On Sept. 6, 1901, President William McKinley was greeting the public in a receiving line at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y.
At the time, the Secret Service was not the official security team assigned to protect the president, but several agents were on hand that day to serve in that role, along with local law enforcement and several soldiers.
McKinley stood and shook hands for a few minutes. Then it was Leon Czolgosz's turn in line.
As the president went to shake Czolgosz's hand, the self-proclaimed anarchist produced a pistol and fired two shots into McKinley. The agents pounced on Czolgosz, but the damage was already done.
Eight days later, the 25th president of the United States was dead.
That was 108 years ago. After McKinley's assassination, the Secret Service was officially charged with the protection of the president. We've developed metal detectors, body scanners, fingerprint, retinal and facial recognition software, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Terabytes of information about people are stored on the Web. The average Joe can pay a few dollars and find out pretty much anything he wants to know about another person, from basics like address and telephone number to private stuff like prison records and income level. And that's just what's available to me and you. Imagine what the federal government must be able to find out with its resources.
And yet, despite all our progress, two party crashers were not only let into a White House state dinner on Nov. 24, but they were able to meet the president and shake his hand.
Now these two clowns seem to think it's a big joke, all a part of their bid to be on "reality" TV. They have a publicist and an attorney. They're making the rounds on television. They have "respectfully declined" to testify at a congressional hearing. (Bet that goes over like a lead balloon.)
Yes, to Tareq and Michaele Salahi, it seems to be no big deal. But they couldn't be more wrong.
All we need is one John Walker Lindh the American Taliban or one Nidal Hasan the accused Fort Hood shooter to "crash" the party. All we need is for one nutjob to get past security, slip a steak knife in his pocket, walk up to the receiving line, and ... I think you get the picture.
When I cover NASCAR for the Daily Post, I have to display multiple passes and IDs at all times, and those passes are checked at numerous points. I've even been kicked out of a couple of areas for standing in the wrong place without the right pass. That's at a racetrack, where the most important people are country boys who drive fast.
The Salahis were able to walk into the White House, mingle with leaders and get their picture made with the most powerful man in the world.
And they didn't even have an invitation.
The security of the president by now should be leaps and bounds ahead of what it was in 1901. That team didn't have any of the gizmos and information available today, so you can sort of understand how a man could sneak a weapon in and use it on McKinley. But there's no excuse for unauthorized people gaining access to the president in 2009, especially in his home.
There's also no excuse for these people trying it in the first place, but hey, reality TV calls and nothing is sacred anymore anyway.
Not event the security of the president of the United States.
E-mail Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays.