Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

Security boosted at White House

Security at the White House has been stepped up after a man with a knife jumped the fence and made it into the presidential residence before being tackled.

President Barack Obama insisted he still has confidence in the beleaguered agency's ability to protect him and his family.

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson ordered enhanced officer patrols and surveillance along the North Fence of the compound after the incident on Friday, which triggered a rare evacuation of the White House.

The agency said she had also ordered a comprehensive review of what happened.

"The president has full confidence in the Secret Service and is grateful to the men and women who day in and day out protect himself, his family and the White House," said White House spokesman Frank Benenati.

He said the White House expected Ms Pierson's review to be conducted "with the same professionalism and commitment to duty that we and the American people expect from the US Secret Service".

The presidential vote of confidence came as the agency sought to dispel growing concerns about security at the White House, one of the most heavily protected buildings in the world.

Another man was arrested yesterday outside the White House in an unrelated event.

The president and his daughters had just left the White House by helicopter on Friday evening when 42-year-old Omar Gonzalez scaled the fence, darting across the lawn and through the unlocked North Portico doors before officers finally tackled him.

"Every day the Secret Service is challenged to ensure security at the White House complex while still allowing public accessibility to a national historical site," the agency said.

"Although last night the officers showed tremendous restraint and discipline in dealing with this subject, the location of Gonzalez's arrest is not acceptable."

The Secret Service's office of professional responsibility was carrying out the review, which started with interviews and a physical site assessment and will include a review of all of the security and operational policies.

Officials had originally said Gonzalez appeared unarmed as he sprinted across the lawn - potentially one reason agents did not shoot him or release their service dogs to detain him.

But he had a small folding knife with a three-and-a-half inch serrated blade at the time of the arrest and faces a weapons charge.

According to a criminal complaint, when Gonzalez was apprehended he told Secret Service agents he was "concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing" and needed to contact the president "so he could get word out to the people".

Gonzalez, of Texas, was transported to a nearby hospital after his arrest for evaluation. He is expected to appear in court tomorrow to face charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon.

Less than 24 hours after Gonzalez' arrest, a second man was apprehended after he drove up to a White House gate and refused to leave, the Secret Service said, prompting bomb technicians in full gear to search the vehicle as agents shut down nearby streets.

There were no indications the two events were connected. Yet the incidents in short succession only intensified the scrutiny of the Secret Service, which is still struggling to rehabilitate its image following a series of allegations of misconduct by agents in recent years, including agents on Mr Obama's detail.

Gonzalez's former Texas neighbours said he moved out roughly two years ago. Sgt 1st Class David Haslach, who lives two doors down from Gonzalez's former home, said Gonzalez had been in the US military.

Gonzalez said he had received a medical discharge, Sgt Haslach said.

He and another former neighbour, Elke Warner, both recalled him seeming paranoid in the months before he left town.

"At the end, he got so weird. He had motion detector lights put in," Ms Warner said. She added she last saw Gonzalez about a year and a half ago at a nearby campsite, where he was apparently living with his two dogs.


From Belfast Telegraph