Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the social climbing couple who crashed the White House state dinner last week, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
The couple's ability to gain access to the White House was a colossal breakdown of security and staffing procedures.
A White House state dinner is the “Super Bowl” of White House events. It is the social event of the season and the focus should to be on the honored guests, not those who should never have even been there to begin with.
The following is the scenario that is typically followed when one is invited to a state dinner at the White House:
1. The Office of the Social Secretary -- on behalf of the president and first lady -- extends an official invitation to the guest by mail.
2. The guest replies to the invitation either by phoning or mailing the following information to the Social Secretary’s Office: name, date of birth, Social Security number, race and sex.
3. Thereafter, as information is gathered, the Social Office turns it over to the Secret Service so that they can run a criminal background check on every guest who has accepted the invitation. This procedure is referred to in the White House as being “WAVED.” -- “WAVES” is the acronym used by the Secret Service to denote their screening procedures for guests cleared to enter the White House’s 18 Acres.
4. About an hour before the official start of the event, guests are told to assemble at the Southeast gate of the White House and to produce a valid photo ID so they may be checked in.
At this first checkpoint, typically there are members of the White House Social Office who are present, as well as Uniformed Secret Service, with clipboards that contain the names of approved guests.
If a person approaches the checkpoint who is not on the list, typically a Social Office staffer will call a Social Office superior to get further instructions. That person is then asked to stand off to the side, away from other guests, while information is being verified. The Secret Service, in my experience, would never have allowed someone onto the White House complex who is not on a list without first getting approval/verification from a White House staff member that they are, in fact, an invited guest. The Secret Service would then require the person to wait while a computer criminal background check aka “WAVES” is performed before they are walked through the magnetometers. All other guests who have been checked in from the list, would next proceed directly to the magnetometers and then be escorted to the party’s location. -- Once a person clears the magnetometer they have access to the White House.
The breakdown in staffing and security that led to these imposters gaining access to the White House were numerous:
1. It was reported that no one from the White House Social Office was at the Southeast gate to assist the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service in checking in guests.
2. The Uniformed Secret Service did not verify some guests with the White House Social Office as to whether or not the interlopers were in fact valid guests and allowed them to proceed to the magnetometers and thereafter into the White House. It remains to be seen if, in fact, the Secret Service performed the requisite criminal background check, “WAVES,” before letting them through the magnetometers.
3. Once they gained access to the White House there were numerous missed opportunities to discover these phonies. When guests enter the White House they walk down a long corridor where they are met by a member of the White House Social Office and a military aide who ask their names so they can be announced to the press in the bookseller’s area of the mansion. At that point there was an excellent opportunity to discover the Salahis deception before they could even getting close to the other guests, the president or vice president and other high level government officials. Instead, they were in fact were announced to the press using their real names. Thereafter, they boldly mixed and mingled with legitimate guests before coming to the next missed opportunity where their deception could have been discovered. Guests are asked by members of the Social Office and military social aides to join a receiving line for the president and first lady together with the president’s honored guests. At the start of the receiving line members of the White House Social Office have index cards arranged in alphabetical order with names of the primary invitee and their accompanying guest together with their address. That card is handed to the invitee so they may hand it off to the military aide who announces them to the president, the first lady and honored guests. The Social Office should have discovered -- at that point -- that there was NO card for these “guests” and alarm bells should have gone off. Instead, what probably happened was that the Social Office Staffer made up an index card for the imposters and let them in the receiving line to meet the president. Once the imposters greeted the president they proceeded to mix and mingle with legitimate guests in the East Room before leaving before dinner was served in a tent on the South Lawn. When the Salahis decided to leave the state dinner before the meal was served this should have, once again, set off an alarm with both the Secret Service as well as the White House staff. It is virtually unheard of for guests to leave a State Dinner prior to the meal being served. In my experience, the staff usually has to kick people out of the White House at the end of a function because the guests do not want to leave.
These social climbers, the Salahis had their photos taken with not only the president but the vice president as well. They were photographed with the president’s guest of honor, the White House Chief of Staff and other high government officials.
Had they had evil intentions and possessed something like say, anthrax, they could have literally killed everyone at the state dinner including the president and vice president of the United States as well as India's leader. This could have been a national and international tragedy of monumental proportions.
The fact that they were pranksters instead of terrorists should not matter. It has been said, “the most dangerous gun is one that is unloaded.” You never know how dangerous people are until after the danger has passed. -- History tells us that many assassins have stalked their victims before getting up the nerve to actually carry out the deed.
We need to make an example out of the Salahis. -- They compromised the security of our president, they embarrassed our country and our honored guests. No one will ever remember what should have been a great event for one of our closest allies. All anyone will ever remember about President Obama's first state dinner will be these two party crashers.
We need to exchange their 15 minutes of fame for at least 15 days in jail. -- Their next invitation should come from the U.S. Attorney for the District of Washington, D.C. to appear before a federal grand jury. This time no RSVP will be necessary. The Salahis just need to show up with a toothbrush!
Bradley A. Blakeman, Professor of Public Policy and Politics at Georgetown University. He served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush 2001-04 and is a frequent Fox Forum contributor.