Secret Service officers on leave for gatecrashing
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Three U.S. Secret Service officers were put on paid leave for their role in letting an uninvited couple breeze into President Barack Obama's debut state dinner last week, where they shook hands with the president and had smiling photos taken with various officials.
Secret Service director Mark Sullivan, who spent the morning being grilled over the security breach by lawmakers at a hearing on Capitol Hill, said the agency had identified the agents who had worked the security checkpoint.
"Established procedures related to entering the White House were not followed at the initial checkpoint," Sullivan told a House of Representatives committee. "A mistake was made. In our line of work we cannot afford even one mistake."
Sullivan took responsibility for the security breach that cleared Michaele Salahi, an aspiring reality TV contestant, and her husband Tareq in to the dinner without an invitation, calling it "unacceptable and indefensible."
Even though the Salahis had not received a coveted invitation to the elaborate dinner party in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, they managed to talk their way through the Secret Service checkpoint.
The officers failed to follow procedures that require them to call a member of the White House staff if they are approached by people seeking entry who are not on the guest list, Sullivan said.
But he said Obama and Singh were never in danger.
The Salahis shot to fame after news organizations picked up on pictures plastered on their Facebook page showing the couple at the state dinner posing with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Marines guarding the White House.
The Salahis have claimed they did not crash the party but were invited guests. They refused to testify at the hearing and the House Homeland Security committee is preparing to subpoena them to force them to testify.
Obama told USA Today that he "could not have more confidence in the Secret Service" despite the security breach.
(Reporting by Deborah Charles, editing by Vicki Allen)
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