Saturday, November 28, 2009

**Updated** Secret Service Epic Fail

A couple CRASHED the State Dinner at the White House!

They even took pictures with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Vice President Joe Biden. (Updated: Pictured to the right the crashers meet and TOUCH the POTUS. If you've seen the TV show 24 you might understand why this is totally not okay! They actually tried to assassinate the fictional president, David Palmer, when a woman shook his hand with a deadly virus. No seriously.)


Via Huffington Post:

AP - Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the couple who crashed the White House state dinner, may face criminal charges, the Secret Service announced today.

Jim Mackin, the agency's spokesman, said this is one reason the Secret Service has kept mum about what happened when the couple, who are auditioning for the Bravo reality show "The Real Housewives of DC", arrived at the security checkpoint Tuesday. They were not on the guest list for the dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh but managing to get into the party, where they posed for photos with Vice President Joe Biden and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

"As this moves closer to a criminal investigation there's less that we can say," Mackin said. "I don't want to jeopardize what could be a criminal investigation. We're not leaving any option off the table at this point."

It was not immediately clear what charges would be pursued. The Salahis lawyer, Paul Gardner, posted a comment on their Facebook page saying, "My clients were cleared by the White House, to be there."

He said more information would be forthcoming.

Attempts to reach Gardner on Friday were not immediately successful.

Michaele Salahi's hairdresser at the Georgetown salon where she scheduled a last-minute appointment hours before the dinner said she asked to look at the invitation to the White House event, but never saw it.

"She was so excited. She told me that she got it in the mail and it was just an amazing feeling and they couldn't wait and in fact they called the White House, I believe, to make sure that she was going to be dressed appropriately," Peggy Ioakim told CBS' "The Early Show" on Friday. Salahi wore a red sari to the dinner.

Bravo Media, meanwhile, confirmed that on the day of the dinner Michaele Salahi was being filmed around Washington and while she prepared for the dinner by a film crew connected with the network's reality show, "The Real Housewives of D.C.," because she is being considered for the upcoming TV program.

"Half Yard's cameras were not inside the White House. They filmed the couple preparing for the event," Johanna Fuentes, Bravo Media's vice president, communications, said in an e-mail late Thursday. She said the Salahis "informed Half Yard that they were invited (to the dinner), the producers had no reason to believe otherwise."

Fuentes referred further questions to the Virginia couple's lawyer and their publicist.

The White House refused comment on the Salahis and referred all calls to the Secret Service.

Ronald Kessler, author of a book on the Secret Service, said, "While the couple did pass through a magnetometer to detect weapons, they could have assassinated the president or vice president using other means – anthrax, for example." He added the Secret Service would not detect secreted biological weapons.

Kessler, a journalist, wrote "In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect."

The author added that it's unlikely the Secret Service performed the usual background check to ensure that the crashers were not possible threats.

"The party crashers could have had outstanding arrest warrants for murder. They could have been involved with terrorists. They could have been agents of Iran or North Korea. The Secret Service would never have known," he said.

During President George W. Bush's administration, it was standard procedure to have someone from the White House social office at the gate for state dinners and other events with large groups of visitors, according to a former senior Bush aide who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to be seen as criticizing the Obama White House.

The social office is most knowledgeable about the guest list and could have been called in case of any uncertainty, this official said.

White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, asked by The Associated Press on Thursday whether personnel from her office were at the checkpoint said, "We were not."

Hey Secret Service and White House staff, DO BETTER!

Update: The couple may have had help from a diplomat at the Indian embassy. The Indian embassy is denying this.

Update II: They did meet the President. Someone needs to explain this!

Update III: How much did their race factor into their ease in getting into the White House without an invitation? A very interesting take on the incident as it relates to racial profiling here:

On the evening of Tuesday, November 24, a young couple from Virginia made their way into one of the most secure events in the country, President Obama's state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Monmohan Singh and his wife at the White House. Like the other 300 plus invited guests, Tareq and Michaele Salahi went through multiple layers of Secret Service security, took photos with Chief of Staff Rom Emanuel and mingled with Vice President Biden and other invited guests. The problem is that the Salahi's were not invited to the dinner. Their names were not listed on the official guest list or any other list that would have allowed them entrance into the White House. They crashed the party!

All that this couple needed to gain entrance into a state dinner at the White House was a tuxedo, traditional Indian evening wear, attitude, and white skin. When they arrived at the Secret Service checkpoint without a printed invitation and without their names on the official guest list, they were not detained nor questioned. No telephone calls were made; no further inquiries were needed; just white skin, blond hair, the expectation of admittance, and a pretty smile. Had this occurred at an airport the Salahi's would have never made it past airport security.

This is the latest example of the privilege and expectations of privilege that comes with white skin. Had the Salahi's been African-American, or any other ethnicity with a darker skin tone, the Secret Service agent or Marine on duty would have never allowed this couple on the White House grounds simply based upon a "...what do you mean our names are not on the guest list...this is a travesty...obviously your list is not up to date...blah, blah, blah..." or some other self-righteous retort.

In most instances, these senses of expectation and privilege are not planned, they just are. They have developed over time and have become the norms of American culture. They are so deeply ingrained in the American psyche that they are now patterns of action, perception, logic, symbol formation, thought, and emotional response.

Racial profiling can work a number of ways. For people of color, profiling works against them as they are targeted by those in positions of power and authority based upon a mistaken belief that they (particularly African-Americans) are more inclined to be involved in criminal behavior in non-suspect specific situations. For people of European decent or with white skin, profiling can work to their benefit as they are given favorable consideration and deference based upon the assumption that they pose no threat in a particular circumstance. White people get access; black people get arrested.

This favorable consideration or deference has developed into a sense of entitlement as evidenced by the Salahi's expectation that they would be admitted into the seemingly most secure event in America just by showing up. Even with an African-American President in this supposed "post racial" America, no African-American would ever expect such unfettered access to the White House.

According to Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan, President Obama was never in any danger. "It's important to note that they went through all the security screenings -- the magnetometer screening -- just like all the other guests did..." Donovan's confidence in the systems that have been designed to ensure the presidents safety are a bit misplaced. The Salahi's did not go through all the security screenings. Obviously the Secret Service failed to send them through the "match a persons name and identification to those on the guest list" part of the process. In spite of the fact that their names were not on the official guest list, they were admitted into the White House and into the same room as the president and vice president. The first level of security failed. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

Yes, in this instance the security measures that have been put in place to protect the president and those who visit the White House failed. They failed for a number of reasons. The written processes and procedures will be evaluated and tightened but it's the human aspect of this event that should cause the most concern. Simply because a couple "looked the part" they were given deference and allowed within striking distance and within the personal space of the most threatened man in America.

White privilege is a dangerous thing on a number of levels.

Does looking the part not only include the tuxedo but also their skin color? I don't completely agree with the above article but I do think it raises some very valid points and provides a platform for discussion.

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