White House Fence Jumper Got Deep Inside The Building

Last week's security breach just became a lot more serious.

White House Dusk

The Washington Post is reporting that the man who jumped the fence last week at the White House and was not apprehended until he got to the building itself got much further into the mansion than previously reported:

The man who jumped the White House fence this month and sprinted through the front door made it much farther into the building than previously known, overpowering one Secret Service officer and running through much of the main floor, according to three people familiar with the incident.

An alarm box near the front entrance of the White House designed to alert guards to an intruder had been muted at what officers believed was a request of the usher’s office, said a Secret Service official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The female officer posted inside the front door appeared to be delayed in learning that the intruder, Omar Gonzalez, was about to burst through. Officers are trained that, upon learning of an intruder on the grounds, often through the alarm boxes posted around the property, they must immediately lock the front door.

After barreling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses.

Gonzalez was tackled by a counter-assault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident

Secret Service officials had earlier said he was quickly detained at the main entry. Agency spokesman Edwin Donovan said the office is not commenting due to an ongoing investigation of the incident.

People jumping over the White House fence has become a more common occurrence, but most individuals are tackled by Secret Services officers guarding the complex before getting even a third of the way across the lawn. Gonzalez is the first person known to have jumped the fence and made it inside the executive mansion.

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson has said the breach was “unacceptable” to her, and on Friday she briefed President Obama on her plans to shore up security.

George Zornick, the Washington Editor of The Nation posted a map on Twitter showing just how far Gonzalez got before the Secret Service was able to get him:

When it was first reported that Gonzalez had actually gotten to the front door of the White House, it was widely seen as an incredibly serious incident. While fence jumpers have become increasingly common at the White House, all of them prior to Gonzalez were captured and detained by Secret Service agents long before they got anywhere near the building. In this case, there was some early indication that the fact that the incident occurred at roughly the same time that the First Family was departing on Marine One for Camp David from the South Lawn could have meant that security was not paying sufficient attention to the North Lawn area where Gonzalez jumped that fence. In response to those initial reports, the Secret Service installed a second fence around the White House that, while shorter, is apparently meant to slow fence jumpers down to give security more time to respond. There has also been some talk of further security measure, including the somewhat radical step of closing off the area of Pennsylvania Avenue directly in front of the White House to unrestricted pedestrian traffic, but those measures are apparently on hold pending a security review. In any case, the idea of someone actually making it to the White House front door was sufficiently serious that it has raised concerns in Washington, and on Capitol Hill where oversight hearings are being scheduled.

Today’s revelations, of course, make this entire story far more serious. It was bad enough that Gonzalez made it all the way to the building, the idea that he made it so far into the building that he was, for all purposes on the other side of the building, is clearly a seriously breach of security that raises serious questions about the competence of the Secret Service and its security plans for what is supposed to be one of the most secure buildings in the world. While the President was not on the premises at the time, that is not supposed to mean that the security is any less stringent, and if he could get to the East Room, who knows where else he could have gotten. Even more disturbing, of course, is the implication from the Post report that the Secret Service was not telling the truth about what happened last week. While some of that may arguably be due to the desire not to reveal security details that could be used by others, it raises yet more questions about an agency that has been under fire ever since we learned that several agents on the Presidential detail were patronizing prostitutes in advance of a Presidential visit to Colombia.

This news comes just days about another Post story on the Secret Service regarding a 2011 incident during which a man fired shots at the building. The details of that Post investigation are far too detailed and voluminous to adequately summarize, but basically the determination was made almost immediately after the incident occurred that no shots had hit the building even though agents who had been outside had heard debris falling from the Truman Balcony. Instead, it took several days for anyone to discover the damage, and when they did it was the housekeepers who found the broken glass, not the Secret Service. Neither President and Mrs. Obama were in the White House when this happened, but both their daughters and Mrs. Obama’s mother were, and the First Couple was not notified of what happened until several days later, which apparently caused the First Lady to become understandably furious. The man who fired the shots was actually apprehended quickly and was recently sentenced to 25 years in Federal Prison, but this obviously indicates that the Secret Service has had issues regarding the defense of the White House for quite some time.

