Secret Service Let Third Intruder Into White House

Monday, 04 Jan 2010 10:26 AM

By Ronald Kessler

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Michaele and Tareq Salahi were not the only uninvited guests at the White House state dinner in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

At the last minute, someone from the Indian diplomatic delegation invited a man to attend the White House event on Nov. 24 without the knowledge or consent of the White House.

As with the Salahis, the Secret Service ignored the fact that the man was not on the guest list and failed to conduct a background check on him.

This new example of Secret Service laxness came to light when the agency was investigating why Secret Service Uniformed Division officers let the Salahis into the state dinner.

At a hearing on Dec. 3 by the House Homeland Security Committee, Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., asked Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan whether any other “interlopers” might have been allowed into the event by the Secret Service.

“Ma’am, that was a concern of mine, as well,” Sullivan replied. “That is something we have focused on; I cannot talk about it in this setting, but I believe that I can satisfy you in explaining that there were no other people there that night that should not [have been let in].”

Subsequently, the Secret Service examined surveillance video of arriving guests and attempted to match the images with the guest list. The agency spotted an African-American man wearing a tuxedo who had not been invited. He appeared to be with members of the Indian delegation.

Checking further, agents found that a State Department official had picked him up, along with others from the Indian delegation, at the Willard InterContinental Hotel and had driven him from the hotel to the White House.

The man turned out not to pose a threat, but because the Secret Service failed to perform a background check, the agency never would have known if he was, for example, wanted for murder or involved with terrorist groups. Ironically, in the movie “In the Line of Fire,” an assassin was able to gain access to the president in similar fashion.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan initially did not respond to a request from Newsmax for comment. After the Newsmax story ran, the Secret Service issued a statement confirming that “a third individual, who was not on the White House guest list, entered the state dinner.”

The statement added, “It appears at this point that the subject traveled from a local hotel, where the official Indian delegation was staying, and arrived at the dinner with the group, which was under the responsibility of the Department of State. This individual went through all required security measures along with the rest of the official delegation at the hotel and boarded a bus/van with the delegation guests en route to the White House.

"At present, there is nothing to indicate that this individual went through the receiving line or had contact with the president or first lady. Unlike the rest of the members of the official delegation, this individual was not entered into the WAVES system [for a background check].”

The reference to the individual's going through unspecified required security procedures appears to mean he went through magnetometer screening. But as the Secret Service statement said, the man was neither invited by the White House nor given a background check through the WAVES system. Nor did the State Department official know him.

The fact that someone in the Indian delegation vouched for the man did not mean he was not an assassin. Under Secret Service procedures, even if the White House chief of staff invites his parents to the the White House, they still must submit to a background check.

Until the Newsmax story ran, mortified Secret Service officials had failed to notify the House committee investigating the Salahi security breach of this latest embarrassment to the agency.

As outlined in my book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect,” the Secret Service routinely misleads members of Congress by presenting as spontaneous threat scenarios that were in fact secret rehearsed and by citing in congressional hearings arrest statistics that are padded with arrests made by local law enforcement.

Editor's Note: Get Ron Kessler's book. Go here now.

In addition, since it was absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, the Secret Service has been cutting corners. For example, it does not pass people through magnetometers or shuts down the devices early. It has cut back on the size of counterassault teams. It does not allow agents time for regular firearms requalification or physical training.

As pointed out in the Newsmax story "White House Security Breach Is Tip of Iceberg," the decision by uniformed officers to ignore the fact that people were not on the guest list is an expected outcome of such corner cutting and lowering of standards.

In part, the corner cutting stems from Secret Service management’s refusal to demand more funds. Because the agency is understaffed, the workload overwhelms uniformed officers, who protect the White House, and agents, who protect the president. Within the Uniformed Division alone, the attrition rate is as high as 12 percent a year.

In addition, the agency bows to political pressure. As revealed in the book, when Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary insisted that her detail drive her friends to restaurants and the agents refused, she got her detail leader removed. The fact that Secret Service management does not back personnel when they are doing their job properly no doubt contributed to the uniformed officers’ decision not to turn away the glamorous couple at a state dinner, avoiding possible repercussions.

In his testimony to the House committee, Secret Service Director Sullivan referred only once to the Secret Service’s own failure in operating the White House guard post. He said it used only one magnetometer, although it usually operated with two.

That suggests that uniformed officers were under even more pressure than usual to move everyone through the checkpoint. It is another symptom of the Secret Service’s disregard for the need for more funds and more personnel. Yet Sullivan denied to committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi who ran the hearing with remarkable fairness, that the agency needs more funds.

“I don’t believe it is an institutional problem,” Sullivan said. “I believe it is an isolated incident.”

According to a high-level Secret Service official who requested anonymity, Sullivan’s own staff is convinced he must go — for the good of the agency and the people it protects.

In the latest example of lack of leadership, the official said, Sullivan has failed to distribute new funds authorized by the agency’s current budget, which President Obama signed into law two months ago.

Sullivan has also been routinely acceding to requests by White House officials for Secret Service protection when there are no threats against those individuals, and the agency is undermanned as it is.

The Secret Service official cited the fact that the Secret Service has taken no steps to update security technology. For example, he said, while the uninvited guests passed through magnetometers to detect metal, they could have been carrying biological or chemical weapons or an explosive such as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab concealed in his crotch on Northwest Airways Flight 253 on Christmas Day.

To provide adequate security, the Secret Service should use whole-body imaging scanners that use radio waves or X-rays to reveal objects under a person’s clothes, the official said.

The official noted that prior to the state dinner, Secret Service agents met with the White House social office and agreed that there was no need for the social office to staff the guard posts with aides, placing further pressure on uniformed officers.

“To this date, not one high-level person has been held accountable for these failures and corner cutting,” the official said. “Secretary Janet Napolitano has failed to hold this director accountable. He [Sullivan] doesn’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers. He doesn’t want to ask for more money. He is more concerned about appeasing the administration.”

The official added, “A large majority at headquarters has lost faith in him. Everybody’s waiting for the day he leaves. This agency has some very talented people, and that is clearly lacking in the case of the director.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include comments from the Secret Service.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail.
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