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Clipboardgate and White House Security

11/29/2009

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With all the high security technology at its disposal, the White House reportedly still relies on the old fashioned clipboard to check the guest list for those officially invited to State dinners.  Staffers who may have referred to written notes as Michaele and Tareq Salahi entered what are supposed to be among the most protected grounds in Washington on November 24 would have relied on an old, and outdated method, to make sure those who are not authorized to attend are kept out by the Secret Service.  Sorry, but the clipboard system is just not effective.

The White House claims Mr. and Mrs. Salai were not on the guest list.  Whoever was present from the Secret Service did not, by initial accounts, take the additional step to check portable or tablet computers to make sure the couple was authorized to enter the State dinner.  Apparently they did not use their mobile smart phones or radio communication system to contact other officials who could quickly verify the background and clearance of the Salahi’s.  Instead, security officials allegedly only looked at papers on a clipboard and did not see the couple’s names before the telling security breach at the east end of heavily fortified White House complex. 

According to Politico.com on November 28, which quoted the AP, the White House Office of the Social Secretary did not have a representative present at the security checkpoint initially crashed by the fame seeking couple.  If not present in person, Social Secretary staff could have been electronically contacted within an instant.  Any last minute changes, inquiries or updates to the authorized guest list could be noted for all involved to see, at any checkpoint.  However, based upon media accounts, that was not done at the initial security entrance.  If someone was present from the Social Secretary’s office in the East Wing visitor portal, a second opportunity to use a laptop or phone to avert this embarrassment was missed.

If potential visitors are not on the official list, simple technology provides quick opportunities to make sure they are allowed to gain entrance or signal they are trying to trespass.  If readers of this blog can use a laptop or cell phone, surely the same can be utilized by those checking out individuals seeking to gain entry to Executive Mansion events. It is no excuse that it was raining that night and people wanted to get inside quickly.

The incident highlights a missed opportunity to use technology, at the highest levels. Instead, Salahi and his wife got within inches of the President, the Vice President, the First Lady and the Indian Prime Minister.  Using a laptop and the right database, an e-mail…or even simple texting (with or without MMS), could have averted this serious security breach.  Clipboard lists just do not provide the immediacy of last minute verification. This is not 1961; we are no longer dealing with Selectric typewriters.

 

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This incident is not the first time the Executive Branch has been slow to use available technology.  When President Clinton entered the White House in 1992, there was dismay on the part of his staff at the lack of faxes, beepers, voice mail, lap tops and high speed e-mail.  Since then, our technology is faster and more capable.  Of all venues in the nation, the White House should be using the latest secure and proven technologies.  No matter what the capabilities, such devices and the immediate information they can provide are of no use if simply ignored.

The technology gap demonstrated in advance of the Obama Administration’s first state dinner is curious.  The White House complex is full of intricate detection devices and systems to prevent intruders, but old fashioned thinking and clipboards do not fulfill the mission of protecting the Chief Executive.  Any lack of security and adherence to procedures at the White House is a shared emergency for us all.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. David Weiss permalink
    12/06/2009 11:05 pm

    Excellent article. Agree with the position on all grounds. Keep up the insightful investigative comment.

  2. 12/07/2009 9:14 am

    Mitch: good stuff. Bob

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