The Reliable Source: Third uninvited guest crashes White House state dinner
Tuesday, January 5, 2010; 12:00 PM
Another uninvited guest made it into the White House state dinner made famous by gate-crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the Secret Service announced Monday -- exposing more holes in the security perimeter around President Obama.
White House "third crasher" Carlos Allen -- is there a Salahi connection? (Reliable Source, Jan. 5)
Washington Post columnists Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts were online Tuesday, Jan. 5, at Noon ET to discuss the details of the latest breach in security procedures at the White House.
Washington, D.C.: Holy cow. ANOTHER White House event gate-crasher?
washingtonpost.com: Secret Service confirms third crasher at White House state dinner (Post, Jan. 5)
Amy Argetsinger: Just when you thought it was over....
Washington: I know it is early in your reporting, but are there any reports that Carlos Allen has thousands and thousands of dollars in outstanding unpaid bills or has ever claimed to be a Washington Redskins cheerleader?
Amy Argetsinger: Ha! Thus far, we know that Carlos Allen, like the Salahis, is alleged to have entered the White House without an invitation -- and that, like the Salahis, he had a knack for getting himself into photos with celebrities.
Bristow, Va.: For the love of myself, I can't see the connection between Watergate and this break- in. We all need to get a life.
Amy Argetsinger: Who said there's a connection? This is gate CRASHING, not WaterGATE.
Salahi: I assume there is no new news on the Salahis or else we would have heard about it from you (great job on the three-part series, by the way), but what is the next step for them? Prosecutions? Congressional investigations? More and more bill collectors? Public humiliation?
Amy Argetsinger: Good question. Best that we can tell you is that the investigation continues. The House committee voted to subpoena them at a hearing later this month -- but the Salahis have already said that they plan to take the fifth, which means we can't expect a lot of action there. But yes, meanwhile, the feds are still looking into their White House incursion, and the state of Virginia is still looking into their charity and polo match...
Washington, D.C.: Could either of you tell us why Del. Norton is blaming the State Department? I can get why the Secret Service is getting raked over the coals, and why people are angry at Desiree Rogers, and even understandably baffled about the first two crashers. But isn't it up to the Indian delegation to come clean? Or is Del. Norton trying to shift blame away from Rogers and lay it (somehow?) at the feet of Hillary?
Roxanne Roberts: This is where it gets complicated. When a foreign delegation is visiting the United States, the State Department is responsible for their protection and their movements. The State Department vetted the list of who was supposed to be on the van/bus to travel to the White House that night, and also allowed a group of VIP Indian businessmen---dinner guests but not part of the official delegation---to travel on the same bus, reportedly at the request of the embassy. So the crasher was able to get past the State Department's screening process, although did have to go through the physical security check by secret Service agents.
Bitburg, Germany: How did this story first break, and why didn't it come out earlier, when the Salahi story was in the news?
Amy Argetsinger: That's the question shared not only by reporters and readers -- but also by Congress, which has been doing its own investigation.
We can't be sure of the exact timeline, but we are told that the White House learned about this third crasher quite a few weeks ago. Granted, there's not a lot of incentive to announce this -- in addition to the concerns of a pending investigation, there's also the outright embarrassment, plus the disclosure of yet another security weakness.
While we had been tracking rumors of a "third crasher" last month and had talked to Carlos Allen at the time, the news that the Secret Service was looking into this was broken yesterday morning by Ronald Kessler at Newsmax.com and later confirmed (in part) by a statement from the Secret Service. The Post was the first to report the identity of the alleged crasher.
Biggest lesson...: ...stay off of Facebook or other social media outlets.
Amy Argetsinger: Totally. Adjust your privacy settings, folks, especially if you plan to do something bad.
Washington, D.C.: Have other administrations had problems with "crashers" and we just didn't know about it or because President Obama is seen as more of a celebrity president that a lot of people want to be up close and personal? Of course I could play the race card and think that security isn't as tight as with other presidents. Remember when someone showed up at a town meeting with a gun. I am old enough to know that at another time and place that would have gotten you some prison time.
Amy Argetsinger: This is the ultimate question. For all we know at this point, there have been dozens of crashers at every event going back to the Madison era, but we only know about it know because of the high-tech security/surveillance tool known as Facebook.
