Another Secret Service Breach Put Armed Man With Criminal Record In Elevator With Obama

The security lapses at the Secret Service just continue to mount.

Obama With Secret Service

Just a day after revelations that the man who jumped the White House fence a week ago made it further into the building than initially reportedThe Washington Post is now reporting that another security breach this month put an armed man with a criminal record on an elevator with the President during a visit to Atlanta:

A security contractor with a gun and three prior convictions for assault and battery was allowed on an elevator with President Obama during a Sept. 16 trip to Atlanta, violating Secret Service protocols, according to three people with familiarity of the incident.

The incident occurred as Obama appeared at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis.

The contractor did not comply when Secret Service agents asked him to stop using a phone camera to videotape the president in the elevator, according to the people familiar with the incident.

Agents questioned him, and used a database check to learn of his criminal history.

When a supervisor from the private security firm approached and learned of the agents’ concern, the contractor was fired on the spot and agreed to turn over his gun — surprising agents, who had not realized he was armed during his encounter with Obama.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said he was appalled when whistleblowers came forward to him with this account. The Washington Post confirmed details of the event with other people familiar with the review.

“You have a convicted felon within arms reach of the president and they never did a background check,” Chaffetz said. “Words aren’t strong enough for the outrage I feel for the safety of the President and his family. ”

He added: “His life was in danger. This country would be a different world today if he had pulled out his gun.”

Ordinarily, of course, someone with a criminal record, no less someone who is armed, is not supposed to get anywhere near the President, and certainly not in the same elevator. Even with the agents that were protecting him at the time, Congressman Chaffetz is no doubt correct that something truly horrible could have happened that day if this person had had nefarious intentions. Perhaps even more disturbing, though, is the fact that the agents charged with protecting the President on his visit to the CDC were not aware that this contractor was armed at the time he was near the President. That strikes me as being the very definition of a security breach that raises yet more questions about what exactly is going on with the Secret Service these days.

These revelations came on the same day that the head of the agency, along with other officials, was testifying before Congress in a hearing that drew ire and sharp questioning from both Republicans and Democrats:

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday assailed Julia Pierson, the director of the Secret Service, about security breaches at the White House, including an intruder who earlier this month breached multiple security measures and evaded capture as he ran around the first floor of the mansion.

Ms. Pierson said in opening statements before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that she took full responsibility for the breaches and she pledged that “what happened is unacceptable and it will never happen again.” But her promise of a comprehensive review of the incidents appeared to do little to satisfy members of the committee.

Representative Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts, lashed into Ms. Pierson, saying that he did not believe the Secret Service takes seriously its duty to protect the president. He said he had “very low confidence” in her leadership.

“I wish to God that you protected the White House like you’re protecting your reputation right now,” Mr. Lynch said.

Throughout the first several hours of the hearing, Ms. Pierson spoke mostly in a steady monotone, exhibiting little emotion as lawmakers questioned her leadership and criticized the performance of her agency. At times, the 30-year veteran of the Secret Service appeared flustered as lawmakers pressed her for short, quick answers.

Ms. Pierson repeatedly acknowledged that “mistakes were made,” a phrase that failed to capture the anger and frustration of many of the lawmakers. Representative Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, told Ms. Pierson that he did not “get a sense of outrage” from her about what happened.

She responded, “We all are outraged.”

Several members severely criticized the agency for its response on Sept. 19, when Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, made his way deep inside the president’s residence, armed with a serrated knife. Under intense and sometimes combative questioning, Ms. Pierson said, “I do not think the security plan was properly executed.”

(…)

Lawmakers at the hearing also accused Ms. Pierson and other officials at the Secret Service of misleading Congress and the public about how far inside the White House Mr. Gonzalez got before being captured. Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, demanded to know why Secret Service officials had told reporters that Mr. Gonzalez was stopped just inside the front doors of the mansion.

Ms. Pierson said that she had read the agency’s news release before it went out on Sept. 20, but that she could not speak for conversations she was not a part of.

In response to repeated questions about the recent intrusion, Ms. Pierson offered new details about the moments before Mr. Gonzalez was finally captured. She said he made his way through the unlocked front doors, “knocked back” an agent inside the building, and then continued through the Entrance Hall, turned left into the Cross Hall, got a few steps inside the East Room, and was finally tackled back in the Cross Hall, just outside the Green Room.

Under early, sharp questioning from Representative Darrell Issa of California, the Republican chairman of the committee, Ms. Pierson said that an outer glass door at the North Portico remained unlocked after the intruder breached the fence and that an inner, wooden door was in the process of being hand-locked when the intruder came through the doors. The intruder knocked the officer back and proceeded down the hallway, she said.

