White House accepts some blame in gatecrasher saga

WASHINGTON Wed Dec 2, 2009 6:20pm EST

Tareq and Michaele Salahi pose for a photographer as they prepare for a photo shoot with other models at Halcyon House in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington December 1, 2009. One week after the couple drew international attention by getting into U.S. President Barack Obama's first state dinner at the White House in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh without an invitation, they denied on Tuesday that they had gate-crashed the high-security gala. The White House continues to state that the Salahis were not invited to the dinner. REUTERS/Robert Devaney

Tareq and Michaele Salahi pose for a photographer as they prepare for a photo shoot with other models at Halcyon House in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington December 1, 2009. One week after the couple drew international attention by getting into U.S. President Barack Obama's first state dinner at the White House in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh without an invitation, they denied on Tuesday that they had gate-crashed the high-security gala. The White House continues to state that the Salahis were not invited to the dinner.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Devaney

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Wednesday shouldered some of the blame for an embarrassing breach of security that permitted an uninvited couple to gatecrash President Barack Obama's debut state dinner last week.

In the latest twist to a saga, the White House said it would in the future ensure that White House staff are physically stationed alongside Secret Service agents to screen guests at official events.

"After reviewing our actions, it is clear that the White House did not do everything we could have done to assist the United States Secret Service in ensuring that only invited guests enter the complex," White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina said in a memo released to the media.

The incident, which has an international dimension because the gatecrashers were within feet of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and they shook hands with Obama, has already drawn a rare public apology from the Secret Service, and Messina reiterated they had been at fault.

"As the Secret Service said last week, agents failed to verify that these two individuals were invited guests before they entered the White House," he said.

The couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, deny they crashed the party and insisted during a television appearance on Tuesday they had been invited guests, a claim the White House has flatly denied.

Daily White House media briefings have been swamped with questions about who was at fault for the error since it emerged last Wednesday, almost crowding out queries about Obama's strategy to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban.

(Reporting by Alister Bull)

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