Fence Jumper Got Inside White House Due to Stunning Number of Secret Service Mistakes

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Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

It’s almost too bad that Secret Service director Julia Pierson already stepped down, because the latest report on the man who ran into the White House with a knife is definitely the kind of thing someone should be fired over. On Thursday, members of Congress were briefed on a review of the September incident conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, and while the report has yet to be released, the New York Times obtained the executive summary. We’ve already heard about unlocked doors and attack dogs who weren’t deployed quickly enough, but the sheer number of mistakes by the Secret Service is amazing (unfortunately for them, Anchorman rules don’t apply when it comes to presidential safety).

Omar Gonzalez, a 42-year-old Iraq War vet, has been charged for allegedly jumping the White House fence on September 19 and making it all the way into the East Room. Here’s how the Secret Service let that happen:

  • There were intelligence failures long before the incident, starting when Gonzalez was arrested in July on gun charges in Virginia. (Previous reports said he had “a map of Washington, D.C., with writing and a line drawn to the White House.”) The review found the incident was not properly investigated, and Gonzalez was not arrested when he was stopped outside the White House carrying a hatchet a month later.
  • Officers recognized Gonzalez on September 19 but didn’t alert their superiors.
  • At 7:19 p.m., Gonzalez was spotted jumping the White House fence in a spot where one of the ornamental spokes was missing, which made it easier for him to get over. Officers yelled at him to stop, but he ignored them.
  • An officer stationed on the North Lawn with an attack dog didn’t notice the commotion because he was in his van talking on his personal cell phone. He didn’t have his radio earpiece in, and he left his second radio in his locker.
  • Two officers pointed their guns at Gonzalez and told him to stop, but he kept running. They decided not to shoot because they believed he was unarmed.
  • When Gonzalez ran into the bushes in front of the North Portico, one officer followed but quickly lost sight of him. The report said the officers “were surprised that Gonzalez was able to get through the bushes” because, before that night, they assumed the bushes were impassible.
  • At least two agents were unable to make out radio communications about Gonzalez’s movements. One of the officers was stationed at the North Portico door but decided to move behind a pillar to take cover. He aimed his gun at Gonzalez and commanded him to stop as he came up the stairs, but once again, he opted not to shoot because the intruder was believed to be unarmed.
  • The officer didn’t pursue Gonzalez because he thought the wooden doors to the White House were locked (they weren’t), and he was worried that the security dog might attack him by accident.
  • Gonzalez was able to push past another officer as she attempted to lock the doors. Unbeknownst to her, the alarm at her post had been muted.
  • She pursued him as he ran toward the East Room. “After attempting twice to physically take Gonzalez down but failing to do so because of the size disparity between the two, the officer then attempted to draw her baton but accidentally grabbed her flashlight instead,” the report said. “The officer threw down her flashlight, drew her firearm, and continued to give Gonzalez commands that he ignored.” Eventually, Gonzalez was brought down by four agents inside the White House.
  • Outside the building, officers were lining up in a tactical formation, but they had never been briefed on the layout inside the house.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told the Washington Post that the agency “has already put in place or is in the process of implementing changes to fix the problems highlighted in the report.” It’s highly unlikely that explanation will satisfy members of the House Judiciary Committee, which is holding a hearing on Secret Service oversight next week. Representative Bob Goodlatte, who chairs the committee, said the review “reads as a comedy of errors by the U.S. Secret Service and confirms that fundamental reform is needed.”