Portland, Ore.: Of all the things going on in the world, aren't you embarrassed to be covering this one? All trivia, all the time. No wonder print "journalism" is in such decline.
Roxanne Roberts: Funny you view it that way....I couldn't disagree with you more. Three people who were not authorized to enter the White House manage to get past layers of security and in the same space as the president, first lady and prime minister of India. We were able to expose significant flaws in the system without anyone getting hurt---when most security breaches are discovered only after someone has been hurt or killed. Unless you believe the security and lives of the Obamas are trivial, this is an important story that I'm very proud to be a part of.
Washington, D.C.: Can Desiree Rogers hold on to her job after this?
Amy Argetsinger: I think it's worth noting that, for all the criticisms Rogers drew last month in the wake of the Salahi incident -- when her staff was not conspicuously at the door -- this seems to be a very different situation. And she does not seem to be involved in this one.
Thus far, the indications are that the third crasher got into the White House through a completely different route -- traveling in a van with an Indian delegation that was cleared at a hotel, before they ever headed off to the White House -- and that this was a group that the State Department was responsible for clearing, not a part of the Social Secretary's list.
Washington, D.C.: Is it okay to come to the next state dinner and say, "I'm with the Salahis"? Might work.
Amy Argetsinger: I think that's the kind of joke that you just don't want to make around Secret Service. Kind of like how you don't want to make the "heh, heh, I've got a bomb!" jokes around TSA agents when you're going through airport security.
Seattle, Wash.: Now my REAL question is: Why did the social secretary wear a dress reminiscent of an apron? Did it look that way in person?
Amy Argetsinger: Because it is High Fashion. And yes, Rox says it looked like an apron over a layer of chiffon.
How big a scandal?: On a scale of 1 to 10 of Washington scandals, with 10 being the most important (say, Travelgate or Lewinskygate) and 1 the least important (say, torture, politicization of the DOJ, and all the bogus intel leading up to the Iraq war), where does Salahigate fall? I'm thinking about an 8.
Amy Argetsinger: Hmmmm...
Alexandria, Va.: He honest -- you'll miss Jim Zorn, won't you? And I always thought he was very good looking.
Amy Argetsinger: Are you the one who loved his haircut?
Blame game: For the Salahis, the blame went back and forth between the WH social office and the Secret Service. Who's the culprit for this guy? Secret Service? State Dept? Jim Zorn? Santa? And how many heads have rolled over all this stuff that you two have dug up?
Roxanne Roberts: This baby lands in the laps of the Indian Embassy and the State Department. The crasher appears to have known someone in the embassy or one of the Indian CEOs and was allowed to travel from the embassy to the Willard, where everyone was checked off on a State Department list and screened. The question is whether someone at the embassy vouched for this guy or if he tagged along and slipped onto the bus with the delegation. Either way, not good.
Danville: I asked Ed O'Keefe a question about what attracts people like the Sahalis and Carlos Allen to the Obamas. Ed referred me to you.
I recall the media making much about the Obamas' "celebrity status." Could this image be attracting these "self-promoters"?
Do you recall this type of behavior toward other presidents?
Amy Argetsinger: I think there have always been dubious/delusional people who want to get close to the president, whoever that is.
Washington, D.C.: Merry Christmas! Get anything good?
Having you ladies to continue to write gossip for us is all the presents we could have asked for.
Amy Argetsinger: You are welcome. And thank you.
Washington, D.C.: Amy and Roxanne,
Thank you for hosting this chat. Ed O'Keefe mentioned in an earlier chat (after giving a generous plug to your chat) that it is unlikely that Desiree Rogers's head would roll after all this, due to her closeness with the first family. To this I would respond with a "Greg Craig," and follow with all the others that were left twisting in the wind. While Van Jones is hardly an insider/FOB, Anita Dunn was. Yes, she was gracefully allowed to exit (after saying it was only a temp job to begin with), but the result is she is no longer connected to the WH.
Amy Argetsinger: Fair points.
College Park, Md.: Who else may have crashed the White House state dinner, Paris Hilton? The saga continues, and I love this story.
Amy Argetsinger: I think we would have noticed Paris Hilton. Like the Salahis, she doesn't fly under the radar.
