Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson cautioned against a “rush to judgment” over security lapses that led to Friday’s White House fence jumper managing to get past the front door.
Omar Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, entered the North Portico after the Obama family had left the mansion for Camp David. The Iraq war veteran reportedly had 800 rounds of ammunition in his car along with two hatchets and a machete, and had been stopped in July by Virginia police with a map of the White House, a tomahawk and 11 guns. He had a small knife in his pocket when he entered the White House.
The Secret Service said in a statement afterward that while “the officers showed tremendous restraint and discipline in dealing with this subject, the location of Gonzalez’s arrest is not acceptable.”
The agency immediate put more stringent security into place along the perimeter and started a review to determine what went wrong Friday.
“I will carefully evaluate the findings and recommendations of the review at that time, after which I’m sure I will discuss them with Director Pierson, White House officials and Members of Congress,” Johnson said. “In the meantime, I encourage all of us to not rush to judgment about the event and not second-guess the judgment of security officers who had only seconds to act, until all the facts are in.”
One of those new security procedures is closing and locking the front door.
“The Secret Service has beefed up foot patrols along — around the fence line of the White House complex. The Secret Service has deployed additional surveillance resources to beef up the surveillance around the White House. The Secret Service has changed the procedures for ensuring that the entrance to the White House is secure. And there’s already some stepped up training for officers who are essentially standing on the front lines of the White House to ensure that they are aware of the policies and procedures that are related to securing the White House and dealing with incidents like the one that we saw on Friday,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today.
Earnest said adding “another layer of complexity” to the review is the overlapping jurisdictions of the Park Police and D.C.’s Metro PD.
“There are senior members here at the White House, both the chief of staff, the deputy chief of staff, and others who have been in frequent touch with Secret Service personnel over the weekend and even already today to discuss the incident and to discuss the review that the Secret Service has already started,” he said.
Asked about the incident at the end of an Oval Office event today, President Obama said, “The Secret Service does a great job, and I’m grateful for the sacrifices that they make on my behalf — and my family’s behalf.”
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said she wants a meeting with Secret Service Director Julia Pierson to discuss using “the least restrictive means be used to address these security concerns.”
“It is important to keep Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House and the surrounding area, including Lafayette Park, Pennsylvania Avenue, 17th Street and 15th Street, as accessible to the public as possible. These are First Amendment protected areas used by the public on a daily basis to both see the residence of the President and engage in their constitutional right to petition the government, and must be kept open for their continued daily use. It is particularly imperative that the Pennsylvania Avenue side remain open to the public,” Norton wrote in a letter today to Pierson.
“Already, public access to the Pennsylvania Avenue side of the White House may be in danger with reported considerations of establishing checkpoints or otherwise limiting access.”
Norton suggests “minor changes” like “changing the shape of the current fence to prevent access from the exterior, such as curving the upper portion of the fence away from the White House; making the fence surrounding the White House taller; making a request for additional funding to increase staffing; or adding additional specialized canine units to patrol the perimeter.”