The White House

The Secret Service is under scrutiny after a man scaled the White House fence and made it all the way into the East Room.

Sept. 22, 2014 Security is heightened around the White House following Friday’s breach. Omar Jose Gonzalez, 42, appeared before a judge on one charge of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Politics

By Carol D. Leonnig
September 29 at 4:22 PM

The man who jumped the White House fence this month and sprinted through the front door made it much farther into the building than previously known, overpowering one Secret Service officer and running through much of the main floor, according to three people familiar with the incident.

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.

Eluding security in the White House

Secret Service officials had earlier said he was quickly detained at the main entry. Agency spokesman Edwin Donovan said the office is not commenting during the ongoing investigation of the incident.

Breaches of the White House fence have become more common, but most jumpers are tackled by Secret Service officers guarding the complex before they get even a third of the way across the lawn. Gonzalez is the first person known to have jumped the fence and made it inside the executive mansion.

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson has said the breach was “unacceptable” to her, and on Friday she briefed President Obama on her plans to shore up security.

Pierson is expected to face tough questions about the Gonzalez incident Tuesday at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The hearing is likely to cover a number of security lapses by the agency, including new revelations published over the weekend by The Washington Post about the failure to identify and properly investigate a 2011 shooting attack on the White House.

The more detailed account of this month’s security breach comes from people who provided information about the incident to The Post and whistleblowers who contacted Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), chairman of the oversight panel’s subcommittee on national security.

Chaffetz said he plans to ask Pierson how an alarm meant to alert officers to intruders could be silenced or turned down. 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 that 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.

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