The FBI said yesterday that a hand grenade tossed within 100 feet of President Bush in Tbilisi, Georgia, last week was a “live device that simply failed to function.”
Previously, Georgian police said the device was a fake grenade that posed no threat to the president as he delivered a pro-democracy speech May 10 to a crowd of at least 150,000 in Freedom Square.
“We consider this act to be a threat against the health and welfare of both the president of the United States and the president of Georgia, as well as the multitude of Georgian people that had turned out at this event,” said C. Bryan Paarmann, the FBI’s legal attache at the U.S. Embassy in Georgia.
“This hand grenade appears to be a live device that simply failed to function due to a light strike on the blasting cap, induced by a slow deployment of the spoon activation device,” he added.
Mr. Bush, who never saw the grenade and did not learn of it until after he left Tbilisi, was told by aides Tuesday evening that the ordnance had been live after all. He received further details yesterday morning in a briefing by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and homeland security adviser Fran Townsend.
The White House has acknowledged that security protocols broke down at the event when throngs of people proceeded through barricades and became part of the audience without passing through metal detectors.
“The people that were closer in to the president had all gone through a sweep, or been through the magnetometer,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said last week. “The people further out that were further back from where the president was may not have been.”
That left open the possibility of a determined assailant working his way through the crowd toward the stage, where Mr. Bush was joined by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.
According to the FBI, the grenade was wrapped in a dark-colored handkerchief and bounced off a woman after it was thrown by an unknown assailant. Mr. Paarmann announced a reward of $11,000 for information “leading to the arrest and conviction of this individual.”
The incident could lead to changes in security protocols for Mr. Bush’s future trips abroad. For example, a presidential speech could be canceled if crowd members are unscreened.
“Those are all issues that the Secret Service will look at and take into consideration for future events,” Mr. McClellan said. “The Secret Service is always looking at ways to make sure they’re doing everything they can to protect the president of the United States.”
Meanwhile, the investigation in Tbilisi is being jointly pursued by the FBI and Georgian authorities.
The White House declined to say whether Mr. Bush was rattled by the incident and refused to criticize the Secret Service.
“The president has full trust in the Secret Service and appreciates the job that they do,” Mr. McClellan said.