A couple apparently crashed the White House state dinner the other night, held in a fantastic tent on the south lawn that I think the Bushes used a couple of times. I don’t typically blog about news events, even as they pertain to the White House, but I just wanted to note a couple of things about the coverage.
- It’s a slow news day, so anything of national interest is going to make headlines.
- Even proper party guests don’t get into the White House without being screened for weapons.
- People who represent a serious security risk would not have gotten in.
- That was a beautiful dress.
I regard this as less a breach of security than a breach of state protocol, but the couple will obviously face some serious questioning, and shrugging it off as a harmless prank isn’t going to cut it. I see a public apology and community service in their future.
It doesn’t matter whether or not the couple wasn’t a threat. They could have been anyone. Maybe they didn’t have a weapon, but they also had no background check. They could have been North Korean spies or Iranian assassins or terrorists. They could have easily grabbed a knife and killed the President. They could have easily grabbed the President.
This is very serious.
The flickr account just added a photo of Obama actually shaking hands with this woman.
That flickr photo contradicts earlier statements from the SS that the President wasn’t approached by these people. I love the fact that the WH posted this photo, but I also can’t help feeling a little uneased.
I left a comment about the turkey pardoning video and got into this situation about the party crashers. Here’s part of what I said in that post.
I’m wondering if someone tried to pull the same thing and got into the West Wing, how far would they actually get to being close to certain individuals. That’s scarry to think about by seeing what that couple did. Sure hopes it doesn’t ever happen where anyone will enter any part of the WH by sneaking in.
Now after that post, I am wondering if someone was able to sneak into the WW, would they get far inside, like to the OO where the Pres might be? Sure there is a guard outside, but would they be able to get past them or not? I sure hope it never comes to that. I agree with Colton, it is a very serious issue.
Now when it comes to WH lovers like us that have too much respect for the WH and its rich history and would never jepordize that respect, we should have an invite to see the WH. =) That should good fellow WH lovers?
Correction on the last part of the last post… Us WH lovers should get an invite to see the WH…that sound good fellow WH lovers?
The party crashers went through the same magnetometer scanning process that anyone else allowed to get close enough to the President to shake his hand. Whenever you see the President walking the rope line at an event outside of the WH, shaking hands and getting hugged and posing for photos, those people and the party crashers would have gone through the same scanning process. Everyone who enters the WH is scanned in the same way, including tourists on WH tours.
So, from the standpoint of the crashers being a security risk, they were no more a threat than anyone else who gets into the WH.
A difference, however, is that a visitor who has an appointment to get inside the WH has disclosed his social security number in advance of his visit, and this probably did not happen with the crashers, so these crashers would not have been checked out on the WH security-threat list.
The bottom line is that the USSS had a lapse at the East Entrance. Either a WH staffer fell for the crashers’ excuse and talked the USSS officer into waiving them through, or the USSS officer thought that once the crashers got through the magnetometer, another officer or WH staffer was going to examine their credentials against a guest list. There always is a lot of pressure on the USSS officers at the magnetometer to keep the line moving, especially when the line includes friends of the President.
I think that this was a screw-up on the part of both the USSS and the WH social staff, but the bottom line will be that the USSS gets 100% of the blame and it will be blown out of proportion.
In my opinion Rod they still represented a risk in that no real back-ground check was done on them like the other invited guests. And also, if they had gained access by passing through the scanners and gotten their hands on something as simple as a table knife they could have taken a stab at the president.
Now I don’t think THESE people wanted to hurt him but it brings into focus the fact that someone who would intend to hurt the president can get past security and then decide when and how they would go about attacking him. Thankfully the people who made it in were not wanting to hurt him but serve their own selfish needs and embarrass the White House.
Peter, don’t forget anthrax. I don’t think magnetometers detect biological chemicals.
Anybody who gets inside the WH could do the President harm with a makeshift, pick-up weapon. Recall the hundreds of visitors to the WH the day after Clinton was first sworn in in January 1993? None of them had invitations, and every one of them shook hands with Clinton and his wife. That is why there is a ring of agents around the President at such events — to pull him away from that kind of attack, usually by yanking on his belt from behind.
As for anthrax, or any non-metallic poisonous substance, the USSS security system is not fully equipped to deal with it anywhere, inside the WH or off-premises. Dogs are present to sniff vehicles, but usually not pedestrians. So, even at off-premises events, like campaign rallies or town hall meetings, if the President walks the rope line and meets and greets people, he is subjecting himself to that kind of attack.
The USSS remains largely reactive and not so much pro-active. Even the magnetometers did not come into use outside of the WH until after Reagan was shot. USSS focuses mainly upon metallic weapons. The USSS snipers look for distant shooters or rocket launchers. Thus far, only the dogs are trained to deal with non-metallic substances, and only those if they have a distinctive scent.
Nevertheless, I agree that there obviously was less than a full security check on these party crashers, and that was inexcusable. As long as security includes a human element, there can be lapses.
Good grief. The threat represented by an intruder under these conditions is minuscule compared to the risks the president runs every time he makes an appearance in a public place.
Besides, I’d put money on Barack Obama in a knife fight against just about anybody.
That’s a good point Derek, and by Rod as well. I’m now thinking of rope-lines where far more unknowns are present than in this situation.
A rope line and The White House aren’t comparable. If you’ve ever stood against a presidential rope line, it’s rarely a rope line. Generally it is a barricade and the president is surrounded by multiple secret service agents. Several moving ahead, a couple behind, and a couple to his immediate left and right. Yes, they have less control but they are hyper aware and right there.
Not so w/in The White House itself. The threat is supposed to be greatly diminished because the building is a fortress. NO ONE is supposed to get in and out without being thoroughly vetted. The secret service, while nearby, is not out in numbers like they are on a rope line nor do they stand as close. While still being the excellent professionals they are, things are lax because they are standing inside of a fortress no one is supposed to be inside.
This was a collossal failure of magnificent proportions. When was the last time security at The White House was breached in such a manner, nevertheless a person getting w/in the breathing space of a sitting president while standing in the Blue Room?
She may have been harmless and wearing a lovely dress, but it doesn’t change the failure.
Seth is correct about the agents not standing within grasp range of the President when he meets and greets inside the WH. He met the crashers in the receiving line in the Blue Room, and usually the agents are several feet away and out of sight, probably at the other end of the Blue Room by the doorway.
I am not sure one should assume anything about detection tools used by the Secret Service when one enters the White House.
When I lived in DC in the 1990s, I had a friend whose mother was pulled aside as the family was about to go on a morning tour of the White House. She had had some medical testing the week before, and somehow the lingering chemical tracing in her body activated an alarm. They sat in a side room for a long time, with the agents finally contacting her doctor in her home city to verify that she indeed had received a medical test that would have the elements in her body that were detected in the visitors entrance.
I would assume that that the sophistication level of these kinds of detectors has improved since then.