Lawmakers and security experts expressed shock Sunday that the Secret Service allowed a man carrying a knife to scale the White House fence, run across the lawn and enter the building before stopping him.
“This is absolutely inexcusable,” Rep. Peter King, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This demands a full investigation, an investigation as to what happened, why it happened and what’s being done to make sure it never happens again.”
King said he expects a congressional hearing to be called on the matter.
“He could have had a body bomb; he could have [had] a vest on,” King continued. “There can be a lot of conspiracies against a president, a lot of complex assassination plots. This is the most basic, the most simple type of procedure, and how anyone, especially in these days of ISIS, and we’re concerned about terrorist attacks, someone could actually get into the White House without being stopped is inexcusable.”
The intruder was identified as Omar J. Gonzalez, a 42-year-old U.S. Army veteran from Copperas Cove, Texas. According to a criminal complaint, Gonzalez told Secret Service agents after his arrest that he was “concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing” and needed to contact the president “so he could get word out to the people.”
Gonzalez is expected to appear in court Monday to face charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon — a knife in this case. His former stepson says he didn’t intend to hurt anyone.
President Barack Obama was not at the White House at the time of the breach.
“I’m very surprised,” former FBI assistant director Tom Fuentes said on CNN. “You know, everybody’s in a little bit of shock that someone not just jumped the fence, but that they got that close.”
“Fence-jumping is kind of a common thing and just happened even a month ago,” he continued. “But the idea that someone could get across that lawn area to the front door and in the front door is pretty amazing.”
Fuentes suggested adding an additional layer of security at the White House, even if it’s additional officers.
“They have a procedure now where the officers don’t immediately rush at a person that’s coming across the lawn because they’re supposed to have trained dogs that are not trained to hurt the person initially but to just run across the field and knock them down,” he said. “And that could be what was happening. The officers might have been standing around thinking the dog is going to do it, and then there is no dog.”
In a statement released Saturday, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said the breach would be “closely reviewed.”
“Every day the Secret Service is challenged to ensure security at the White House complex while still allowing public accessibility to a national historical site,” Donovan said. “Although last night the officers showed tremendous restraint and discipline in dealing with this subject, the location of Gonzalez’s arrest is not acceptable.”
On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, blamed the Secret Service’s “atrophy of concern.”
“I think what you have seen is that they’re not doing their audits, their checks, test runs to make sure that people are up to the right standard,” he said.
“This is really just part of a pattern of laxness,” Ronald Kessler, author of “In the President’s Secret Service,” said on CNN, citing several infamous examples during the Obama administration, including Tareq and Michaele Salahi crashing the state dinner and agents hiring prostitutes in Colombia.
“The agents and the uniformed guards are under orders to shoot anybody who threatens the president,” Kessler said. “In this situation, you don’t wait to see if once he gets in the White House, he has [weapons of mass destruction] or a bomb to release. You take him out. If you don’t get him with a dog, then you shoot him.”
“The President has full confidence in the Secret Service and is grateful to the men and women who day in and day out protect himself, his family and the White House,” White House spokesman Frank Benenati said Saturday.
But Kessler criticized Obama for not coming down harder on the people whose job it is to keep him safe.
“Whenever these scandals erupt, President Obama says ‘I have confidence in the Secret Service,’ ” Kessler said. “You know, that really calls into question his judgment as commander in chief, because it’s his life that’s at stake and the life of his own family, and it’s obvious to any of us who have any common sense that there’s something wrong here.”
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