November 30th, 2009
08:30 PM ET
13 years ago

WH: Security screeners failed to ask about dinner crashers


(PHOTO CREDITS: Getty Images)

Washington (CNN) - - Secret Service security officials at a perimeter checkpoint failed to "get on the phone" to ask about a couple not listed as guests who sought entry to last week's White House state dinner, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday.

The couple was allowed into the event in a security breach at the first state dinner of President Barack Obama's administration.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi met Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other top White House officials during the dinner held for visiting Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The couple was not invited to the event, according to the administration.

Asked repeatedly at his daily briefing about what happened, Gibbs blamed the problem on a lack of communication between the initial screening point and White House organizers.

"If somebody was confused about whether or not somebody was on a list at a guard tower on the perimeter, then why not get on the phone and ask," Gibbs said.

Pressed about the possibility that no one from the White House social office was at the perimeter checkpoint, as reportedly occurred at previous White House dinners, Gibbs said the point is that the Secret Service security crew didn't ask about the couple.

"None of that relay happened between the Secret Service and the social office, whether the social office was at the gate or on the phone in the office," Gibbs said.

Earlier Monday, another administration spokesman said Obama still has "full confidence" in the ability of the Secret Service to protect the first family.

"The president believes that the men and women of the Secret Service put their lives on the line every day to protect him, his family and many others," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said, adding: "He thinks that they do an exceptional job, that they are heroes and they have his full confidence."

An internal investigation into the incident has found that Secret Service agents did not follow protocol at the security checkpoint.

"The Secret Service is deeply concerned and embarrassed by the circumstances surrounding the state dinner on Tuesday," the agency said in a statement last week. "Although these individuals went through magnetometers and other levels of screening, they should have been prohibited from entering the event entirely. That failing is ours."

Shapiro and Gibbs both noted that the White House has asked the Secret Service to do a full review of the incident.

The "Secret Service said they made a mistake and they are taking action to identify exactly what happened and they will take the appropriate measures pending the results of their investigation," Shapiro said.

At his later briefing, Gibbs said it would be up to the Secret Service and the U.S. attorney to decide if the Salahis should face criminal charges.

Also Monday, Defense Department official Michele Jones denied in a statement obtained by CNN that she helped try to get the couple on the list for the state dinner.

"I did not state at any time, or imply that I had tickets for ANY portion of the evening's events," Jones said in a prepared statement released by a White House official. "I specifically stated that they did not have tickets and in fact that I did not have the authority to authorize attendance, admittance or access to any part of the evening's activities. Even though I informed them of this, they still decided to come."

Jones is a special assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and serves as the Pentagon's liaison to the White House. The Washington Post reported that the Salahis have turned over copies of an e-mail exchange with Jones to Secret Service investigators.

Updated: 8:30 p.m.

–CNN's Ed Henry contributed to this report.

Filed under: White House
soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. Joe

    As someone explained it in a different commentary. The crashers walked in, had to go thru some kind of metal detector, they got to the front door, and the person that hold the list must have nodded to the secret service to let them in. They are in now. And we know the rest of the story. A little public relation for Obama, everyone was worry about the safety of the man, a little sympathy for the man that had so much trouble in his health care bill, economy and Afghanistan. Obama is full of tricks. Remember the photo op over New York city. I don't think the secret Service would have made that mistake, unless it was an inside job.

    November 30, 2009 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  2. Devin

    It's the "people's house". Let the "people" in.

    November 30, 2009 10:25 pm at 10:25 pm |
  3. Andrea Courtright

    I like your style, Thomas, not withstanding unusual grammar mechanics. The balloon thing got a chuckle out of me.

    This whole debacle is truly unfathomable to me. If I were Michele Obama I would be the thorniest thorn about getting to the bottom of this. These people were on her LAWN, meeting her HUSBAND and they could have been very terrible, awful people with the worst of motives and intentions. I'm truly horrified for the Obamas. President Obama should be MORE protected than previous presidents because of all the vitriol out there over the economy. The fact that his security was this lax simply astounds and disappoints me.

    November 30, 2009 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  4. dennis Jennings

    If the secret service can,t do any better than this then all of the harrassement and embarrassment that we have endured at the hands of the HSA (hopelessly stupid agency) is wasted. Either they are arrested and go to jail or se save a few billin dollars and get rid of the HSA and perhaps the secret service too.

    November 30, 2009 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  5. The social office screwed up also......

    in the Bush administration the social office always had their people at the gate.........why not this time????? This is a weak administration and the lack of security should scare us all......because we could be next....

    November 30, 2009 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  6. Jack Folliard

    The sad part about all this, thanks to the hungry for anything media and the grandstanding politicians eager to call for a congressional hearing so they can roast the secret service witnesses by constantly interrupting their responses forever seeking that 15 second TV soundbite – is that the couple is getting exactly what they wanted and more!

    November 30, 2009 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  7. No Hillary = No Obama

    I have a feeling this would not have happened when Bush was in the White House. Some how with Obama the only thing that is turning out to be transparent about his Presidency is himself. What is it about Obama that people think they can do these types of things and get away with it?

