At first the incident with Michaele and Tariq Salahi crashing President Barack Obama’s first state dinner sounded like nothing more than a high society version of a college prank. Two well-connected prosperous socialites decide to make worldwide headlines by glad-handing their way past the vaunted Secret Service’s perimeter. For their trouble, they get to saunter the receiving line, rub elbows with Vice President Joe Biden; pose for pictures like the dignitaries they aren’t; and then stand toe-to-toe with the leader of the free world.
At the end of an exhausting evening, they return to their vineyard in Virginia at dawn’s first light, and post pictures of their presidential meet-and-greet with all the casualness of a divorced zoo daddy posting the week’s visitation pics with the kiddies.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The Secret Service was asleep on the soles of their black patent feet, and the entire country is lucky that this time the outcome wasn’t a hideous disaster of mammoth proportions.
Who can forget that this is the same Secret Service that let a crazed shoe-chucker in Iraq launch not one, but two shoe scuds at President George W. Bush? While the President ducked from the incoming Buster Brown projectiles like someone who had been on many a hunting trip with Vice President Dick Cheney, the incident begged the question, ‘What if’?
In modern times, no Secret Service has faced a threat level as high for a sitting President. This is the same Secret Service that has seen a 400% increase in threats against a President because of his historic blackness; yet it is also the same Secret Service that let John Hinckley get close enough to Ronald Reagan to put a bullet within centimeters of his heart, and cripple his Press Secretary James Brady. And, it is the very same Secret Service that protects the President and his staff in some of the most arduous and complex logistical nightmares imaginable.
Thus, it is the sheer simplicity of this security lapse that is so frightening. While the Secret Service has acknowledged this disturbing dereliction of duty in an attempt to get the story out of the lead news cycle, it makes one wonder what might have been the result had one of President Obama’s radical Islamic terrorist enemies had slipped past security with the same ease.
The nation has been told that the Salahi’s even passed through the magnetron—a device designed to sniff out various weapons—as though this should be a reassuring development indicating how harmless this breach is. It’s a laughable rationale offered to a nation that has endured airport strip searches and has developed a hyper-vigilant national security apparatus, forever on the alert for rogue airplanes falling from the sky since 9/11.
History will show there is a chillingly simple precedent with Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda assassinating a detested and powerful foe. On September 9, 2001, Bin Laden’s orders to assassinate his chief rival in Afghanistan—and what some commentators also thought to be the ‘go’ signal for the 9/11 attacks—was executed with shockingly simple lethality.
Ahmed Shah Massoud, the anti-Taliban leader of the Northern Alliance that helped drive the Soviet Army out of Afghanistan in the 1980’s was viewed by Bin Laden as a mortal threat to Al Qaeda’s influence over the Taliban. On September 9, as Massoud met with ‘journalists’ toting cameras, microphones, and notepads to conduct an interview for Arabic television. It was during this interview that Massoud was blown to bits, and documentary filmmaker and newspaper editor Faheem Dashty was severely injured.
The ensuing investigation revealed that the two Arab attackers who had claimed to be journalists had claimed they were Belgians originally from Morocco, and supported this tale with stolen passports. The television news equipment they were using was stolen weeks before from a French photo journalism team on an overseas assignment. Using the legitimacy and implied safety of a television news crew, Osama Bin Laden’s assassins were able to eliminate his biggest foe in Afghanistan with ease.
Thus, it is right that the Secret Service should be under the most severe scrutiny in the aftermath of the Salahi’s dinner busting charade. Like the news crew that gained access to Massoud, they slipped past security with ease, wearing formal garb and society-page smiles, trailing a camera crew filming their misadventure for a potential television show on Bravo TV. Fortunately, this reality television story had a harmless ending. The next time the Secret Service magically goes missing in action while enjoying champagne and party snacks, the dereliction of duty may have devastating consequences for the nation and the world.