An intruder was able to scale the 7 ft tall fence of the White House and run inside the executive mansion while wielding a knife because of “critical and major failures in communication” within the Secret Service, a damning new report has found.
Omar Gonzales, 42, an Iraq veteran, was eventually tackled to the ground in a hallway of the White House just outside the East Room, but “confusion over operational protocols and gaps in staffing and training” are what let the intruder get as far as he did.
His intrusion marks one of the most significant security breaches since Barack Obama took office in 2009. In addition to the knife Gonzalez was carrying, officers found more weapons in his car.
Secret Service director Julia Pierson resigned in part due to this security breach.
The review by the US Department of Homeland Security detailed how Gonzales managed to climb over the 7 ft high fence where one of the ornamental spikes was missing on 19 September.
He was not seen climbing the fence because their view of the grounds was blocked by a construction project, and investigators found that the first alerts about Gonzalez making it into the grounds were brief, at times “unclear and muffled” and never reached key posts inside the White House because emergency communications receivers were muted.
At one point, Gonzalez raced through heavy brush inside the White House grounds to elude pursuing agents.
"Officers were surprised that Gonzalez was able to get through the bushes; prior to that evening, officers believed the bushes too thick to be passable," the report said.
One Secret Service canine officer who was parked on the White House driveway had taken out his earpiece in order to make a personal call on his mobile phone, while his second tactical radio had been stashed away in his locker.
After spotting the intruder, the officer gave the attack command to the dog, but the animal “did not have enough time to lock onto” the intruder and “may not have seen him at all” according to the report.
Once Gonzalez managed to scale the fence, get through the bushes and escape officers as he ran up to the White House, another officer posted on the portico outside the wooden doors of the executive mansion wrongly assumed the doors were locked.
Gonzalez then ran into the building and past another officer before she was able to lock a second set of doors, while members of an emergency response team had hesitated to follow the intruder inside of because they were not familiar with the layout of the White House.
The female officer who had been unable to lock the doors in time tried to tackle Gonzalez twice but did not succeed as she was smaller than the intruder.
She also tried to reach for her metal baton but grabbed her flashlight instead, and once she had got hold of her gun, Gonzalez had already made his way in the East Room and deep into the White House.
Gonzalez was eventually tackled by two plain clothed officers who were ending their shift.
“This report indicates that the Secret Service’s response at the White House was significantly hampered on 19 September because of critical and major failures in communications, confusion about operational protocols and gaps in staffing and training,” the review said.
“While some of these problems can be attributed to a lack of resources, others are systematic and indicative of Secret Service culture,” it added.
Michael McCaul, the chair of the US House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, introduced legislation on Thursday to form a panel “to conduct a top-to-bottom review” of the Secret Service.
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