There will obviously be further investigations of last week’s events, as well as the 2011 incident in light of the Post story this weekend. However, at the very least, it seems as though there is something wrong at the U.S. Secret Service.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Intelligence, National Security, Politicians, Terrorism, 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 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    I thought it was pretty serious at the time it happened. A stunning security failure. Whatever is wrong with the Secret Service needs to be fixed, stat.

  2. @anjin-san:

    Well, yea it was. This just compounds it. And the possibility that the Secret Service was lying to the media about it just makes it worse. Between Colombian hookers, the 2011 shooting incident, and this there’s obviously something not working over there.

    I almost wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that the Secret Service was transferred from Treasury Dept supervision to the Dept. Of Homeland Security Of course, that happened 11 years ago so I’m not sure if you can draw any conclusions from that correlation.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    This is really kind of bad. The Secret Service relies to an extent in its reputation scaring off bad guys. Now every terrorist, nut and militia member must be thinking, “Hmm…”

  4. dazedandconfused says:

    It’s being over-hyped. “Carrying a knife” without mentioning it was a folding knife in his pocket was misleading. He accessed the parts which are often open to the public for tours, and are carefully sealed from the residence, but nobody mentions it.

    Minor corrections: The default condition of the door should be locked, they have a training issue to correct. The guy in the white shirt should have moved to block the door instead of expecting the guy to stop when he pointed a gun at him. He knows he has back-up close and on the way, so he should have connected with his inner linebacker and tackled him. If the bomb is gonna go off it’s better outside, and you are already too close to save yourself.

  5. anjin-san says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    It’s being over-hyped.

    Really? Because I am thinking that someone detonating a suicide vest inside the White House would be a disaster, even if the President and his family were a thousand miles away.

  6. Tyrell says:

    And I thought our borders are in bad shape.
    I hope that this news report is not picked up by ISIS.

  7. dazedandconfused says:

    @anjin-san:

    It is what it is. We have decided the White House and its grounds are to be architecturally attractive, open to tourists, and not surrounded by a 12 ft fence topped with concertina. There will be some nuts who hop the fence, and we have also decided they shall not be wasted on the spot.

  8. Mr. Coffee says:

    Maybe he was looking for Starbucks!?!?

  9. beth says:

    @dazedandconfused: Exactly. Kennedy was killed, Reagan was shot and Ford had some seriously close calls. The Secret Service aren’t superheroes, they’re human. Unless you want to have the President and White House in a bubble, incidents will occasionally happen. Having said that, it appears there was some serious fv*king up going on here and I hope some people get fired over this.

  10. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    One thing I’ve noticed is that I don’t recall a time when the Secret Service actually fired their weapons. When Reagan was shot, there were drawn guns all over the place, but no shots fired. Same with Kennedy, and the two attempts on Ford. I find myself wondering if they have some secret “don’t shoot” policy for some reason.

    I’m more troubled by how the intruder “overpowered” an Agent and got past her. That would be an exception from the “don’t shoot” policy — don’t let the bad guys past you.

    Ace of Spades has some good thoughts on the mess. Among them: while it would be good, politically, for the Secret Service to downplay these attacks, it would benefit Obama for him to be able to play the victim card, so it looks like he’s doing the right thing. And the White House going on lockdown in a crisis would have serious disadvantages — locked doors would keep Secret Service agents from moving freely through the White House to confront the intruders.

    There have been a LOT of screw-ups in the Secret Service in the past few years. I think we need the Treasury Secretary to start kicking some serious ass.

    And no, I’m not blaming Obama for this failure. It’s hardly his fault. It is, however, his responsibility, and a matter of the personal safety of himself and his family.

    Plus, as much as I don’t like having President Obama, I really don’t want to deal with President Biden.

  11. Guarneri says:

    I don’t think it’s being overhyped. In fact in the daily press briefing Josh Ernest refused to admit what everyone else thinks. Rather, he described an incident involving “human-like protoplasm” which was “erroneously located” in a “large, pale white building located in Washington DC.”

    CBS and NBC editors were observed revising their corespondents scripts……..

  12. Dean says:

    This should be simple to fix. An intruder get one “Stop or I will shoot” warning and if they don’t stop, the Secret Service shoots to kill. All such intrusions should be viewed as though they are a threat to the nation and treated as such.

  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I find myself wondering if they have some secret “don’t shoot” policy for some reason.