D.C.: I don't know much about what a social secretary does, but I assume it involves making sure your parties are not the punchline to jokes --- especially when you are trying to impress other countries. So should Desiree Rogers be fired?
Roxanne Roberts: This crasher isn't Desiree's fault----but the whole state dinner incident has turned sour for her. If she survives this, I expect a much lower profile and much greater attention to detail---just like all those former social secretaries she so casually dismissed when she first got the job.
Falls Church, Va.: Do the Post reporters ever talk amongst themselves about how they went into journalism in order to do important work, and somehow ended up spending weeks on trivial matters like how to two social climbing reality TV wannabes managed to sneak into a state dinner?
Amy Argetsinger: So you're okay with people of dubious track records managing to penetrate security and get up close and personal with the president, I take it? And we should have just laughed this one off and not written about it?
While you're thinking about that... There's a very weird visceral reaction to the Salahi stories that I've noticed. There seems to be an argument that "they just want attention" and therefore "don't write about them!" If that's the case, well, then, I guess we shouldn't write about bin Laden either...
Or is the thinking that the Salahis' violation was simply "not belonging"? That's certainly an elitist way to look at it. But I think the fact that two people with a long string of lawsuits and bad debts and arguably delusional behavior managed to get into the White House uninvited and shake hands with the president is a serious matter.
Alexandria, Va.: OK, I have to go through a semi-nude body scan to get to a seat on a crummy regional jet, and these clowns waltz into the White House? Isn't the Secret Service Mega embarrassed?
Amy Argetsinger: Yep.
Arlington, Va.: Regarding the latest White House crasher story, you mention that the Post had spoken to Allen about a comment he had made about attending the dinner. So has the prospect of a third crasher been on your radar screen for a while?
Roxanne Roberts: We first heard rumors of a third crasher about 10 days after the dinner and briefly spoke to the alleged interloper, who denied it. There was the real possibility that someone had simply bragged about crashing, but never really did it. We kept pursuing the tip, but didn't have enough solid information to put it in the paper until yesterday.
Washington, D.C.: Regarding the photos that surfaced linking crasher number three with the first two: why is Missy wearing a negligee? Do you have any information regarding what type of event she was attending and why she is dressed up like that?
washingtonpost.com: White House "third crasher" Carlos Allen: Is there a Salahi connection? (Reliable Source, Jan. 5)
Amy Argetsinger: If you follow the link to our posting on this, it explains everything. Well, it doesn't explain why Michaele was wearing a translucent bodysuit. But it explains that Carlos Allen and Michaele Salahi apparently rubbed elbows when they attended two adjoining parties in June. More details in the link.
Washington, D.C.: Who is more likely to be employed in this town in two months -- Desiree Rogers or Gilbert Arenas?
Amy Argetsinger: Hahaha. There must be some online bookie who's set odds on this...
Washington, D.C.: Was Mr. Allen also in formal wear? As in, this was planned, not, oops, I got in the wrong van and wow, it's the White House, not the airport...maybe I'll go in.
Amy Argetsinger: Yes, we understand he was in tuxedo.
Washington, D.C.: Didn't anyone at the White House find it odd that the Salahis and Allen decided to leave the dinner right as people were taking their assigned seats? Shouldn't that have screamed "party crasher"?
Roxanne Roberts: That would required enough experience to watch all the guests who were supposed to be at the dinner and then notice three who suddenly leave. Remember, this was this administration's first state dinner, and they invited more than 300 guests. So not seeing three who were never supposed to be there is not surprising, given all that was going on that night.
Rosslyn, Va.: The one I thing I don't get about all of this is the pass being given to the woman at DoD who was trying to get Gate Crasher #1 and #2 in to the party in the first place. Her appalling judgment in thinking that these people were appropriate guests really makes me wonder what she is doing with the position at DoD that must require something resembling sound judgment. What was her motivation?
Amy Argetsinger: The House committee looking into this isn't particularly interested in Michele Jones's role. They think she was just doing what a lot of officials in town do -- replying to e-mails saying, "well, I'll try to help..." Which, you know, doesn't mean someone actually IS going to help you. That's their take.
So close!: Madrigal, here. I read in one of your articles that Michaele Salahi graduated from Oakton High School in 1984 -- I started there as a sophomore in the fall of 1984. I missed her by thismuch. Dagnabbit.
