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State dinner intruders embarrass unflappable Secret Service

An image made from Michaele Salahi's Facebook page shows a photo of, Tareq Salahi, left, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden and Michaele Salahi at the White House state dinner in Washington.

U.S. Secret Service agents don't smile - ever. But the career-limiting incompetence of one or more among them has given Americans something to guffaw over.

It seems the most formidable security detail in the world (or so we thought) allowed an uninvited couple of reality TV wannabes to waltz into a White House state dinner and schmooze with pretty much the entire presidential line of succession.

As Americans tucked into their Thanksgiving turkey dinners Thursday, a red-faced Secret Service began investigating how two polo-playing Virginia socialites - Michaele Salahi and her husband, Tareq - managed to whisk past its agents and coddle up to the high-powered honchos at President Barack Obama's Tuesday night fest honouring India's Prime Minister.

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Luckily, for the free world - India and the United States are the planet's biggest democracies - the Salahis didn't have un-American intentions. On the contrary, they were just seeking what every red-blooded American and every post- Slumdog Indian seems to want these days: They sought celebrity.

Needless to say, the Salahis will be on Larry King Live next week.

Ms. Salahi, it turns out, has been vying for one of the spots on Real Housewives of D.C., a planned capital version of the catty cable show that already chronicles the envious existences of overdone fortysomethings in four U.S. cities.

The Salahis appear to have waived their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination by posting pictures of their exploit on Facebook. Had they not, they might have gotten away with the stunt, having slipped out of the White House as effortlessly as they slipped in, just as guests were sitting down to their potato and eggplant appetizer.

They still had plenty of time before that to do cocktails, and get their picture snapped, with Vice-President Joe Biden, arm curved in a friendly clamp around the model-thin Ms. Salahi's waist. Mr. Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, also posed with the Salahis, though they identified him as "Ron" on Facebook.

A Secret Service spokesman told the Washington Post, which broke the story, that the agency had identified a "checkpoint which did not follow proper procedure to ensure these two individuals were on the invited guest list." But don't worry, he added, "everyone who enters the White House grounds goes through magnetometers and several other levels of screenings. … No one was under any risk or threat."

Is Mr. Emanuel, who is reported to have a mean temper, livid? Let's just say that the Secret Service agents responsible for the lapse are lucky not to have been on Mr. Emanuel's Thanksgiving dinner guest list. They'd have been the ones getting stuffed and basted.

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It's unclear whether the Obamas or Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were present for the pre-dinner hobnobbing on Tuesday night. But most of the rest of the power elite was. Mr. Biden, who is first in line to the presidency, was there. So was House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is second. As was most of Mr. Obama's cabinet - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (fourth in line), Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (fifth), Defence Secretary Robert Gates (sixth).

The only top member of the presidential line of succession who wasn't on the guest list was Robert Byrd, who is third in line by virtue of being the longest-serving Democratic member of the Senate. But he's 92 and not looking for a new job.

So just how much damage could the Salahis have done had they been determined al-Qaeda operatives instead of harmless Virginia socialites? How easy is it, anyway, to spike the drinks of the vice-president and members of the U.S. cabinet? Were there sharp objects of some kind within proximity, other than the olive skewers?

In 1995, our hapless Mounties failed to detect an intruder, equipped with a pocketknife, who made it all the way to the door of the master bedroom at 24 Sussex Dr. All that stood between the blade of the intruder's knife and a pajama-clad Jean and Aline Chrétien was the Inuit carving Mr. Chrétien grabbed in self-defence.

If the prime minister's residence has any extra pointy sculptures lying around, Stephen Harper may want to do the free world a favour and gift one to the Obamas.

A man among princes

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Aaron Barschak, 37, crashed Prince William's 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle in 2003 by climbing a tree, jumping onto a wall, and clambering to a terrace. Looking something like Osama bin Laden in drag with a pink dress, turban and fake beard, he was able to persuade police offices providing security that he was a legitimate guest, and managed to get on stage and give the prince a kiss on each cheek before being arrested.

New York state of mind

Gotham City socialites are so incensed by those who crash elite events that they've created a blog with photos of recent spottings to help door personnel weed out the great unwashed from the chosen few. It lists such legendary crashers as Priyantha Silva, who's known for getting drunk and hitting clumsily on cute young meringues while wearing loud shirts, sweating profusely and impersonating magazine editors. There's also Steve Kaplan, aka Shaggy, who's identifiable by his greying mop of blond curls and known to crash events are small as private birthday parties in the Hamptons for fewer than 40 people.

The dean of party crashers

Jerry Berliant, a 60-something disbarred Chicago traffic-court lawyer, has been billed as the World's Greatest Gate Crasher. His specialty is major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, World Series and prize fights, but he's also crashed the Oscars, Cannes film festival parties and less glittering events in Chicago such as the election party for Mayor Richard Daley. There's even a rumour he was at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

Sources: Staff

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