Secret Service officers bungled the response to a White House intruder by committing a series of what one lawmaker is calling a “comedy of errors,” including one officer who was on his cell phone when the man jumped the fence and multiple officers who assumed bushes would stop him.
The details were revealed in an executive summary of a DHS report, first reported by The New York Times, on the Sept. 19 incident. Accused intruder Omar Gonzales was able to scale the White House fence, sprint untouched across the lawn and make it all the way into the East Room before he was apprehended.
The summary of the review cites many ways the Secret Service failed in its response to the incident from beginning to end, and how they dropped the ball before it even happened.
The report notes that Gonzales was already on authorities’ radar in July after he was stopped in his car in Virginia with an illegal sawed-off shotgun and a map of Washington tucked inside a Bible with a circle around the White House, other monuments and campgrounds. Then, on Aug. 25, Gonzalez was stopped and questioned again while he was walking along the south fence of the White House. He had a hatchet, but no firearms. His car was searched, but he was not arrested.
The report revealed that about an hour before the incident, three Secret Service officers saw Gonzales outside the White House and recognized him from the incident with the hatchet. However, they did not observe “unusual behavior” and so did nothing.
After the intruder jumped the fence, the message that the White House had been breached did not reach officers stationed at the White House. Some other officers on duty at the Northwest Gate on Pennsylvania Avenue did not see the intruder because a construction project blocked their view.
The report said that two officers did learn of the breach, and ran toward the intruder with guns drawn. However, they did not think the intruder was armed and determined lethal force wasn’t appropriate. Gonzales was later accused of having a knife.
The officers then followed the intruder into bushes outside the White House, but lost sight of him. According to the report, this “surprised” the officers who “believed the bushes too thick to be passable.”
The report said in addition, a canine officer was stationed in a van on the White House driveway. But when the intruder hopped the fence, he was chatting on his personal cell phone on speaker, and had taken his earpiece out of his ear. The canine officer was also not alerted to the incident prior to spotting the intruder.
When the officer spotted the intruder running, he commanded his dog to apprehend him. However the report said the dog may have not seen the intruder. The canine officer also assumed that the intruder would be stopped by the bushes.
“The Canine Officer mistakenly thought that the bushes would serve as a natural barrier and was surprised that Gonzales was able to enter and pass through them,” the report said.
Once the intruder got inside, he was able to overpower a female officer, who grabbed her flashlight instead of her baton when attempting to subdue him. He was eventually tackled and arrested.
The report cites many reasons as to why the Secret Service failed in its response, including inadequate training, poor staffing decisions and outdated or inefficient communication technology.
The report drew outrage from lawmakers on both sides. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte calling the incident a “comedy of errors” and said it's clear change is needed at the Secret Service.
“This report makes clear that everything that could have gone wrong that evening did,” Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a statement. “Inadequate training, poor communication, and lax physical security at the White House led to this breach.”
Democratic Rep. Bennie G. Thompson said it is crucial that DHS and Secret Service leadership get the Secret Service on track.
“While some of these problems can be attributed to a lack of resources, others are systemic and indicative of Secret Service culture,” Thompson, D-Miss., said. “Some of these problems have begun to be addressed, however it is imperative that DHS follows through on these findings and institutes real reforms.”
The Secret Service told Fox News that the executive summary is one of many ongoing reviews of the incident, and that the Secret Service is working to address the inadequacies highlighted in the report.
“The entire Secret Service workforce is dedicated to ensuring that we provide the highest level of protection to the people and facilities we protect,” the Secret Service press office said in a statement.
The Secret Service has vowed to make changes after the intruder incident and other embarrassing disclosures of lapses in presidential security that led Secret Service Director Julia Pierson to resign last month.