By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 7, 2009
Long before a pair of gate-crashers penetrated a White House state dinner, the Secret Service had detailed for its internal use a lengthy list of security breaches dating to the Carter administration -- including significant failures in the agency's protection of the president.
A summary of a secret 2003 report obtained by The Washington Post, along with descriptions of more recent incidents by federal homeland security officials, places Tareq and Michaele Salahi squarely in a rogues' gallery of autograph hounds, publicity seekers, unstable personalities and others identified by the Secret Service as defeating its checkpoints at least 91 times since 1980.
The document, the most complete accounting of recent Secret Service security breakdowns, includes officers mistakenly admitting to the White House grounds a family in a minivan, a man believed to be a delivery driver, and a woman previously known to agents after she had falsely claimed a "special relationship" with Bill Clinton.
The only assailant to injure a president in the past three decades was John W. Hinckley Jr., who shot and wounded Ronald Reagan in 1981 from outside the security perimeter established by the Secret Service.
Nevertheless, the list of security breaches exposes significant gaps that could be exploited by would-be assassins, the document states, and erode "one of the best tools for deterring future attempts" -- the aura of invulnerability around the White House.
A Secret Service official confirmed the authenticity of the unclassified document, which was a 39-slide presentation, and said it had been used to train agents and officers in an effort to improve agency operations. "This document reflects a proactive attempt to evaluate our security and obviously raises the awareness of uniformed division officers and agents about their jobs," spokesman Edwin Donovan said. "We have to be concerned about the threats to our protectees at all times, whether at the White House or away from the White House."
Donovan noted that in 2008 alone, the agency successfully protected 34 top U.S. leaders and 222 U.N. General Assembly dignitaries, as well as some of the officials' spouses and relatives, at thousands of locations in the United States and abroad.
The agency is entering what it calls a sustained period of elevated "international, domestic and individual" threats, protecting Barack Obama, the country's first African American president, and its two most recent wartime leaders, former president George W. Bush and former vice president Richard B. Cheney.
After the appearance at last month's state dinner by the Salahis, the Secret Service has launched a criminal investigation into the couple and a sweeping internal review of security procedures. Offering a rare public apology for the incident, the agency's director, Mark Sullivan, characterized it as a "pure and simple . . . case of human error" in which three uniformed officers let the well-dressed Salahis pass through gates on a rainy night without confirming their names on a guest list.A disturbing picture
The historical list of perimeter breaches indicates that intruders have reached the president or another person under Secret Service protection eight times since 1980, including the Salihis. Four of the incidents involved the same man.
The summary paints a disturbing picture of how difficult it is to stop determined intruders -- often mentally ill -- even as it notes that violent or commando-style raids have not occurred, and that terrorists or organized adversaries are unlikely to risk a head-on attack.
Then-Director Brian Stafford commissioned the review in 2001 after the service was humiliated for a third time by the most notorious presidential gate-crasher, Richard C. Weaver, who evaded inauguration security to shake George W. Bush's hand. Weaver, a California minister, had previously infiltrated a 1991 prayer breakfast attended by then-President George H.W. Bush, and Clinton's 1997 inaugural luncheon. He approached the younger Bush again at a prayer breakfast in 2003 before being arrested.
"I believe God makes me invisible to the security, undetectable," Weaver told reporters. The Secret Service concluded that Weaver succeeded by manipulating others to obtain tickets, telling guards he was lost or looking for a restroom, and generally "appearing as [if] you are supposed to be there," as the Salahis apparently did.
Tightened White House security measures -- after the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing, and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- have reduced the number of intruders able to break through Secret Service protective lines, an agency official said.
But recent presidents have continued to face dangers, particularly overseas. In May 2005, a man outside the presidential security zone threw a live grenade within 100 feet of George W. Bush in Tbilisi, Georgia, but it failed to detonate because it was wrapped too tightly in a handkerchief. In July 2003, a stowaway traveled with the White House press corps without credentials for two days from South Africa to Uganda, causing Air Force One to be searched when the subject claimed on arrest that he had brought weapons.
In 1994, a pilot was killed when he crashed a small plane on the White House grounds, and another man was subdued as he fired 29 rounds from a semiautomatic rifle toward the executive mansion from outside the Pennsylvania Avenue fence.Less-serious threats
The Salahi case underscores that less-serious, lesser-known violations also persist. In an October 1982 case dubbed "The Family Outing," James Douglas Imes, 38, his wife and two sons drove to the White House in a minivan, honked their horn and were let on to the grounds. Officers were confused because another gate was broken, then assumed the family was authorized until they neared the Oval Office entrance.
Christian K. Hughes, 37 -- nicknamed "The Paper Boy" -- drove through an open White House gate in January 1987 because an officer assumed he was a deliveryman. At the North Porch, Hughes gave a second unsuspecting officer a pair of handcuffs, asked to see the chief of staff, then drove past additional posts before he was stopped.
In November 1994, celebrity-chaser Stephan O. Winick, 29, joined actor Harrison Ford's entourage in an elevator as the group was escorted through metal detectors to meet Clinton at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles.
The report notes that one-third of the intruders had cased their targets beforehand, more than four in 10 were previously known to federal agencies, eight had announced their intent, and three were subjects of Secret Service lookouts.
A notorious example of the latter was Mary D'Aiuto, 27, who was known to agents as someone who believed she had a relationship with Clinton and repeatedly had tried to contact him. Nevertheless, she was able to get on the White House lawn during the 1998 Easter Egg Roll and was photographed repeatedly.
The report also mentions a success by the agency in preventing an intrusion. In 2002, the Secret Service repeatedly interviewed and put under 24-hour surveillance Dion Rich, self-avowed "world's greatest gate-crasher," after he said he had sneaked into the first post-9/11 Super Bowl and bragged he would attend the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, where the Secret Service was in charge of security.