Secret Service Director Julia Pierson says the agency’s security plan was “not properly executed” when Omar Gonzalez broke into the White House this month, a lapse she said would never be repeated.
At a House of Representatives oversight committee hearing, Julia Pierson took responsibility for the “unacceptable” breach.
She was addressing congressmen angry over the September 19 break-in.
The 42-year-old intruder, Omar Gonzalez, scaled a fence, ran across the lawn, entered an unlocked door and was tackled inside.
Omar Gonzalez made it well into the first floor of the White House, having pushed his way past a guard standing just inside the unlocked door of the North Portico. He was tackled in the East Room, a long, ornately decorated chamber used for presidential addresses and formal receptions.
“It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly,” said Julia Pierson in testimony at the House Oversight committee hearing, where lawmakers of both parties expressed anger at a number of recent lapses by agency personnel and incidents of agents’ misbehavior.
“I take full responsibility; what happened is unacceptable and it will never happen again.”
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson says the agency’s security plan was not properly executed when Omar Gonzalez broke into the White House this month
While acknowledging the recent failure, Julia Pierson said the agency’s “emergency action plans” were “multifaceted and tailored to each threat”.
She said that agents and uniformed officers had apprehended 16 people who had jumped over the White House fence over the past five years, including six in 2014 alone.
Julia Pierson also said they had dealt with hundreds of people who had approached the grounds and made verbal threats or acted suspiciously.
She had ordered a full review of White House security procedures and said “all decisions made that evening are being evaluated, including decisions on tactics and use of force”.
Committee chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said the White House complex was supposed to be one of the most secure places in the world but the breach had exposed serious problems in the protective agency.
“The system broke down on September 19 as it did when the Salahis crashed a state dinner in November 2009, or when Oscar Ortega-Hernandez successfully shot at the White House on November 2011, or when agents engaged in prostitution in Cartagena in April 2012, or when agents showed terrible judgment and got drunk in the Netherlands in March 2014,” he said, referring to previous, well publicized breaches at the White House and scandals involving Secret Service agents.
Congressman Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, said he was concerned the Secret Service was sending mixed messages when it praised its officers for “tremendous restraint” following the September 19 incident.
Democratic Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia, said the issues facing the agency were not a “mere question of personnel” and called for a “21st Century makeover” of the agency.
Barack Obama and his family were not at the White House when the latest intrusion happened, having departed about 10 minutes earlier by helicopter.
Omar Gonzalez has been charged with unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon.
A second fence has been erected between the White House and a thoroughfare popular with tourists, local residents and workers, days after Omar Gonzalez scaled the main fence and entered the mansion through an unlocked door.
The Secret Service said the new fence created a “temporary buffer zone” while it reviewed its procedures.
The new barrier is a series of linked sections about 3.2ft high.
Omar Gonzalez, 42, is being held in connection with September 19 intrusion.
Authorities say the man was carrying a 3.5in knife and faces charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building carrying a “deadly or dangerous weapon”.
A second fence has been erected between the White House and a thoroughfare popular with tourists, local residents and workers
Omar Gonzalez, an Iraq War veteran, was previously stopped by Virginia police in July. Officers found two powerful rifles, four handguns and other firearms and ammunition in Omar Gonzalez’s vehicle along with a map marking the White House.
An unnamed federal law enforcement official told the Associated Press news agency Secret Service agents had interviewed Omar Gonzalez twice during the summer but concluded there was no evidence he was a security threat.
President Barack Obama and his family were not at the White House when the intrusion happened, having departed about 10 minutes earlier by helicopter.
The new fence went up late Monday evening.
The Secret Service, which protects the president, the vice-president, their families and visiting foreign dignitaries, in addition to other security duties, did not say how long the second barrier would be in place.
A review of security was initiated by Secret Service director Julia Pierson, who also ordered “the immediate enhancement of officer patrols and surveillance capabilities” around the White House.
Pennsylvania Avenue, which runs in front of the north facade of the White House, was closed to vehicular traffic in 1995 but remains highly popular with tourists as well as residents and office workers seeking a short cut through the parks surrounding the president’s home.
Since September 19, Washington DC residents and media figures have angrily rejected the suggestion the Secret Service screen pedestrians and cyclists who want to enter the closed stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue or block it off entirely.