WASHINGTON — The FBI said Wednesday that a hand grenade hurled toward President Bush as he addressed a massive crowd in Tbilisi, Georgia, this month was a live device that could have exploded.
The Soviet-made fragmentation grenade, which landed within 100 feet of the president, failed to detonate only because the blasting cap malfunctioned, authorities said.
Georgia's security chief initially described the grenade as inactive and said there had been "no danger whatsoever" to the president.
U.S. officials said Wednesday that because American and Georgian officials were still jointly investigating the May 10 incident in the Georgian capital, they could not offer more details.
They said Georgia was offering a reward equivalent to about $11,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible, and they appealed to the public for videos or photographs of the event.
After the grenade-tossing incident in Tbilisi's Freedom Square, Georgian officials waited two hours before informing U.S. authorities. By then, Bush was already on his way home following a five-day trip to Latvia, the Netherlands, Russia and Georgia.
News of the incident became public shortly before Air Force One touched down on U.S. soil, but White House and Secret Service officials downplayed it and left open the possibility that the grenade was a dummy. Security authorities changed that assessment after inspecting the device.
Bush was informed of the FBI's conclusion that the grenade was live by senior staff Tuesday night, and then again Wednesday morning by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III as a part of the president's regular daily briefing.
Despite the Tbilisi incident, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Bush retained "full trust" in the Secret Service, which is charged with protecting the president.
The afternoon of the speech, tens of thousands of Georgians jammed into Tbilisi's central square to hear Bush. At entry points most distant from the speaker's platform, some overran security checkpoints.
The conclusion that the grenade was a live explosive device was announced in Tbilisi on Wednesday by C. Brian Paarmann, the FBI's legal attache at the U.S. Embassy there.
He said the grenade "simply failed to function due to a light strike on the blasting cap induced by a slow deployment of the spoon activation device." The spoon is the grenade's handle, which normally deploys after the pull ring is removed.
"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," he said.
A bulletproof shield had been mounted near the podium where Bush spoke, although there was a large gap directly in front of the microphone.
Georgian officials said the grenade had struck a young girl and fallen to the ground.
Although officials on Wednesday said little about the incident, a former high-ranking Secret Service official said protecting the president is particularly challenging when he is overseas.
The Secret Service does not have authority on foreign soil, said Bill Pickle, a former deputy assistant director of the Secret Service and now the U.S. Senate's sergeant at arms. When the president is abroad, he said in an interview, everything related to security is done "through negotiations with the foreign governments, which are usually very anxious to cooperate."
"So, most governments allow the Secret Service to do things like bring cars, electronic equipment to prevent bad things from happening, metal detectors, even K-9 dogs," said Pickle, who was the agent in charge of protecting former Vice President Al Gore.
Typically, those in a crowd closest to the president are screened the most thoroughly, Pickle said. One can assume that people in "the first 50 to 100 feet have been very thoroughly searched," he said.
In effect, they form a human buffer, he added. "Beyond that is the gray area -- you can't search a million people."
In the case of Tbilisi, Pickle said, had the grenade exploded, "the president probably would not have been in danger, but there certainly would have been civilian casualties."
Asked about his earlier statements that the president had not been in danger, McClellan, the press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday: "The Secret Service didn't consider him to be at that time. Obviously, we've learned more since."
Nevertheless, the spokesman said, "the Secret Service has the full trust of the president."
Times staff writer Richard B. Schmitt contributed to this report.