    November 30, 2009 11:07 pm at 11:07 pm |
  8. Biased

    It appears this WH will never accept culpability in anything that goes wrong and it is always someone else's fault. Perhaps if the present social office had not been so quick to demote the person who had done gala state dinners previously by stating they had no intentions of holding lavish dinners in these troubling times, there might have been proper protocol followed as they helped out the SS at the entry points. But then again, what's so important as helping out the SS at what appears to be party central and a state dinner that had so many attendees invited that they had to build a special lavish tent. If they do that in hard times for everyone else, I wonder what they would do in good times? Two tents?

    November 30, 2009 11:18 pm at 11:18 pm |
  9. Richard N. Komi

    This is a most serious issue. Here is a president who was receiving death threats even before taking office and we can see the high level of hatred that has been shown particularly because the president is a man of color and such security breach happened. I think the secret service have been doing a great job protecting the president but this incident calls for a review of procedures on who sees or enters the white house. What we should all know is that should anything happen to this president African Americans and indeed the rest of the world will not take it kindly.
    The secret service should make the protection of this president their highest priority of all time and should adopt a new slogan of caution when it comes to the safety of this president. Meanwhile the crashers should be prosecuted to deter others who may be thinking of pulling such high profile prank from attempting it.

    November 30, 2009 11:27 pm at 11:27 pm |
  10. Dee

    These people should be imprisoned and watched by real ole Marines.
    Marines who would not allow them anything but three hots [ some could be cold cuts] and a cot. That would be a reality show- see if they can manipulate the older U.S. Security to give them anything.
    These crashers think they are some brazen coots- let them meet some real ones with one rule. The Marines get to know what they did last week. Bravo!!! Bravo!!!

    November 30, 2009 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  11. Buddy Gilmour

    If their name is not on the guest list or they can't produce suitable ID the Secret Service must turn them away. But in this age of digital forgeries, without a suitable biometric the entire entry process is vulnerable to spoofing. Both the Secret Service and the White House staff (that means you Rahm) dropped the ball big-time here! We should probably be thanking these strange people for bringing this sad situation to light before a real tragedy happened.

    November 30, 2009 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  12. K. Parks

    Trespassing, breaking and entry, loitering on taxpayer owned land, REALLY... Come on. If they were to enter Obama's private home that would be different. But the White House, the property of ALL AMERICANS.

    December 1, 2009 12:01 am at 12:01 am |
  13. Cynthia

    I think this whole lame story is a diversion from what is really going on...such as health care, surge in troops in Afghanistan and all the other issues pressing this country. Everyone seems so focused on this couple that really wanted to just rub elbows with the big wigs. I am not condoning the behavior or actions, but they got in. I don't think it is necessary to prosecute them for anything. They didn't break and enter and techanically they weren't loitering. This couple only needs to share with how security did not do its job Again, this takes so much time away from the issues facing us right now

    December 1, 2009 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  14. MLH

    Where do you start? What kind of idiot thinks that kind of stunt is appropriate? And how do you end up allowing a couple to pass through the perimeter without checking to make sure they are indeed invited guests.

    December 1, 2009 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
  15. Joe

    While I think they are completely nuts, they were allowed in. Whether or not they had an invitation isn't the issue. The Secret Service allowed them to enter. The White House is a public building owned by the citizens of the US. Anyone is allowed to visit as long as they are cleared. While they were not cleared by the event organizers, they were cleared by Security. The fault lies with the Secret Service, not the weirdos. The security failed, plain and simple.

    December 1, 2009 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  16. It brings out the fruits and nuts

    Oh yea...Now you get the teabaggers, birthers and other right wing wackos somehow put 2 and 4 together to make 7 by blaming Obama for this security breach and, in their twisted logic, tie this in with International security. These nuts once again cannot see the danger behind all of this. They can only see hate towards Obama. What sad, pathetic people they are. And, the statistic about the threats towards Obama is downright frightening. Then to think about these wackos carrying guns to campaign rallies could possibly sneak into the WH is scary.

    December 1, 2009 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  17. Rose

    The "gate crashers" knew they were not invited to the State Dinner and apparently did so to gain publicity. Those people are obviously mentally disturbed. But no matter "who" let them thru the door, they were still trespassing and should be dealt with accordingly. Why do we have rules if no one has to follow them? Those people should be in very serious trouble with jail time in their future!!

    December 1, 2009 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  18. James H. White

    Under the under the Constitution, the Salahis cannot be prosecuted
    because there was 'no notice', and there is 'no statue or law or rule'
    that was broken'., however, the secret sertvice detail are hired under oath, thus they can be prosecuted.

    December 1, 2009 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  19. Thomas W

    The crashers are nothing more than pirates, and, being pirates, they should be treated as pirates! If they are not penalized to the very fullest they not only make piracy acceptable but also make a mockery of top security, not to mention a mockery of this post 9-11 lockdown we all must live by. If the government goes soft on them it just sends a message it is does not take major threats seriously, it deals with major threats capriciously, and it is simply a major farce! If the government goes soft, we should all be outraged!!

    December 1, 2009 01:10 am at 1:10 am |
  20. Jack the John

    This wouldve never happen under Bush,, come to think of it no one wouldve shown up lool ,, proscute the crashers and lets move on ,, we got bigger problems then popcorn politics

    December 1, 2009 01:13 am at 1:13 am |
  21. al/Alabama

    Heads should roll.

    December 1, 2009 01:32 am at 1:32 am |
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