How many catastrophic or near-catastrophic breakdowns in security has the U.S. suffered in the past two months? Off the top of my head, there’s Fort Hood, Flight 253, the suicide bomber infiltration of the CIA’s base in Afghanistan, and of course this debacle. The failings in each case involve different government agencies so there’s no obvious common thread (except this one?) but I’m gaining new appreciation for those mopey end-of-year pieces by Peggy Noonan and David Brooks about the collapse of American institutions.
The mystery man here evidently made it in via the foreign delegation, which makes this potentially an even more serious breach than the Salahis’. Wonderful.
While Secret Service officials assumed full blame for the presence at that dinner of the now-infamous Tareq and Michaele Salahi, they are blaming the presence of this third gate-crasher on the U.S. State Department.
The statement says that the “subject traveled from a local hotel, where the official Indian delegation was staying, and arrived at the dinner with the group, which was under the responsibility of the Department of State. This individual went through all required security measures along with the rest of the official delegation at the hotel, and boarded a bus/van with the delegation guests en route to the White House.”
For some reason this individuals — unlike the other members of the official Indian delegation — was not entered into the Worker And Visitor Entrance System (WAVES), the security list for those who enter the White House.
I.e. no background check was done. Ronald Kessler, who wrote a book last year about the Service and broke this story this morning at Newsmax, claims that the crasher was invited by someone in the Indian group at the last minute, but that’s actually the least juicy detail in the piece. To hear his sources tell it, the Service has been understaffed and underequipped for years and director Mark Sullivan isn’t inclined to do much about it:
[S]ince it was absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, the Secret Service has been cutting corners. For example, it does not pass people through magnetometers or shuts down the devices early. It has cut back on the size of counterassault teams. It does not allow agents time for regular firearms requalification or physical training…
The Secret Service official cited the fact that the Secret Service has taken no steps to update security technology. For example, he said, while the uninvited guests passed through magnetometers to detect metal, they could have been carrying biological or chemical weapons or an explosive such as Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab concealed in his crotch on Northwest Airways Flight 253 on Christmas Day…
“To this date, not one high-level person has been held accountable for these failures and corner cutting,” the official said. “Secretary Janet Napolitano has failed to hold this director accountable. He [Sullivan] doesn’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers. He doesn’t want to ask for more money. He is more concerned about appeasing the administration.”
The official added, “A large majority at headquarters has lost faith in him. Everybody’s waiting for the day he leaves. This agency has some very talented people, and that is clearly lacking in the case of the director.”
Kessler’s sources have been criticized before for axe-grinding in this vein but there’s nothing like a massive White House security breach or two to lend credibility to their grievance. Exit question: Why doesn’t Sullivan demand more money for the agency? It’d be a drop in the ocean of Hopenchange federal spending and, unlike most of the rest of it, would actually be for a good cause. Not a single slender billion can be trimmed from the blubber of TARP and the stimulus to improve high-ranking government security? Good lord.