‘Secret Service assumed bushes would stop White House intruder’

The Secret Service response to an armed intruder at the White House was complicated by muted alarms, thick bushes on the lawn, unlocked doors, and an officer physically too small to tackle the intruder.

A summary of the government’s investigation into the failure by the Secret Service charged with protecting the president revealed details about the September 19 break-in at the White House by a disturbed army veteran carrying a knife. It ultimately led to the resignation of the head of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson.

The report said Omar Gonzalez climbed over a fence where an ornamental spike was missing. An officer in the joint operations centre who tried to raise the alarm was unaware his warnings were not being broadcast to officers at the White House.

Some officers at a gate on Pennsylvania Avenue failed to see the fence-jumper as their view was obstructed by a construction project.

Two officers assumed Gonzalez would not be able to get through thick bushes on the property. Another outside the wooden White House doors assumed they were locked.

Gonzalez, 42, was able to run into the building before a female officer seated just inside the building could lock a second set of doors.

That officer tried twice to take Gonzalez down but was unable because she was smaller than him. She reached for a metal baton but grabbed a flashlight instead. Gonzalez then made his way into the East Room before heading back down a hallway on the State Floor. He was eventually tackled by another officer, who was helped by two plainclothes agents just finishing a shift.


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