Ms. Pierson said the Secret Service had since installed an automatic lock on the door, which drew a tongue-in-cheek response from Mr. Issa.

“We learn from our mistakes,” he said.

(…)

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democratic delegate from the District of Columbia, called for a “top-to-bottom investigation” into the most recent incident at the White House, but she said Ms. Pierson’s continued tenure at the agency was just one issue.

“I do not regard this matter as a mere issue of personnel,” Ms. Holmes Norton said. “I think it goes far deeper than that.”

Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, said the intruder incident raised questions about the “competence and culture” of the Secret Service. He said Ms. Pierson must be more forthcoming about answering the questions.

“I hate to even imagine what could have happened if Gonzalez had been carrying a gun instead of a knife when he burst inside the White House,” Mr. Cummings said. “That possibility is extremely unsettling.”

The Committee also questioned Pierson and the other witnesses about the 2011 incident in which a man fired shots at the White House from Constitution Avenue, something that the Secret Service didn’t confirm until several days later despite the fact that both of the President’s children were either in the building or arriving when it occurred. With regard to that incident, Pierson said that the matter hand been referred to the agency’s internal affairs division in the wake of a scathing internal report on the matter. Throughout questioning on that topic, though, she didn’t seem to be able to provide a cogent explanation for how it came to be that the fact that the White House had been hit by multiple bullets on November 11, 2011 and that this fact didn’t come to light until broken glass was found by housekeepers cleaning the area near the Truman Balcony. There was also much criticism of the manner in which the agency handled previous encounters with Omar Gonzalez, the man who was apprehended in the East Room earlier this month, including one in which rifles with telescopic sights and a map of Washington D.C. were found in his car. Instead of charging him, or placing him under enhanced scrutiny, the agency apparently just let Gonzalez go with no further obvious action. Until, of course, they apprehended him in the White House.

It’s hard to know for sure exactly what’s going on with the Secret Service, but it’s obvious that there’s something going wrong. In just the last several years, we’ve seen two gate crashers make it into a State Dinner without an invitation or having been cleared by the agency in advance, a number of agents involved in encounters with prostitutes in Colombia, and apparently, at least one incident in which an agent who was supposed to be on duty outside of the President’s hotel room on a trip falling asleep on the job, Add into that the numerous fence jumpers that we have had just in the past year, all of which have been apprehended before getting anywhere close to the building until Mr. Gonzalez, and it’s beginning to look like a serious lapse in security by an agency that is supposed to be the best trained security team in the world. There have been some suggestions that the agency has experienced budgetary issues in recent years, but the only apparent impact that has had has been to delay the start of a couple groups of academy candidates; there’s been no real suggestion that it has any impact on training or readiness of agents that are on duty. Another suggestion is that the culture of the agency has changed since it was moved from the Treasury Department, where it had been since its founding, to the Department of Homeland Security. One problem with that hypothesis, though, is that the transfer of authority happened in 2003 and its only been in the last four years or so that these security lapses have become apparent. It’s possible, of course, that there were incidents before 2010 that we’re not aware of, but right now it doesn’t seem like there’s any evidence that DHS supervision is impacting the agency. All of that suggests, then, that this may well be a failure of leadership and that people like Pierson may need to go and be replaced with people better able to lead the agency. Whatever the reason, though, this is obviously something we ought to get to the bottom of to sooner rather than later.’

Update 11/1/2014: Subsequent reporting from The Washington Post now indicates that the person who was on the elevator did not have a criminal record. He was, however, apparently not authorized to be on the elevator or in the immediate presence of the President.

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FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, National Security, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    Fire the head of the Secret Service and get someone in there that can turn things around. This is looking more and more like a very bad accident waiting to happen.

  2. Ordinarily, of course, someone with a criminal record, no less someone who is armed, is not supposed to get anywhere near the President, and certainly not in the same elevator.

    Presidents meet people with criminal records all the time…

  3. @Stormy Dragon:

    Yes but usually the Secret Service knows about it beforehand and has cleared the person in question. It’s not at all clear that happened here, and the fact that they didn’t know he was armed is certainly a big deal.

  4. Rusty Shackleford says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    I think he meant Darrell Issa

  5. Mikey says:

    WTF is Pierson still doing there? She should have resigned yesterday. She didn’t, so the President should fire her.

    “Mistakes were made.” Gotta love the passive-voice in that one. These things just happen, apparently.

    Ms. Pierson needs to be gone. Now. It’s obvious she isn’t competent in the position.

  6. Eric Florack says:

    I am reminded of the Bill Murray movie, ‘stripes’.

    “One of these men may save your life one of these days, understand?”
    “Then again, maybe one of us won’t.”