    I’m thinking their rules of engagement,generally, severely limit their use of guns if there is a chance civilians are hurt. That would answer why the shots weren’t fired in the previous instances. Doesn’t explain much about why this particular potential assailant got so far. It’s really bizarre.

    And no, I’m not blaming Obama for this failure. It’s hardly his fault. It is, however, his responsibility, and a matter of the personal safety of himself and his family.

    Just so we are clear, you are saying it’s not Obama’s fault this has happened, but now that it has it’s his responsibility to ensure the SS get their act together? If that’s what you mean, I largely agree, although I can bet with pretty strong confidence that he is. Hell, I’m not the President and if someone entered my home with a knife, I’d be raising hell right now. Politicians (especially those who are the most powerful in the world) aren’t known for holding back from raising hell with those who they employ. Having been employed by a few politicians, I can personally attest to this.

    Additional responsibility is shared by whomever is the chair of the Congressional committee that oversees management and policy of the Secret Service. I’m guessing that’s oversight committee? So that would…be…Issa. Merde. Well, maybe he can do something productive for once.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Well, maybe he can do something productive for once.

    Betcha a nice cigar he can’t.

  15. anjin-san says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Plus, as much as I don’t like having President Obama, I really don’t want to deal with President Biden.

    Just out of curiosity, who would you like to see as President?

  16. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Neil Hudelson: I’m thinking their rules of engagement,generally, severely limit their use of guns if there is a chance civilians are hurt. That would answer why the shots weren’t fired in the previous instances. Doesn’t explain much about why this particular potential assailant got so far. It’s really bizarre.

    Let’s flip that around. Can you think of a time when a Secret Service agent in a protective detail (not necessarily the president’s, but not a counterfeiting squad or whatever else they do) firing their weapon in the line of duty?

    The only example I can think of is when the Puerto Rican separatists tried to assassinate Truman. Two assailants; one killed by a White House Police officer (who was killed in the exchange), and one wounded by the Secret Service.

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    I’m left wondering (aside from the obvious reasons) why Congress, specifically Chaffetz, considers the procedures and governance of an Executive Branch agency to be its concern.

  18. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    It’s an interesting question, but I honestly haven’t paid much attention to non-Presidential incidents with the Secret Service. I did a few quick google searches and found nothing, but I don’t think that can be accurately construed regarding any policy. Perhaps another commentator has more knowledge.

    BTW, it’s enjoyable to engage you when the thread can be pretty objectively nonpartisan.

  19. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “When Reagan was shot, there were drawn guns all over the place, but no shots fired. Same with Kennedy, and the two attempts on Ford. I find myself wondering if they have some secret “don’t shoot” policy for some reason.”

    Well, let’s see. The attempts on Reagan and Ford were on public streets with crowds of people around. What possible secret policy could ever explain the Secret Service simply not firing blindly into the crowd. I’m sure you’d be happy to explain to us how it’s impossible for a bullet fired by “a good guy with a gun” to hit anyone but a bad guy.

    As for Kennedy, he was shot from a great distance with a rifle. Did you want the Secret Service simply to start firing in the general direction the shots came from?

    No wonder you find such “good thoughts” from such a mouth breathing moron as “Ace of Spades.” If you are incapable of any thought, a stupid thought must seem like a miracle.

  20. wr says:

    @Dean: “This should be simple to fix. An intruder get one “Stop or I will shoot” warning and if they don’t stop, the Secret Service shoots to kill. ”

    Should the Secret Service take a couple of seconds to consider who might be in the next room before they start shooting guns off in the White House? Or is it worth killing any number of civillians to make sure this guy is stopped?

  21. dazedandconfused says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Chaffetz hopes to land Issa’s chairmanship of Oversight. Fair to middlin’ chance it will be open next Congress. Issa has been ineffective and something of an embarrassment. His behavior during the Benghazi witch hunt was so bad they had to form a new committee with Gowdy. Benched for G-Bow, a human nose bleed? Oh, the humanity…

  22. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    Right, which are those obvious reasons I alluded to. What left me confused was why Congress thinks it actually has a role to play in the day to day management of an EB agency.

    They’re grandstanding, obviously.

  23. dazedandconfused says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    They have some claim to oversight because they fund it, I think.