Amy Argetsinger: A near-brush with greatness.
Alexandria, Va.: I disagree with the Portland questioner who asked if you are embarrassed by this story. Admit it, when stuck with the beat that requires you to cover quasi-celebrities at parties, it must be pretty cool to actually break a story that has now been covered internationally. It's only a result of your heads-up reporting and knowledge of the subject matter that this even became a story. It must have felt odd that in a room full of reporters who saw the same things as you, that only you were curious enough to ask the right questions. Well done!
Amy Argetsinger: Thank you.
Washington, D.C.: Desiree Rogers escaped getting fired over the Salahis, but have there been any other repercussions over this? Or is the blame being placed entirely on the Secret Service?
Roxanne Roberts: The biggest change appears to be major tightening of security around the White House. If invited, wear comfortable shoes---the lines are very, very long these days.
Washingtoon: Are you hot on the the trail of a 4th Crasher yet?
Amy Argetsinger: Tell us everything you know about 4th, 5th, 6th, etc. crashers at email@example.com. Heck, I'll believe anything at this point.
Sao Paulo, Brazil: The good party, chic, good food, good wine, well dressed women, will always have crashers. Kids crash proms, weddings get crashed, and now we see even the White House. It is something you simply cannot avoid. Crashers will find a way. How can security tell the simple life- enjoying crasher from the terrorist?
Roxanne Roberts: The White House is not supposed to get crashed. Period. It is avoidable if the proper procedures are followed. That still leaves plenty of other parties for life-enjoying crashers.
Ballston Dude: I say we all crash the polo cup (if it happens) to spite these people.
Roxanne Roberts: Ewww. Then we'd have to hang out with them. (Nothing against real polo people.)
Leesburg, Va.: I wanted to start out by saying that I love you guys, love your chats, and love your work.
Okay, now sorry in advance but -- At any point do you two think that you're contributing to the problem? Is it even a factor in your mind? I understand the imperative to report the story, I totally do. It's a big important story. You all have done a great job on it.
But where's the line? Naming them the "People of 2009" and making an argument for "of the decade?" That struck me as too much. At that point I can't help but feel you're giving these dolts exactly what they want. By all reports, they weren't even going to be on that stupid Housewife show. Now, will they not only likely be on it, but Bravo is talking about giving them their own show! It's all sunshine and rainbows for these idiots, and all it's going to do is encourage more idiots to do increasingly stupid things for similar levels of attention.
I'm sorry, again, please don't be mad at me :( I seriously do love you guys.
Amy Argetsinger: I'll go back to what I said in an earlier posting: Osama bin Laden wants attention too -- does that mean the media should ignore him?
Okay, not an absolute fair comparison. (I'm waiting for Osama to complain.) I'll also note that "Reliable Source Person of the Year" isn't exactly something you put on your resume. It's about being the biggest newsmaker in our little piece of the world.
The Salahis were on track to be on "Housewives" before this happened -- they were big drama-producers even before the White House, and we have no reason to believe they were going to be cut. It's 100 percent uncertain what's going to happen to them now. There are equal arguments to be made for Bravo dropping them out of sheer embarrassment (or deciding that they're ratings poison), or for Bravo crafting a sinister docudrama around them. (Either way, the money in reality TV is not great, certainly not good enough to settle their debts.)
And do you really really honestly and truly believe that the Salahis are ENJOYING this attention? They had lived their lives largely with the pretense of being rich and successful and glamorous. Our stories have exposed them as being penniless and delusional. The attention has not been good for them.
Oh get over yourselves...: To the people who claim that this isn't "real news" or important enough for the Post to report on...stop being so high and mighty. I'm a huge political news buff but am not as interested in international stories. Should I be ticked off at the International News sections? Also, I don't like listening to classical music or watch much local theater. And the food section? I hate to cook. But do I complain to the Post about all these items that they print in the paper week after week? No. Why? Because, I DON'T READ IT if it interests me! I really don't understand why this is so hard for people to comprehend...
Keep up the good work ladies!
Amy Argetsinger: Thanks.
Obamas: I have to say, when I heard that Obama was dealing with terror threats prior to and during the inauguration and that Hillary was planning how to react if bombs when off on the Mall during the swearing-in, this whole party crasher things seems even more ominous and deadly. It's one thing for a president to be attacked out in public. It's quite another for it to happen in his home at an official event for the leader of another country.
