WASHINGTON – The Secret Service director took full responsibility for the “human error” that allowed an uninvited couple to attend the Obamas' first state dinner Nov. 24.
Mark Sullivan said all blame could be placed on him as he testified at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing Thursday. Sullivan was the only witness.
Sullivan said three Secret Service employees have been placed on administrative leave and could face disciplinary action once an investigation is completed.
A criminal investigation is also underway,he said,causing him to not respond to some questions.
White House Social Security Desiree Rogers and Tareq and Michaele Salahi,the couple who crashed the dinner,were asked to testify,but were not at the hearing.
“I'm disappointed that the Salahis did not attend today,” said Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick,D-Ariz. “Perhaps it's because they were on the invited guest list.”
The Committee will pursue a subpoena for the Sahalis,but not Rogers,whose office doesn't handle security directly,said committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson,D-Miss. The White House told the Committee that administration staff members are not required to testify before Congress.
Nearly all of the 20 House members who questioned Sullivan said the blame should be shared between White House social secretary's office and the Secret Service.
The social secretary's office,which organized the dinner,should have had someone at security checkpoints,checking the guest list,where the Salahis were not listed,according to several committee members.
But Sullivan said it was decided at a security planning meeting before the dinner that White House staffers would be roving near the security checkpoints,but not stationed there. He did not know who came up with the idea.
After the Sahalis were found to not be on the list,they were allowed access anyway.
“Certain procedures and protocol were not followed,” Sullivan said. “This flaw has not changed our industry standard,which is to be right 100 percent of the time.”
Protocol would involve the agent contacting his or her direct supervisor about a name not on the list. The supervisor would then contact a White House staff member to decide on entrance,Sullivan said.
After the Salahis arrived at the dinner,Washington Post reporter Roxanne Roberts asked White House staffers about them because their names did not appear on the official guest list,which had been distributed to reporters. Yet,they remained at the party.
Sullivan,who became director in 2006,said the Secret Service vetted 1.2 million people entering the White House in the last year.
Guests at the dinner had access to President Barack Obama,Vice President Joe Biden and India's prime minister,who has recently been threatened by terrorists.
Committee members were also concerned about an e-mail from Tareq Salahi stating he knew of three couples who were on the guest list and would not be attending the dinner,including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his wife.
Sullivan said he didn't know how Salahi obtained that information.
The Secret Service learned of the Sahalis' attendance the following day,Sullivan said,because the couple posted photos of themselves in the White House on their joint Facebook page.