There have been several stories in the news recently about lapses in the Secret Service’s ability to keep the President and his family safe. A gunman may have shot towards the White House and a fence jumper made it all the way to the front door. That’s what we were told at the time both stories broke.
Over time, the accounts of what actually took place, including severe lapses in the Secret Service’s response, have come out thanks to anonymous reports from insiders with knowledge of both incidents.
National Post reports on new information recently brought to light about the shooting from 2011:
Secret Service officers initially rushed to respond. One, stationed directly under the second-floor terrace where the bullets struck, drew her .357 handgun and prepared to crack open an emergency gun box. Snipers on the roof, standing just 20 feet from where one bullet struck, scanned the South Lawn through their rifle scopes for signs of an attack. With little camera surveillance on the White House perimeter, it was up to the Secret Service officers on duty to figure out what was going on.
Then came an order that surprised some of the officers. “No shots have been fired. . . . Stand down,” a supervisor called over his radio. He said the noise was the backfire from a nearby construction vehicle.
It took the Secret Service five 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.
Press reports at the time of the fence jumping indicated that Omar Gonzalez had only made it as far as the unlocked (!) door of the White House. Three individuals with knowledge of the incident have refuted that report to the Washington Post:
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 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 barreling 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 counterassault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident.
What else don’t we know, and how safe is the President, his family, and other charges of the Secret Service?