Amy Argetsinger: Yup.
Trivial matters? What????: Boo hiss to the idea that only other Post reporters are covering real journalism. The Reliable Source gals used reliable sense and their knowledge of the social scene to realize that a real live security threat existed, covered it with dogged reporting, and got an amazing story. Just because part of that story involved a blonde airhead in a red sari doesn't mean this isn't real news and real reporting.
Amy Argetsinger: Thanks... But you have to admit -- the fact that this very serious threat to national security happened to involve an blonde in a red sari kind of put it over the top, no?
Baltimore, Md.: I frankly find the critics who say "why are you covering something so trivial" to be divorced from reality. This was a state dinner for the leadership of India. Only a year ago, India was subjected to an horrific terror attack by Muslim extremists. If the Salahis (and now Mr. Allen) could con their way in, what would have prevented a motivated political extremist from doing the same? The entire story is about immense lapses in security around the president, it is not about the Salahis, per se.
Amy Argetsinger: Thanks.
Redding, Calif.: After the last few questions and answers, do you not see why many view this as trivial? Not the story but the coverage?
Amy Argetsinger: Okay, break it down -- what do you mean, the coverage versus the story?
About the White House dog, Bo: This dog needs to be trained to sniff out charlatans.
Roxanne Roberts: Excellent suggestion.
D.C.: Your colleague Sally Quinn seems to think someone should be fired immediately over the White House security breaches. Is this likely to happen? After all, nobody lost heir job after 9/11, why should someone lose a job after a couple idiots sneak into a party?
washingtonpost.com: Time for accountability at the White House (Post, Jan. 5)
Amy Argetsinger: Well, I'm going to quibble with everyone here. As we've discussed here, it's not just a matter of a couple of idiots sneaking into a party -- it is a big deal.
However: It should be noted that, whatever her role in the Salahi matter, Desiree Rogers and her office do not seem to have played any role or be responsible for any shortcoming in the matter of the third crasher. The State Department was responsible for clearing the delegation members who traveled to the White House.
Cape May, N.J.: Does Janet Napolitano deserve any blame here for the breach of security?
Roxanne Roberts: Well, she's essentially in charge of all things security, so the buck stops with her---although there's plenty of blame to go around.
Washingtoon: This is a request, not a question....Please, for the love of God, do not give any press to the Blonde Charity Mafia...
Amy Argetsinger: Hey, YOU'RE the one who just brought them up! Rest assured, though, you won't be seeing Blonde Charity Mafia here in America, on the CW, anyway. Link to follow to our story about its sad demise.
washingtonpost.com: D.C.'s long lost "Blonde Charity Mafia": A look back. (Reliable Source, Dec. 15)
Dupont Circle: Who are you most excited about seeing in the new Celebrity Apprentice -- Cyndi Lauper, Rod Blagojevich or Sinbad?
Amy Argetsinger: Blago. Always Blago.
Really, people?: I have to say, I'm surprised so many people are brushing this off. At a single event, three people managed to obtain entrance to an event allowing them very close proximity to, and few barricades from, the president of the United States, without security clearance. Isn't that, like, how assassins try to kill people? Or am I way off base?
Roxanne Roberts: I don't think so, and millions of others agree with you---which is why this story and all the "what ifs" are so fascinating.
Pendleton, S.C.: Is the so-called gate-crashing phenomenon a product of an inexperienced administration? Must each new administration fumble and stumble until it becomes proficient at event screening? How likely is it that minor functionaries like Desiree Rogers can influence Secret Service personnel to the detriment of the president's safety shield? I want my president protected and I don't care whose feelings get hurt.
Amy Argetsinger: So much more to investigate.
Alexandria, Va.: Free associating here, but all these photos of famous folks (Petraeus, Biden, and yes, sadly Obama himself) with the various "crashers" is reminding of the wonderful world of other inappropriate 'grip and grin' photos. I think my favorite, which really retired the trophy, would be John Wayne Gacy, possibly in his clown makeup (not sure), with, I believe, First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
Needless to say, they didn't know about the bodies under the house at the time, and he was quite a pillar of the community. He even had a snow plow and cleared out the street after storms!