    We have been seeing reports that Obama, like Clinton and Carter before him, tend to treat the SS and the military detatchments like dog crap. (Starbucks Salute, anyone?)

    Itd be human nature to be somewhat less concerned, I suppose.

    There are two ways to take this… either Obama and his people hand picked the SS people responsible for his secuirty,or they didnt. if they did, then perhaps the american people’s overwhelming distrust of Obama on matters of security in particular, is well founded. If they didnt, then we have more incompetancy in the white house other than the president.

    all that said, it seems to me the bigger danger of this incompetancy leads to an even bigger one… President Joe Biden. Obama may be marching in the wrong direction, but as wrong as he is, he at least has a clue what he wants to do. Biden has no such advantage. the only reason Bidens skull is intact is because its thick enough to withstand the massive amount of vaccum within.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    I listened to some of it on the radio while driving my kids to school. Two points:

    1) If you just listen to her voice, Julia Pierson sounds exactly like Holly Hunter.

    2) If Holly Hunter was kind of an idiot.

    Do you know how incoherent and clueless you have to be to sound dumber than Congress people? Some of those Congress people are classed with mollusks on the IQ charts. Then again, maybe Eleanor Holmes Norton was drunk not simply incapable of forming a complete sentence.

    This is serious because it affects deterrence. Keystone Cops ain’t half of it.

  8. wr says:

    @Eric Florack: “We have been seeing reports that Obama, like Clinton and Carter before him, tend to treat the SS and the military detatchments like dog crap. (Starbucks Salute, anyone?)”

    Yeah, that’s the line that Republicans spread about any Democrat in the White House, and then we’re all supposed to believe that the president exists to make the Secret Service happy, not that the SS exists to keep the president safe.

    Of course you spread it every time. You may even believe it. Which is what’s so sad about you.

  9. Eric Florack says:

    @wr: Its not a matter of making the SS happy, as much as the ability to work well with others. I guess that’s a real issue, though, when you are omnipotent.

  10. anjin-san says:

    @Eric Florack:

    american people’s overwhelming distrust of Obama

    Hey the American people overwhelmingly want to increase taxes on the rich – that must mean it’s the right thing to do then, no?

  11. anjin-san says:

    @ Florak

    So what you are trying to say is that you are simply not capable of anything beyond partisan rants informed (if you can call it that) mainly by bottom feeding right wing websites…

  12. Matt says:

    @Eric Florack: Salute with a dog in your hand? Fine.. Salute with a cup in your hand while being a D? OMG THAT”S THE WORST THIGN EVA!!!

  13. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Jesus Effing Christ.

    A guy with THREE violent felonies on his record gets a gun.

    A guy with THREE violent felonies on his record gets hired for a “security” job.

    A guy with THREE violent felonies on his record and a gun on his person gets into an elevator with Obama.

    Why the hell do we even have a Secret Service for, anyway? Admittedly, presidential protection wasn’t their first task when formed, but it IS their highest-profile duty. It’s what everyone thinks of first when they hear “Secret Service.”

    Maybe we should think about trashing that entire division, let them worry about counterfeiters, and give the job to the FBI or some other agency.

  14. Tillman says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: With all these high profile snafus on their bodyguard docket lately, I keep wondering if the Secret Service agents that track down counterfeiters are just having the most amazing year of success.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    A guy with THREE violent felonies on his record gets a gun.

    You don’t really pay much attention to the gun control issue, do you?

  16. Guarneri says:

    What difference, at this point, does it make!?

  17. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Some of those Congress people are classed with mollusks on the IQ charts.

    That is an insult to mollusks, some of them are very smart.

  18. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @michael reynolds: I’m assuming that since he was employed as a “security” type, he got the gun through at least semi-legal means. His employer has a LOT of questions to answer, too.

  19. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Hold on just a second. The fact that he has 3 violent felonies does not automatically mean that they are firearms related felonies. Additionally, if he is not on probation or parole–i.e. he served his complete sentence–in some states there is no provision for the government denying him his constitutional rights under the 2nd Amendment.

    You may need to decide which side of the 2nd Amendment debate you want to be on. Right now, you seem to be making waffles. Now, I like waffles but still in all…

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @Grewgills:
    I’m even more surprised that there are scientists in Naples. Even Sicilians will tell you to steer clear of Naples.

  21. Stonetools says:

    It’s just time for Pierson to go.
    That said, wacky things have happened at the White House before. Remember the small plane that crashed on White House grounds a few years ago? And the two or maybe three assassination attempts on Ford?
    I think we ought to re-examine the ludicrous argument that cuts in funding don’t have any effect on readiness or quality of training.

