The Secret Service reportedly did not discover that the White House had been struck by at least seven bullets in a 2011 shooting incident until the damage was pointed out by an usher and did not interview witnesses until after the bullets were found.
A report published Sunday by The Washington Post details the Secret Service response to the November 11, 2011 incident, in which Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez fired on the executive mansion from his car. It comes as the agency is having to answer more questions about their ability to protect the White House and the first family after a man with a knife hopped the fence and made it inside the North Portico doors last Friday.
According to the paper, Secret Service personnel began to respond to the shots fired by Ortega-Hernandez, only to be told by a supervisor over the radio to stand down. The explosions, he believed, were only backfires from a nearby construction vehicle.
Even after the fact that shots were fired had been confirmed, agency supervisors initially theorized that members of rival gangs in separate cars had gotten into a gunfight. At least one officer stationed near the White House that night told the Post that she was reluctant to state her belief that the mansion had been hit to her supervisors, claiming "fear of being criticized."
Because the Secret Service did not initially believe that the White House had been targeted, the Post reports, they were slow to put out national law enforcement bulletins for Ortega-Hernandez, who was not arrested until the following Wednesday, November 16, in Pennsylvania. The initial arrest warrant for Ortega-Hernandez was issued by U.S. Park Police, which oversees much of the area around the White House and had been given control of the initial investigation by the Secret Service.
On the Tuesday after the shooting, damage from two bullets were discovered on the second floor of the mansion by a White House housekeeper and usher. The usher told Michelle Obama, who had arrived back in Washington from Hawaii after spending the Veterans Day weekend with her husband, about the find before any Secret Service agent could. Less than a week later, the Post reports, then-Secret Service Director Dan Sullivan was called to the White House for a meeting with the first lady, in which she addressed him so sharply that she could be heard through a closed door.
The Post reports that the Secret Service's handling of the 2011 incident was the first instance that caused concern among observers of the agency. The next year, the Secret Service was embroiled in a prostitution scandal while accompanying the president to Cartagena, Colombia. Finally, this past week, Army veteran Omar Gonzalez became the latest person to spark a security alert and reveal the Secret Service's limitations.