Obamas' uninvited guests prompt inquiry

Obamas' uninvited guests prompt inquiry

Incident raises questions about security at the White House

The inquiry was begun after a Virginia couple, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, slipped past multiple layers of high-level White House security on Tuesday night and managed to rub shoulders, literally, with Vice-President Joseph R Biden Jr and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel among others, at Washington’s most exclusive social event this year.

Edwin M Donovan, a spokesman for the Secret Service who spent his Thanksgiving Day dealing with phone calls from reporters, would not discuss the investigation in detail but said the initial focus was on “a Secret Service checkpoint which did not follow proper procedure to ensure these two individuals were on the invited guest list.”

While the question of how well the president is protected is never a casual one, it has taken on special resonance with Obama, the nation’s first black president. Even when he was a candidate, his security rivalled that of a sitting president, because of both the size of the crowds he attracted and the number of threats.

The Secret Service agents began guarding him 18 months before the November 2008 election, the earliest a candidate has ever been provided protection. It was not clear how close the couple got to the Obamas.

Representative Peter T King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, called for a Congressional investigation, saying in an interview on Thursday that he was shocked at the lack of security at the White House on Tuesday night. Since 2003, the Secret Service has been part of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Obviously, somebody dropped the ball,” said King, of New York. “I mean, you’re talking about the president of the US and the vice-president and a powerful world leader, the prime minister of India.” The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was the guest of honour.

King said he had seen people turned away from similar White House events, including a congressman who brought his daughter instead of his wife, whose name was on the list.

He also raised concerns about the Secret Service’s assertion that Obama was safe because all guests passed through metal detectors.

“The fact they went through the magnometer is incidental,” he said. “They could have had anthrax on them. They could have grabbed a knife from the dining room table.”

He added, “The next time it will be a far worse reality than a reality TV show.”
 Michaele and Tareq Salahi, meanwhile, remained silent on Thursday about their White House visit.