The White House Intruder

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

An uninvited guest sheds light on Secret Service shortcomings

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On Sept. 19, 2014, soon after the first family left the White House for Camp David, Omar Jose Gonzalez jumped the fence and ran across the North Lawn. Carrying a knife, Gonzalez entered the main residence. A guard was not present at the front door when Gonzalez entered. An alarm box that should have alerted the guard inside had been muted. Gonzalez passed the entrance hall guard and ran into the East Room before being tackled by an officer.

After Gonzalez was captured, police found more than 800 rounds of ammunition in his car near the White House. Later it was revealed that when Gonzalez had been arrested by Virginiapolice in July 2014, he had several weapons and a White House map in his possession. The day after Gonzalez entered the White House, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson ordered an internal review of its security procedures. The breach led to criticism of the Secret Service as all the details of the incident emerged.

By late Sept., Gonzalez, 42, appeared before a federal grand jury. He was charged with one federal count of entering a restricted building while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon. He was also charged with two district law violations: unlawful possession of ammunition and carrying a dangerous weapon outside a home or business.

Mistakes Were Made

On Sept. 30, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing to examine how the U.S. Secret Service failed to prevent the intrusion. After three hours of questioning Pierson, members of both parties declared that they had lost confidence in the Secret Service and asked for an independent investigation of the organization. During the questioning, Pierson defended the Secret Service, but did admit that "mistakes were made" by both agents and officers.

Pierson would not explain why the public was misled about how far inside the White House Gonzalez had managed to get. Initially officials had said that Gonzalez had been unarmed and was captured just inside the White House front door. After the hearing, Representative Jason Chaffetz said, “I seriously question their candor to Congress and the American people about what is really going on."

Pierson Resigns

Just hours after the hearing, officials disclosed another Secret Service security incident. During a Sept. 16 visit to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, an armed contract security guard rode in an elevator with President Obama. The incident violated agency protocols because only Secret Service agents and officers can be armed while in the presence of the president.

After the hearing, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama continued to have confidence in the Secret Service and Pierson. Even though she still had the president's support, Pierson resigned on Oct. 1. She was the first female director of the Secret Service. Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson announced Pierson's resignation in a statement. He also announced that the Department of Homeland Security will do an internal inquiry of the Secret Service. Former special agent Joseph Clancy was named interim Secret Service director.

Another Uninvited Guest

On Oct. 22, Dominic Adesanya, 23, jumped the fence at the White House. Secret Service and two dogs stopped the unarmed Adesanya before he got inside the building. The incident occurred just a little over a month since the last White House security incident.

In Nov., the Department of Homeland Security released its review of the Omar Gonzalez incident. Overall, the review found that the intruder's breach was made easier because of a series of "performance, organizational, technical" failures by the Secret Service. The report went on to describe how alarms and radios failed to work properly. Also, the report revealed that many officers failed to spot the intruder climbing over the fence. For example, the Secret Service officer with an attack dog stationed on the North Lawn did not see the intruder jump the fence because the officer was in his van, talking on his personal cellphone. Despite the findings in the report, no Secret Service officers involved in the incident had been suspended or fired by the end of 2014.

Another Secret Service mishap made headlines when two agents crashed through security tape and into a barricade at one of the White House entrances in March 2015. Officials investigating the incident said that the two agents may have been drunk. Later in March, surveillance video footage was released showing the car driven by the two agents hitting a barricade around a suspicious package near the White House. Thus, the video provided evidence that the two agents had interfered with a police investigation by hitting the barricade before crashing their car. The scandal created even more criticism of the Secret Service.

—Jennie Wood
    Sources +