Saturday, November 28, 2009

All That Glitters

All that glitters not only isn't necessarily gold, it could be as bold and cheap as brass. Here is a perfect example

By now most people know who the Salahis are. But just in case you spent this past holiday weekend as a castaway on a desert island, they are the couple who crashed the President's first state dinner. In the process, they seriously compromised White House security.

This Washington Post story paints a pretty good picture of a couple who, though affluent, wanted desperately to play polo way out of their league. They lived larger than life, mingled with the elite, posed as a debonaire, fun loving couple, and assiduously sought the spotlight. Indeed, Michaela Salahi was aggressively seeking a spot on Bravo's new Housewives of Washington television series.

On the night of the state dinner, a witness saw the Salahis car turned away from the White House driveway. The same eyewitness later observed Michaela hop out of the car while a makeup artist, who was following the couple, jumped out of a second car to brush more makeup on Michaela. All the while, a cameraman was filming these antics.

Pictures of the Salahis mixing with Joe Biden, the Indian Prime Minister, and other high profile celebrities showed up the next day on the Salahis Facebook page. The White House later releases photos of President Obama and the First Lady greeting them on the receiving line.

But the Washington Post story delves into the darker side of the Salahi story. The law suits between Tareq and his father. The ruined family business, a well respected winery in Fauquier County. The trail of unpaid bills and creditors left holding the bag.

In some respects, though, there are aspects of this escapade and the whole Salahi story that could hold a romantic appeal for many of those reading about it. Could the book and movie deal be far behind?

The truth is America has a tradition of admiring its clever con artists and lovable scoundrels who stick it to society's muckety mucks. It's the stuff of countless Hollywood screwball comedies.

But make no mistake, the Salahis were no populist heroes pulling off a simple scam against the rich and famous. They wanted to be rich and famous themselves. And more often those scammed turned out to be small business men and women, florists, caterers, cleaning companies, and their condo association, whose dues they stiffed. These were careless people so intent on pursuing a self-aggrandizing fantasy that they didn't care whose business or life got wrecked in their wake.

But there is a larger issue at stake here. And that is the security breach at the White House.

As others have pointed out, something went very wrong that could have exposed the President and India's Prime Minister to great harm. Although Secret Service issued a statement that all guests passed through multiple layers of security, including a magnometer, that begs the question that some of the worst threats, like bioterrorism, still could have gone undetected.

The White House does a good job of vetting guests. But any enterprise is only as good as its weakest link. And here its weakest link broke down badly.

Serious questions remain about what was going through the mind of the guard who allowed these people who were not on the White House guest list, and were therefore completely unvetted, to enter a secure area.

Given that it is common knowledge that President Obama has endured a historically high number of personal threats since early in his candidacy, it's highly unlikely that this was a routine slip up

I doubt I'm the only person questioning whether money crossed palms. And if so, did the Salahis act alone in offering a bribe or was the reality TV company involved?

I'm not saying that I know for sure that anything like that happened. But it sure better be one of the avenues being investigated because as well trained as the Secret Service is, I would have a lot of problems attributing this to mere carelessness on their part.

Please tell me I'm not alone in this.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


spotter said...

I attended two events with Obama where I did not have to go through security -- a rally and the inauguration. It really surprised me, and kind of frightened me, particularly in view of all the nutcases who have been stirred up by right-wing rhetoric..

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

I find it surprising that there was no security. I'm trying to remember when I attended a couple of rallies what the security was like. I seem to recall going through a magnometer and there being some Secret Service present. For the Inauguration, my husband had good seats. But I'm not sure what the security or vetting was.

In this case, though, it was in the White House, which should be harder to get into than the average government building. And this wasn't just am audience seat at a rally. It was up close and personal. Security should have been far better.

Anonymous said...

A conspiracy theory involving the Secret Service and/or Bravo isn't implausible, but it wasn't my first reaction. To me, the slip up seems to have been the lack of personnel from the Social Secretary's office stationed at the checkpoints to validate guests' presence. Chalk it up to an inexperience with throwing state dinners and a lack of contingency planning for uninvited guests who seemed like they could be legit, I suppose. Still, one would reasonably expect the Secret Service agents to exercise extreme caution, even if these two didn't have any weapons on their person...

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Good point 28thamendment. But I wasn't implying an actual conspiracy between the Secret Service and the TV show. I agree with you that that would be too far fetched. I was thinking more along the lines of the Salahis maybe slipping some money to one or two guards. And I was questioning whether the TV show might have subtly encouraged such behavior

I'll be the first to admit that it is sheer speculation. But good investigators must consider all angles even those that appear far fetched.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I find the words 'President Biden' almost as terrifying as 'President Palin.' I am actually grateful to these schmoes for - you said they 'seriously compromised White House security' - actually they exposed appalling flaws in White House security, and it's wonderful that they did so. This should result in the Secret Service, highly embarrassed, actually doing its job in future. Getting in to see the President should be at least as intrusive and unpleasant as getting onto an airplane. dave.s.

spotter said...

Well, the first event was before the Va. primary, and they waved us through security. (Somebody may have vouched for us.) After that, we went to other rallies and we did go through security. At the inauguration, my sister and I just walked onto the Mall below the Hirschhorn, and there was no security, which was pretty strange given all the problems with tickets that others had. Having grown up in D.C., and attended many such events, we were "traveling light" so that we could get through security quickly, but were never checked at all. I hope that security improves as a result of this event.

Jim from Centreville said...

I suspect what happened is when the Secret Service verified that the couple was not on the list, someone from the White House ended up vouching for them and the Secret Service caved. The couple's attendance at this type of event would not be completely unexpected - they were very familiar in dealing with A-level events. I suspect that many of the guests saw them as familiar faces even if they could not identify them by name.

Anonymous said...

If Obama isn't doing more to protect the White House what do you think is going on in the rest of the country.

Anonymous said...

I was relieved to find a well thought out statement with some reasonable explanations.

I take a bit of a leap here, but did you note that two of the five DC Housewives were prominent Republicans? Lisa Werner Spies is apparently Charlie Spies' wife, and he is the head of the RNC fundraising.

Wouldn't that give them the kind of power to have a pull from behind the scenes?

If so, I can only say that this smells of Karl Rove dirty tricks.

I certainly hope that they find the source and file criminal charges. Politics has gone far enough in dropping the ball on behalf of Americans. Let's not make it the type of sport that puts our President's life in danger.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

I have also heard that the Salahis made contributions to both Warner and Kaine so, yes, they probably had connections. And Tareq's father had a once successful winery, The Oasis, which the son had apparently run into the ground.

So the Salahis definitely had both wealth and connections at some point. That makes their behavior more reprehensible because these were people who had privelege and abused and squandered it. They wanted fame and fortune without making any real contribution or having any accomlishments. They were takers and users.

Isophorone said...

I think it boils down to miscommunication between the protocol office and the Secret Service. This, unfortunately, sometimes happens with new administrations with inexperienced staffers. Let's be thankful that no one was harmed, regardless of our political persuasion.

As far as the Salahis themselves go, they seem to be the kind of high-flying people who want to live beyond their means. Unfortunately, as you alluded with the winery, sometimes it becomes time to pay the piper.

By the way, I also read somewhere that the Salahis are big Pseudostinian supporters. Maybe it should surprise none of us that they would be welcomed in the White House.