The Secret Service Debacle: Terrifying

As of late the Secret Service has come under heavy scrutiny for a variety of incidents over the past few years which have made it fodder for comedy. These range from the prostitution, drunken escapades in Columbia that involved over 10 agents to a night of drunk partying in the Netherlands that saw an agent fall asleep in the hallway of a hotel. Most recently though, the misstep made by the Secret Service is in no way comedic, rather it is quite alarming. What I speak of is the September 19th case of a man who jumped the White House fence and ran into the building. This isn’t a partisan issue for me; this is the matter of an agency that serves to protect the most powerful man in the world, thoroughly failing at its mission.

On September 19th, Omar Gonzalez jumped the fence of the White House and proceeded to enter the White House. Let me put that into perspective, he scaled an over 7 foot tall fence with a plainclothes surveillance team in full sight. He then ran 70 yards across the White House lawn where he should have been entirely visible for all to see and where a guard booth officer, SWAT team, roof snipers and K-9 unit each failed to respond. He then ran up several stairs and entered the White House through unlocked doors, overpowered a Secret Service agent and made it all the way into the East Room of the White House before being apprehended by a counterassault agent who just happened to be walking by after finishing his shift. This isn't the failure of the Secret Service to prevent a lunatic from throwing a pie at the president's face during a meet and greet; this is the failure of the Secret Service who are guarding a stationary, supposedly secure building to immediately apprehend a person.

The Secret Service claimed that they failed to shoot Gonzalez as he ran across the lawn because he didn't appear armed. What if he had an explosive vest strapped to his chest, would the Secret Service have been able to determine if he was armed in that case? Quite frankly I don't believe so due to the sole fact that they were so inept in failing to apprehend this man before he even reached the doors of the White House. Indeed he was later found to have a folding knife on him but imagine if he did have an explosive device. No matter how small it might have been, think of the images that would've followed. Smoke billowing from the entrance to the White House, a building I personally think of well at least before as one of the most protected residences in the world. Adding to that situation, what if he was a terrorist sympathizer, the symbolic victory for radicals would be huge while the symbolic security defeat for the U.S. would be incredibly demoralizing. Fortunately that was not the case.

Many questions have been raised by this incident and the failure to earlier apprehend Gonzalez. Now truth be told, immediately shooting a White House fence jumper is not the first best option. Apprehending them immediately is and this has been done in the past. In fact just a week prior on September 11th, a fence jumper was immediately caught after scaling the fence. Why not this time? There are sensors in the ground as well as above ground infrared sensors to detect fence jumpers. Additionally there are snipers on the roof of the White House who have a commanding view of the perimeter of the property. Why weren't agents at least waiting prepared for Gonzalez at the doors? Well simply put the audible alert system wasn't active because the Secret Service had turned it off following a request made by the usher's office at the White House due to noise concerns. The logic in this is outstanding, I mean it's only the security of the President of the U.S. we are talking about, we can't have alarms going off that disturb tour guides. The K-9 unit failed to release its dogs to pursue Gonzalez as they feared they might turn on Secret Service officers. Then may I ask what good are the dogs for security if they aren't trained to ignore local personnel?

After facing a grueling congressional committee, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned on Wednesday October 1st. Her resignation though won't fix the problems and failures that allowed for this complete breakdown in security. True she took full responsibility for the incident and admitted the White House security plan was not properly executed. We all mistakes, nobody is perfect. In this case though it wasn't one mistake or two but multiple successive failures. True we can say that the end result was peaceful but there are multiple ways this event could have had an unhappy ending. Personally I just can't fathom the gross incompetence and failure of the system in this situation. One can only hope that the Secret Service whose most visible mission is the protection of the President, will make the changes necessary to ensure such an event never occurs again.

Posted by SPBrooker at October 6, 2014 9:20 PM
Comment #384000

SPBooker…… you are absolutely right in your assessment of the recent abysmal reaction (or more accurately, the lack of it)to the breach of our Presidents’ living quarters. It is irrelevant which party the residence houses….it is home to the most powerful Statesperson and family in the world. How absolutely embarrassing that was to be repeated all over.

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