Amy Argetsinger: Thanks for reminding me of that. We should do a gallery of regrettable grip-and-grins...
State Dinner: Do you think the fact that the State Dinner security was apparently headed up by Paul Blart, Mall Cop will affect the decisions of Heads of State to come to the U.S. and be feted? Especially those with numerous enemies of their own?
Amy Argetsinger: Hahaha -- Paul Blart.
Beaverton, Ore.: Does al-Qaeda represent the same kind of existential threat to our way of life that the Salahis do? Imagine if the Salahis had been packing suitcase nukes or if they knew Kung Fu? We could have been looking at something far worse than 9/11, don't you think?
Amy Argetsinger: Well, theoretically... hmmm...
Crasher?: Is there any responsibility for the White House to tell the public/media about the third White House crasher? Seems they have known about this for a while and might have never said anything if not for Kessler's report.
Roxanne Roberts: I'm actually more interested if they shared this information with the congressional committee, or didn't know and found out from the Secret Service. In the interest of their promise of full disclosure, I think the White House would have been better served getting this information out as soon as it learned it. Anything that feels like a cover-up always looks bad.
Baltmore, Md.: How come these kinds of made-up scandals afflict Democratic presidents so much more than Republicans? It's really difficult for me to see how this is any worse than the saga of Jeff Gannon?
Why the weird double standard?
Amy Argetsinger: A guy of dubious credentials getting into the press corps is a story -- and it WAS a story, just not as big a story as the Salahis, which I'd argue is both in proportion to their proximity to the president (the Salahis got a whole lot closer)... and also reflective of the fact that the Salahi story has a visceral appeal to a lot of readers. The Gannon thing is a little inside-baseball (most beyond-the-Beltway Americans don't really know or care who gets to be in the press corps), while the idea of crashing a state dinner -- which is supposed to be both exclusive and secure -- has a significance easier to comprehend.
Washington, D.C.: Gilbert's getting really deep over twitthere.
Amy Argetsinger: I know. He just needs to step away from the keyboard. He's losing me.
Irony: The great irony of the Salahis' gate-crashing was the effort they went to in order to keep crashers out of their wedding reception, according to Post reportage! To me it was proof positive that they understood exactly what they were doing in crashing the state dinner.
Amy Argetsinger: Oh, but there were so MANY great ironies of the Salahi story!
Washingtoon: I weep for our International image - Video: Blonde Charity Mafia Promo
Amy Argetsinger: Oh lord, that is NUTS! It makes me want to fly to London to watch this with British people. This show probably only makes sense to a foreign audience.
Zorn's hair: I'm assuming there will be a Hair Cuttery in Northern Virginia doing a little less business these days. Sad. And yes, I always liked his haircut.
Amy Argetsinger: For memorable hair of 2009, it was pretty much him and Kate Gosselin, huh?
Fairfax County, Va.: It seems like the White House has had a nice, lively list of all kinds of community outreach and programs since the Obamas arrived. I almost see it as coming out from the defensive crouch we all got into after 9/11 and trying to regain some normalcy.
There have been the concert series (jazz, country, classical), the new online tickets for the egg roll which were controversial but ultimately expanded the event nicely, all the health and good eating stuff, etc., etc. Even the first gathering of Native American leaders in probably a century, although I guess that's state business, not entertaining.
Does Rogers get any credit for that? Has she done a good job of it? Or would all that have happened anyway and doesn't mark much of a departure? I'd like to know the big picture, because if we're going to lose her, I don't want to lose all this ambitious outreach -- I like it!
Roxanne Roberts: I think this is exactly what the first lady---with Rogers ideas and help---wanted to do, and that part of Rogers' role has been a real success. The White House has always done events like this, but the Obamas stepped up the pace and profile and I think that will continue regardless of who holds the social secretary position. So don't worry about that.
Unfortunately, that doesn't erase the very real flaws in the handling of the state dinner, nor Rogers' role in it.
Happy New Year: Any resolutions from our favorite gossip columnists?
Roxanne Roberts: Eat more fruits and veggies. Boring, but juicy.
Amy Argetsinger: Protect the free world from gatecrashers.
Amy Argetsinger: Okay, that's it. Thanks for joining us on this special edition "gatecrasher alert" chat. See you next week at our normal time on Wednesday.... in the meantime, keep in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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