It shouldn’t have happened in the first place, which is why Julia Pierson found herself in the hot seat at a House Oversight Committee hearing today. Not only did a fence jumper penetrate the White House, but he got farther inside than the Secret Service previously disclosed. Combined with a recent Washington Post exposé on the incompetent handling of a sniper attack on the presidential residence while the Obamas’ daughters were in the White House, Congress demanded some answers of the Secret Service director. Pierson sounded the appropriately contrite notes:
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson said Tuesday that she takes “full responsibility” for several high-profile security failures at the White House in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly. I take full responsibility; what happened is unacceptable and it will never happen again,” Pierson said in her opening remarks to the committee, which addressed a security breach on Sept. 19. A 42-year-old Texas man, Omar J. Gonzalez, was able to scale the White House fenceand enter the front doors of the building, which were apparently unlocked. On Monday, CBS News reported that Gonzalez ran through the main entrance and all the way into the East Room before he was apprehended, contrary to initial reports from the Secret Service that he was caught just inside the North Portico doors.
Pierson said Tuesday that Gonzalez was arrested “on the state floor” of the White House. Immediately afterward, she ordered security enhancements around the White House grounds and began conducting a full review of the incident at the request of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
What exactly does “I take full responsibility” for the failure of a primary mission such as protecting the White House? Glenn Reynolds wonders that, too:
CNN provided this helpful graphic to show just how far Omar Gonzalez penetrated into the White House:
The only reason Congress found out about the extent of the penetration, Rep. Jason Chaffetz told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last night, is because a whistleblower told them about it. The Secret Service didn’t inform Congress properly of the circumstances — including the fact that the door alarm had been disabled because of the annoyance it caused:
The Secret Service’s protection detail has one core function — to protect the President and the White House. If they cannot do so competently, it calls into question just how well they perform in their other areas, such as counterfeit currency investigations and other tasks under their jurisdiction, but it also deteriorates the deterrence value of the Secret Service. Their presumed excellence and dedication to stopping any and all attacks provides a powerful psychological deterrent that helps prevent attacks from coming in the first place. If a lone nutcase can make it into the East Room and live to tell the tale, that will encourage others to start jumping the fence and giving it a shot, too.
Needless to say, that didn’t stop Oversight panel members from asking tough questions, including “How much would it cost to lock the front door of the White House?”
The chairman of the House committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), said the reputation of the Secret Service has been “clearly blemished” by the breach and the agency appeared “in decline.”
He added that the Post report “turned upside down” previous official claims that Gonzalez was subdued just inside the White House.
“American’s know the next attempt to take the White House … could well-be a planned attack by a terrorist organization,’’ he said.
Another panel member, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), earlier described the Gonzalez breach as a cascade of failures.
He said “overwhelming force’’ is the only message that should be projected by the Secret Service.
NBC News’ Kristin Welker may have helped Pierson prepare for the tough hearing by demanding to know whether she’d lied to the American public about the security failures at the White House:
Not too many pleasantries in that approach, nor should there be. Members of Congress clearly feel as though Pierson didn’t tell them the whole truth. It might be time to demand a change in leadership again at the Secret Service, because the last change clearly didn’t resolve the issues of the previous scandals.