WASHINGTON - Long before a pair of gate-crashers penetrated a White House state dinner, the Secret Service had detailed for its internal use a lengthy list of security breaches dating to the Carter administration, including significant failures in the agency's protection of the president.
A summary of a secret 2003 report obtained by the Washington Post, along with descriptions of more recent incidents by federal homeland security officials, places Tareq and Michaele Salahi squarely in a rogues' gallery of autograph hounds, publicity seekers, unstable personalities, and others identified by the Secret Service as defeating its checkpoints at least 91 times since 1980.
The document, the most complete accounting of recent Secret Service security breakdowns, includes officers mistakenly admitting to the White House grounds a family in a minivan, a man believed to be a delivery driver, and a woman previously known to agents after she had falsely claimed a "special relationship" with Bill Clinton.
The list of perimeter breaches indicates that intruders reached the president or another person under Secret Service protection eight times since 1980, including the Salihis. Four of the incidents involved the same man.
The only assailant to injure a president in the last three decades was John Hinckley, who shot and wounded Ronald Reagan in 1981 from outside the security perimeter set by the Secret Service.
Nevertheless, the list of security breaches exposes significant gaps that could be exploited by would-be assassins, the document states, and erode "one of the best tools for deterring future attempts" - the aura of invulnerability around the White House.
A Secret Service official confirmed the authenticity of the unclassified document and said it had been used to train agents and officers. Spokesman Edwin Donovan noted that in 2008 alone, the agency successfully protected 34 top U.S. leaders and 222 U.N. General Assembly dignitaries, as well as some of the officials' spouses and relatives, at thousands of locations in the United States and abroad.
The agency is entering what it calls a sustained period of elevated "international, domestic and individual" threats, protecting Barack Obama, the country's first African American president, and its two most recent wartime leaders, former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney.
After the appearance at last month's state dinner by the Salahis, who got through White House gates without being on a confirmation list, the Secret Service has launched a criminal investigation into the couple and a sweeping internal review of security procedures.
The security lapses show how difficult it is to stop determined intruders, often mentally ill, even as it notes that violent or commando-style raids have not occurred and that terrorists or organized adversaries are unlikely to risk a head-on attack.
Tightened White House security measures - after the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing, and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks - have reduced the number of intruders able to break through Secret Service protective lines, agency officials said.