In case you didn't see it, the cast of "Saturday Night Live" performed a very funny skit this past weekend lampooning State Dinner crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi and the Secret Service.
In the sketch, the couple "attends" a presidential speech in Allentown, Pa., posing behind the podium as "President Barack Obama" speaks. The couple convinces Secret Service agents to take their picture as they preen beside the president. A few minutes later, "Vice President Joe Biden" enters the picture and poses with the couple while agents snap more photos. All the while Obama attends to his speech until Mrs. Salahi taps on his shoulder and asks him to take a photo of her, her husband, the vice president and the security detail.
This skit, found at www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/clips/obama-afghanistan-cold-open/1182362 would be hilarious if not for a Washington Post report published Monday that reveals there have been 91 security failures at the White House since 1980, according to a confidential Secret Service report.
Eight of the intruders had contact with the president or another person under Secret Service protection. The Salahis are among the eight. Worse yet was California minister Richard C. Weaver, who bypassed the presidential security at least three times in three successive administrations. In 2003, he was arrested after approaching President George W. Bush at a prayer breakfast.
According to the Washington Post article, the Secret Service has experienced increased numbers of "international, domestic and individual" threats since Bush 43 was in office. Security risks have remained elevated in the wake of the election of the nation's first African-American president.
Ninety-one security breaches seems like a lot, but there's no context for the number. Is it 91 security failures in thousands of attempts? Or do percentages really matter when it takes just one nut with a gun to assassinate the president?
President Ronald Reagan is the only U.S. president to be attacked in the past 30 years, when he was shot on the sidewalk outside a Washington, D.C., hotel by John W. Hinckley Jr. in 1981.
While threats to the most powerful man in the free world have been around as long as the presidency itself, it is rather mind-boggling that in the post-Sept. 11 world any unauthorized person could get that close to the president on his home turf.
Seriously, every time we board an airplane we have to take off our shoes and walk through screening machines, some of which are so sophisticated that screeners can tell if our bellybuttons are innies or outies. And people without proper credentials can stroll into the White House when a head of state is visiting?
Early in my career, I covered one of Reagan's visits to Colorado Springs. This was after Hinckley's assassination attempt so the security was intense. When some college students attempted to unfurl a paper banner to protest the administration's policy in Central America, they were tackled by agents and their poster was ripped to the ground. They were escorted from the arena in a matter of seconds.
Even as a member of the "credentialed" press, I had to go through three security checkpoints staffed by the most stern-faced human beings I have ever met.
Clearly, presidential appearances off the White House grounds call for a different level of security than those "on campus." When it comes to protecting the president of the United States or other protectees, there's no room for error in any venue.
As for the incident involving the Salahis, three officers have been placed on administrative leave and the agency is conducting an internal review of its procedures. A congressional investigation is under way.
What I still don't understand is how the Salahis managed to get in the door after their car was turned away at the White House gate, according to a first-person account by NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, who was an invited guest.
Were the Salahis just so charming — and Mrs. Salahi just so fetching in that red dress — that they just looked the part?
And what about the California minister? Wouldn't a person who has crashed even one presidential event be on some sort of watch list for the rest of their life? How does someone get three bites of the apple?
Or are Secret Service agents just like the rest of us, who are prone to moments of complacency in our responsibilities? The difference is, our "off" days do not result in such dire consequences.
Marjorie Cortez, who believes the efficiency of airline security could be enhanced if all passengers wore flannel pajamas and slippers, is a Deseret News editorial writer. E-mail her at [email protected]