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White House Intruder Made it Halfway Through First Floor
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White House Intruder Made it Halfway Through First Floor

Summary: An intruder who ran into the White House on September 19 was initially believed to have been quickly apprehended, but the Secret Service has now revealed that the man made it halfway through the first floor of the White House, including being in close proximity to the Obamas’ living quarters.

The Huffington Post reveals that a White House intruder made it much farther than the Secret Service previously admitted. Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) disclosed the information just before a congressional oversight hearing with the director of the Secret Service.

  
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Chaffetz stated that whistleblowers informed his committee that on September 19, the intruder, Omar J. Gonzalez, actually ran through the White House, into the East Room, and close to the doors to the Green Room before finally being caught. Apparently, the intruder even made it past a female guard who was stationed in the White House at the time.

Ed Donovan, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said shortly after the incident that the suspect had been stopped inside the North Portico doors of the White House, and that the suspect was unarmed. However, the next day it was revealed that Gonzalez had a knife with him when security stopped him.

Chaffetz was concerned about the incident, stating, “I’m worried that over the last several years, security has gotten worse–not better.” He added that his committee requested a briefing from the Secret Service about the intruder, but that request was denied.

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Senate Judiciary Committee staffers who were briefed about the investigation a week after Gonzalez ran through the White House were never informed that Gonzalez had made it so far into the building, according to a congressional official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official added that the committee was only later told that Gonzalez had made it well beyond the front doors of the White House.

Gonzalez had quite a run: he ran past the guard at the front door, past a staircase that actually leads to the Obamas’ bedrooms, and into the East Room. This is roughly halfway across the first floor of the White House. A counter-assault agent finally “tackled” Gonzalez.



According to the White House Historical Association, Gonzalez had to run through the main entrance hall, turn a corner, and flee through the center hall halfway across the first floor, all in all a 168-foot run.

The break-in is going to be a hot topic at Tuesday’s House committee hearing, during which lawmakers will question Julia Pierson, director of the Secret Service. The hearing will be Pierson’s first testimony since the intruder breached White House security.

Chaffetz stated he will question Pierson about why audible alarms that were supposed to alert officers to an intrusion had been muted. Chaffetz added that normally, testimony is prepared in advance for such a hearing, but that Pierson did not submit any testimony in advance.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest stated that President Obama was “obviously concerned” about the intrusion, but that he was also confident in the Secret Service. Should a president criticize those who are expected to die for the president and his family if necessary, a conflict of interest may develop, which would imply Congress should take over as the authority over the Secret Service.

Earnest said, “The president and the first lady, like all parents, are concerned about the safety of their children, but the president and first lady also have confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service to do a very important job.”

Of course, had the intruder been heavily armed, and had the Obamas been at home, the breach of security could have been devastating. Fortunately, no one was injured on the 19th, but it is not the first time a major security breach has occurred. In 2011, the Secret Service allegedly did not respond immediately to shots that were fired directly at the White House. At least one bullet broke the glass of a third-floor window. Again, President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were not home, but one of their daughters was in the White House and the other daughter was to return from an outing later that night. The shooter, Oscar R. Ortega-Hernandez, has been sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Pierson ordered a review of the incident and will determine possible modifications to White House security. Pierson briefed President Obama on Thursday.

Trouble had been brewing for Gonzalez for several weeks. State troopers arrested him in July during a traffic stop in Virginia for having an illegal sawed-off shotgun in his vehicle. He also had a map of Washington inside a Bible with the White House circled. Other weapons and ammunition were seized from his vehicle.

The Secret Service interviewed Gonzalez in July, but he was released on bail since the Secret Service was unable to hold him. On August 25, Gonzalez was stopped and questioned again when he was discovered walking along the south fence of the White House. He was carrying a hatchet, but no firearms. His vehicle was searched, but no arrests were made.

Ed Donovan, the spokesman for the Secret Service, stated, “There’s a misperception out there that we have some broad detention powers,” but clarified that they must have evidence of criminal behavior before filing charges, just as all law enforcement agencies are required to have.

Photo credit: thisis50.com



 

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