An intruder was able to jump the fence and enter the White House due to lapses by the U.S. Secret Service, including an officer making a personal phone call at the wrong moment and poor communications, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security.
The Secret Service failed to provide adequate training, deployed radio systems that didn’t work properly, and inadequately staffed its uniformed division, which protects the White House grounds, according to the report.
In the September incident, 42-year-old Army veteran Omar Gonzalez scaled the White House fence with a knife in his pocket and wasn’t stopped until he was inside and near the stairs to the president’s residence. The episode set the stage for the resignation of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, the first woman to hold that job.
The report provides the fullest accounting yet of the debacle.
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Among the blunders: A uniformed officer who had an attack dog was late responding to the incident because he was on his personal mobile phone and wasn’t wearing his radio earpiece, according to the report. The dog didn’t have enough time to lock on to the suspect.
The report revealed that another officer assumed the White House door was locked because it was closed – it wasn’t, and there’s no automatic remote locking mechanism. At least one officer didn’t understand how the radio system worked, and others didn’t spot the intruder because their view was blocked by a construction project.
The last line of defense also failed. An officer, who didn’t know that the alarm at her post near the doors had been muted, realized too late that someone was attempting to get into the executive mansion, according to the report. As she tried to secure the doors, Gonzalez barreled through, knocking her over.
Gonzalez entered the East Room, then began walking down a hallway toward the grand piano on the State Floor, where he was finally subdued by an officer aided by two agents.
President Barack Obama had left the White House shortly before the incident.
In response to the report, the Secret Service is undertaking “a series of training, staffing, communication, tactical and intelligence gathering enhancements,” said Ed Donovan, a spokesman.
The agency is determined to make the changes needed “to regain the trust of the American people,” Donovan said.
Lawmakers said the report shows changes are needed at the agency.
“Everything that could have gone wrong that evening did,” Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the House Judiciary committee, said in a statement.
Representative Michael McCaul said he introduced legislation to create a panel to conduct a full review of the agency.
“Rather than investigating one specific incident, this independent panel will take a hard look at the Secret Service as a whole, and make specific recommendations to ensure the Secret Service has the best possible leadership structure, internal policies, tools, and resources to meet its mission,” said McCaul, a Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Bloomberg News obtained an executive summary of Homeland Security’s report, which was earlier reported on by the New York Times.
The probe was conducted by investigators in the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The department has another review being conducted by a panel of outside experts, and the Secret Service has conducted its own internal probe.