State Dinner Crashers: Reality Show Dupes Secret Service?
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On the one hand, you've gotta admire the moxie of Michaele and Tareq Salahi, publicity seekers who crashed Tuesday's state dinner, thrown by the Obama's in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Trailed by cameras for Bravo's Real Housewives reality show, the couple found their way into the great fete, despite their lack of an invitation -- and even got their picture taken with Vice President Joe Biden and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. On the other hand, when you consider the fact that threats on the life of President Barack Obama, as AlterNet's Don Hazen reported, are 400 percent higher than those faced by George W. Bush, the episode raises serious questions about the quality of the president's Secret Service protection.
In September, AlterNet was prompted by reports of under-resourcing of the Secret Service to sent a petition signed by readers to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, requesting that Secret Service funding cutbacks not be allowed to endanger the safety of the president.
For White House events, the Secret Service not only provides the sort of bodyguard protection we're accustomed to seeing around the president, but also screens the visitors, who are usually required to provide personal information, such as date of birth and Social Security number, days ahead of the visit. The Salahis weren't on the White House guest list, and their vehicle was turned away before it got to the drop-off point. With cameras trailing, the Salahis simply hopped out and found their way into the line of guests, who went through a series of subsequent checkpoints. The Secret Service has acknowledged that the Salahis' passage through the first pedestrian check-point indicates a failure to follow procedure by the agents at that check point. No kidding.
More galling than that, though, is the fact that the Secret Service is trying to downplay the incident based on the fact that no one was hurt. "It's important to note that they went through all the security screenings -- the magnetometer screening -- just like all the other guests did," Secret Service spokesperson Ed Donovan told USA Today. But, as Ronald Kessler, author of a book on the Secret Service told the New York Daily News, "They could have assassinated the President or vice president using other means -- anthrax, for example." The Secret Service does not check for bioweapons, Kessler told the News.
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.