  24. @wr: Really, wr got downvoted for pointing out that law enforcement is supposed to consider what’s in the background before they shot at someone (e.g., are there people behind the offender who could be wounded if the officer opened fire)? Not to mention the difficulty of shooting at someone who is running by you (as opposed to running directly at you, which is a relatively easy shot).

  25. @Jenos Idanian #13:

    There have been a LOT of screw-ups in the Secret Service in the past few years. I think we need the Treasury Secretary to start kicking some serious ass.

    I take it you’re not aware that the United States Secret Service is part of the Department of Homeland Security and, oh, has been for over a decade?

  26. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Timothy Watson: That’s a factoid that keeps slipping away from me. For some reason I have to keep re-learning that one. Thank you.

    And wr was probably down-twinkled for his tone, not his substance. And that really isn’t fair; he only has the one tone, and can’t change it.

    @Neil Hudelson: I recall once hearing that the Secret Service trains to shoot while posing the largest possible target to the other party. That’s pretty hard-core, and totally against the natural self-preservation instinct. And when you watch the video of the Reagan shooting, you see the agents doing just that — Agent Timothy McCarthy reacts instantly by spinning and facing Hinckley fully forward, putting himself between Hinckley and Reagan. He takes a bullet in the stomach for Reagan. I don’t think he even reached for his weapon.

    But yeah, the Secret Service has had a lot of eff-ups over the past few years. Even discounting the whoring around overseas, we’ve had two fence-jumpers in the last few weeks, and a shooting that no one even knew about for a couple of days.

    The Secret Service needs a major ass-kicking.

  27. C. Clavin says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    it would benefit Obama for him to be able to play the victim card

    Obama gets 3 times the threats that other Presidents have…so it’s not like you pretending to be the victim…he really is.

  28. C. Clavin says:

    @anjin-san:
    Sarah Palin.

  29. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Neil Hudelson: BTW, it’s enjoyable to engage you when the thread can be pretty objectively nonpartisan.

    As you can see, there are those who want to make that a challenge…

  30. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Neil Hudelson: What troubles me, though, is that if the message “the Secret Service doesn’t shoot” is what gets out, that’s a pretty hairy complication. Imagine if this intruder had had a bomb strapped to himself…

  31. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I would say that someone willing to strap a bomb to himself to attack the President is going to do so regardless of whether or not the SS has publicly shot someone. Someone that extreme is not going to be dissuaded by the idea that s/he might lose his or her life.

  32. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Neil Hudelson: It’s not that “I might die” that is the deterrent, but “I might die without achieving my goal” that is. If, say, this intruder had been shot down halfway across the lawn, then it’s pretty clear that a suicide bomber would also likely fail. But this guy got into the White House proper, AND overpowered one Agent in the process, only to be stopped by an off-duty Agent who was leaving and happened to be close enough to rush and tackle the guy.

    Al Qaeda is gloating about hitting our Embassy with an RPG from a distance away. Imagine the propaganda coup they’d have if they set off a bomb in the White House itself.

  33. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: “Imagine the propaganda coup they’d have if they set off a bomb in the White House itself.”

    Yes, Jenos, if someone set off a bomb in the White House, the big issue for the country and the world would be that Al Qaeda could brag on Facebook. If only the Secret Service could master this kind of thinking!

    Thank you for another insight.

  34. Grewgills says:

    @wr:
    Terrorism is essentially deadly propaganda. The greatest lasting damage done with the 9/11 attacks was psychological. It changed us and not for the better. We are more afraid and more willing to give up liberty in pursuit of safety. A body bomb exploded on the White House grounds would send us spiraling down that dangerous well again.

  35. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    That would be a fair point IF they had that policy. While I’m usually one in favor of tamping down the use of deadly force by law enforcement, I do agree the SS should have used deadly force at multiple times during this engagement. That said, I truly truly doubt anyone is thinking that the SS has a do not shoot policy, so while the example you gave is worthy of consideration, I think largely it’s a moot point.

    “What if that intruder had a bomb strapped to his chest?!” is a phrase quite a few high ranking Secret Service members are having yelled at them repeatedly for the last few days. Man, what a clusterf*ck.

  36. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Neil Hudelson: The actual policy is irrelevant. If it is the perceived policy, then that will govern how the bad guys act.

  37. Matt says:

    The guy didn’t even get beyond the public area. I don’t see what the big deal is as people regularly tour that area of the white house..