There have been extensive failures by the Secret Service assigned to protect President Obama, including a startling collection of mistakes during the Sept. 19 breach of the White House by Omar Gonzalez, a 42-year-old Iraq war veteran, according to an investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Gonzalez, with knife in hand, scaled the fence guarding the First Family’s residence, overwhelmed a guard and entered the building.
“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 report revealed.
“While some of these problems can be attributed to a lack of resources, others are systematic and indicative of Secret Service culture,” it said.
The report says that the emergency response team hesitated to pursue Gonzalez because they were unfamiliar with the layout of the building.
The seven-foot tall fence that Gonzalez climbed was missing one of its spikes. He went unnoticed because a construction project blocked the view of officers. According to the investigators, the first alerts about the breach were brief, “unclear and muffled,” and never reached the key posts inside because the emergency communications receivers were muted.
In between the lawn and the door of the executive mansion where he entered the building, were thick bushes. According to the report, “Officers believed the bushes too thick to be passable.”
A Secret Service canine officer parked in the driveway was on his cellphone with his earpiece removed during the security breach. He noticed the intrusion and gave the “attack” command too late for the dog to respond.
An officer near the doors Gonzalez used to enter assumed they were locked. Once inside, he got past another officer before she could lock the second set of doors. She attempted to tackle him twice, but failed. She reached for her metal baton, but pulled out her flashlight instead and Gonzalez was already near the East Room by the time she got her gun out.
Gonzalez was eventually tackled outside of the East Room in the White House. Two powerful rifles, four handguns, other fire arms and ammunition were found in his car.
The president and his family had departed the White House 10 minutes earlier by helicopter before Gonzalez made his intrusion.
He has been indicted on charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon and unlawful possession of ammunition.
Former Secret Service director, Julia Pierson, resigned shortly after the incident. The Secret Service has had several lapses since President Obama has been in office, including the scandal in 2012, when Secret Service officers were found to have solicited prostitutes while on duty in Colombia.
The Independent reported that Michael McCaul, chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, introduced legislation yesterday to form a panel “to conduct a top-to-bottom review” of the Secret Service.