  22. Eric Florack says:

    @anjin-san: My irony meter just melted…. you talking about partisanship. Bloody amazing.

    Tell you what… let’s see you give us an example of how Baden got where his is by smarts.
    And let’s consider that the guy who chose Biden is the same one who chose the security contingent and who chose the head of the SS. He’s also the one who told us AQ was dead, and we didn’t need to be in the middle east anymore.

    I mean, do I really have to spell this out any further, or do this epic failures give you a clue as to the morons you’re so set on defending?

  23. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: Where do I stand on the 2nd Amendment is irrelevant here. Most states say that people convicted of at least one violent felony can’t legally own a gun, and this guy has three violent felonies on his record.

    Apparently the guy was fired on the spot, but it gets even more interesting. The CDC is hiring a private security firm that issues guns to felons who have a history of multiple violent felonies. I’d assumed that the federal government has rules that say you’re not supposed to do that, and that Georgia had laws governing giving firearms to convicted felons.

    The more I think about it, the less I’m blaming the Secret Service here. Oh, there’s still some blame to go around, but I’m thinking at least some of the blame should go on the CDC (for hiring the firm with such crappy standards) and the firm itself.

  24. Eric Florack says:

    Oh, and by the way…. let’s inject a bit more reality, here.
    For all the fear about a guy with a gun…. did he actually use the thing?

    Um.. no, he was busy taking fan photos. Big threat, here.
    But, since we’ve seen this administration, like the one before it, tell us that Islam is peaceful, it seems that’s the real issue…. a lack of ability in threat identification.

    (By the way, apologies for the typos in the previous reply….. forgot spell checker was on auto, and sometimes it comes up with some odd replacements for the context)

  25. Just Me says:

    The SS seems to have developed a complacency.

    I realize that it can’t always be perfect and there are times they may miss something but a background check of security personnel seems pretty standard and isn’t quite the same as a spur of the moment security breach.

    Also, it seems pretty incompetent to not realize the security guy was armed.

    Right now they seem to have a lot of excuses but the culture in the organization seems to be slack and the SS is the last place you want slack work.

    If I were he president Ms Pierson would be out of a job.

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Eric Florack: Actually it would help if you became literate first because you don’t seem to be aware of even a quarter of what is really happening in the world.

  27. anjin-san says:

    @Eric Florack:

    He’s also the one who told us AQ was dead,

    Perhaps you could provide a cite to this from a credible source 🙂

  28. wr says:

    @Eric Florack: “let’s see you give us an example of how Baden got where his is by smarts.”

    That sound you just heard was the world’s irony meter exploding.

  29. gVOR08 says:

    From the Cuba thread C. Clavin

    “I was with Henry Kissinger last night,” O’Reilly told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

    @Stonetools:

    Remember the small plane that crashed on White House grounds a few years ago?

    Bad joke from the time – George runs across the White House lawn shouting, “De plane, boss. De plane.”

  30. al-Ameda says:

    @Eric Florack:

    We have been seeing reports that Obama, like Clinton and Carter before him, tend to treat the SS and the military detatchments like dog crap. (Starbucks Salute, anyone?)

    Speaking of which. …
    You just left us here at OTB with one big steaming pile of crap right there. By the way, are you wearing an American Flag lapel pin today? Did you say the Pledge of Allegiance before you uploaded that opinion?

  31. michael reynolds says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Yes, but he knows all of what Rush Limbaugh is telling him. And really, isn’t that all the reality you need?

  32. anjin-san says:

    @Eric Florack:

    My irony meter just melted…. you talking about partisanship. Bloody amazing.

    Well, I am the Democrat saying that an important member of the Obama administration should be fired for gross incompetence, and you are the guy ranting about Biden and Muslims on a thread about the Secret Service.

    You do know what irony is… don’t you?

  33. superdestroyer says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    the New York Times reported that the security guard has three arrest the latest happening 18 years ago but no conviction. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/01/us/armed-man-boarded-elevator-with-obama-official-reports.html?_r=0

    I wonder if the Washington Post confused arrest and conviction. An arrest without a conviction cannot be used when determining security risks.

  34. superdestroyer says:

    @michael reynolds:

    MR,

    Just a reminder that progressives are not suppose to mention IQ since progressive do not believe that IQ is an indication of anything meaningful. Also, how will you maintain your progressive credentials when you criticize a Delegate of Color.

  35. Eric Florack says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Laughable.
    But, expected.
    @superdestroyer: and, theyre not supposed to talk about something they lack.

    @anjin-san: Clue: Im talking about the incompetancy of the whole of this administration from the top down. who, after all, chose these people you find to be such failures?