WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Secret Service is investigating how two White House gatecrashers beat several layers of security to attend a state dinner with President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The Secret Service, in charge of White House security, is “conducting a comprehensive review of the incident which occurred at the White House State Dinner” late Tuesday, Special Agent Edwin Donovan told AFP.
The couple, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, boasted of turning up to the event on their joint Facebook page with the message “honored to be at the White House for the state dinner in honor of India with President Obama and our First Lady!”
Sporting a black dinner jacket and a flowing red and gold sari respectively, the couple posted photos posing with Vice President Joe Biden, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and even three uniformed marines.
The breach could not have come during a more embarrassing occasion for the Secret Service than the dinner attended by 300 high-profile guests, a major event in Washington’s social calendar.
The White House pulled out all the stops, pitching a large marquee on the south lawn, decking tables with fuchsia and sweet pea arrangements and tall candles and drafting the National Symphony Orchestra to supply music.
An official White House guest list, which did not include the Salahis, read like a who’s who of the US security establishment. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among those invited.
Other notables included film director Steven Spielberg, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, socialite Jhumpa Lahiri and spiritual guru Deepak Chopra.
“Initial findings identified a Secret Service checkpoint which did not follow proper procedures to ensure that the two individuals named… were on the invited guest list,” Donovan said.
He emphasized that the couples “went through magnetometers and other levels of security, as did all guests attending the dinner.”
The Washington Post described the couple as polo-playing socialites and aspiring reality TV stars from nearby northern Virginia.
The pairs’ other Facebook photos showed a penchant for posing with the rich and famous, with past shots appearing to show them with polo-loving Prince Charles, President Obama, former president Bill Clinton, former presidential candidate John McCain, television stars Oprah Winfrey and Bill Cosby and former astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
Michaele Salahi’s photos show her as a former Washington Redskins’ cheerleader and posing in a skimpy dress for the cover of a local style magazine.
Former White House homeland security advisor Frances Fragos Townsend said the couple could now face jail for lying to officials.
“If you lie to a federal official, either secret service or the social secretary, if they lied their way to get in, and it seems they would have had to have done that, that’s a federal felony,” she told CNN.