the TSA established new security measures. People traveling from 14 countries on the TSA list would have full-body pat-downs and have their carry-on luggage checked: Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Yemen.

Sudan is one of the four countries on the State Department’s state sponsors of terror list. It is joined by Cuba, Iran and Syria.

The memo quotes the Sudan Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials saying, “It’s not clear to us what these new procedures are.”

The Sudan official also “argued that Sudan should not have been singled out, nothing that GOS continues to cooperate closely with USG [U.S. government] on counterterrorism issues.”

The official warned Whitehead that his government might 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 Sudanese official was quoted as saying.