That’s two bombshells about awful White House security in three days for WaPo’s Carol Leonnig. On Saturday, she revealed that a gunman had fired several shots that struck the facade and broke a window of the White House residence on the second floor when one of the Obama girls was there. That was in 2011. Surely, given the agency’s embarrassment over that lapse, security had improved in the three years since. Hadn’t it?
Now I’m wondering what Leonnig has planned for the rest of the week.
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 barrelling 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.
Last week the Secret Service told reporters that Gonzalez was tackled immediately upon entering the building. In reality, here’s what his route looked like:
Based on Washington Post description, this is the rough route the White House intruder took once inside – incredible. pic.twitter.com/vNdF4aHuh8
— George Zornick (@gzornick) September 29, 2014
Not only was the alarm box inexplicably muted, sources told Leonnig, but no fewer than three rings of White House security failed to stop Gonzalez on his way in. There were plainclothes officers on the White House perimeter who didn’t notice him, er, scaling the fence; there was an officer in a booth on the White House lawn who couldn’t reach Gonzalez during his sprint for the door; and there was an attack dog stationed at the front door which wasn’t released because his handler … wasn’t sure the dog would target Gonzalez instead of the officers chasing him. There was also supposed to be a SWAT unit stationed near the front door. It’s unclear what happened to them.
So that’s one huge security breach plus an out-and-out lie to try to cover up the magnitude of it. Can we go one better? We can. Here’s Leonnig on Saturday about the 2011 incident:
A bullet smashed a window on the second floor, just steps from the first family’s formal living room. Another lodged in a window frame, and more pinged off the roof, sending bits of wood and concrete to the ground. At least seven bullets struck the upstairs residence of the White House, flying some 700 yards across the South Lawn…
By the end of that Friday night, the agency had confirmed a shooting had occurred but wrongly insisted the gunfire was never aimed at the White House. Instead, Secret Service supervisors theorized, gang members in separate cars got in a gunfight near the White House’s front lawn — an unlikely scenario in a relatively quiet, touristy part of the nation’s capital.
It took the Secret Service four days to realize that shots had hit the White House residence, a discovery that came about only because a housekeeper noticed broken glass and a chunk of cement on the floor…
Officers who were on the scene who thought gunfire had probably hit the house that night were largely ignored, and some were afraid to dispute their bosses’ conclusions. Nobody conducted more than a cursory inspection of the White House for evidence or damage. Key witnesses were not interviewed until after bullets were found.
Why is all of this leaking now? Probably because Julia Pierson, the head of the Secret Service, is set to testify before a House committee tomorrow about the Gonzalez incident. If you’re a whistleblower inside the agency worried that she might try to cover up just how bad things are, this was the week to start whispering to local reporters and get the details out there. And boy, are they ever out there now.
Matt Lewis wonders why Gonzalez wasn’t shot by one of the pursuing officers on his way into the White House. Good question. He thinks it might be a matter of PR: Given public perceptions about the agency, starting with the Colombian prostitution scandal and the shooting of unarmed Miriam Carey last year, maybe they figured that taking Gonzalez down too soon instead of trying to capture him would have looked bad.
Update: Good question. When Gonzalez “barreled” past the agent stationed at the door, what does that mean?
Update: Jason Chaffetz, a member of the Oversight committee that’ll be grilling Pierson, says there are other breaches the public doesn’t know about. This Onion goof from the other day seems less funny than prescient now.
Update: Yeah, you would think the agency would be ready for action at a moment when U.S. intelligence is warning about threats from ISIS-linked homegrown jihadis.
So, if one lone lunatic can make it that far…. um, what if it was some sort of trained assault team? This is crazy.
— American Journalists Publish Chinese Propaganda (@JohnEkdahl) September 29, 2014