White House Fence-Jumper Made It Much Farther Than the Front Door, Past So Much Security

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Uniformed Secret Service officers walk along the lawn on the North side of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. The Secret Service is coming under intense scrutiny after a man who hopped the White House fence made it all the way through the front door before being apprehended.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Turn around, guys.Photo: Susan Walsh

The story of Oscar Gonzalez, the 42-year-old Iraq War vet who managed to scale the White House fence and make it through the front door with a knife earlier this month, is much scarier than previously thought. The Washington Post reports today that while the Secret Service has said it stopped him at the entrance, Gonzalez actually made it through another guard inside, “dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters,” and was only tackled “at the far southern end of the East Room,” or waaaay too far. The Obamas, fortunately, were already on their way to Camp David. 

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson will testify about the incident — and other recent, similarly worrying examples — at a House Oversight hearing tomorrow. The Post and Representative Jason Chaffetz, chairman of a subcommittee on Homeland Security, reportedly heard from a Secret Service whistleblower who claimed the alarm boxes meant to alert guards to an intruder had been turned down. For what?

The congressman said two people inside the agency told him that boxes were silenced because the White House usher staff, whose office is near the front door, complained they were noisy. A Secret Service official told The Post that the usher’s office was concerned the boxes were frequently malfunctioning and unnecessarily sounding off.

That wasn’t the only failure. Gonzalez seems to have made it past the following lines of defense, according to the Post:

1. “a plainclothes surveillance team … on duty that night outside the fence, meant to spot jumpers and give early warning”
2. “an officer in a guard booth on the North Lawn”
3. attack dogs, which were never released
4. a “specialized” SWAT team
5. the front-door guard

According to court filings, Gonzalez had been stopped twice already this summer while armed and thinking about the president, including once at the White House fence and once in Virginia, where he was arrested after a high-speed chase for carrying 11 guns and “a map of Washington, D.C., with writing and a line drawn to the White House.” When he finally made it inside, Gonzalez had a two-and-a-half-inch knife in his pocket, along with two hatchets, a machete, and 800 rounds of ammunition in his car a few blocks away.