Another Secret Service Security Lapse Disclosed
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Omar Gonzalez, the man who ran into the White House armed with a knife last month, is due in court today. Gonzalez was formally indicted yesterday on charges of entering the White House grounds with a weapon. The indictment by a federal grand jury was handed down as a congressional panel grilled the director of the Secret Service over those lapses. And there's a new incident to report. A man with a criminal record and a gun was on an elevator with President Obama last month. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The latest Secret Service lapse occurred as the president visited the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. A security contractor who had been convicted of assault and battery was on the elevator with the president, who was at the CDC to get a briefing on the U.S. response to Ebola. According to published reports confirmed by NPR, the contractor was videotaping the president with his cell phone and wouldn't stop when Secret Service agents asked him. When agents later questioned him, they discovered his criminal background and his gun. The incident is the latest in a string of embarrassing gaffes by the Secret Service, whose director, Julia Pierson, was hauled over the coals at a congressional hearing yesterday. California Republican Darrell Issa chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
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REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: This failure was once again tested - has tested the trust of the American people in the Secret Service, a trust we clearly depend on to protect the president.
NAYLOR: Issa was referring to the incident last month in which 42-year-old Army veteran Omar Gonzalez climbed over the White House fence, was able to run across the lawn and entered the White House before eventually being tackled in the East Room. The federal indictment says he was armed with a three-and-a-half inch knife. Pierson took responsibility for the failure to stop Gonzalez.
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JULIA PIERSON: It's clear that our security plan was not properly executed. This is unacceptable, and I take full responsibility. And I will make sure that it does not happen again.
NAYLOR: Pierson said Gonzalez was one of six fence-jumpers in the past year. There have been 16 in the past five years. Pierson said the incident is under investigation by the Secret Service. But lawmakers say that's not enough. Democratic Congressman Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts says an outside, independent investigation is needed.
REPRESENTATIVE STEPHEN LYNCH: I know that Director Pierson has initiated an internal investigation where the Secret Service is investigating themselves. However, we doubt that that will bring forth the broad changes that are necessary.
NAYLOR: Lynch says he's not confident in Pierson's ability to lead the Secret Service, though he stopped short of calling for her resignation.
LYNCH: The underlying protocols really need to be revisited. And I think there's also a culture of laxity that exists now within the security apparatus of the White House. And I think we need to revisit that whole apparatus to make sure that it's sufficient to protect the first family.
NAYLOR: Another oversight panel member, Democrat Gerald Connolly of Virginia, frankly says he's worried for the first family's safety.
REPRESENTATIVE GERALD CONNOLLY: I'm not satisfied that the first family is secure behind the White House fence and can sleep safely every night in their beds.
NAYLOR: Connolly says the Secret Service may need to cut back on some of its responsibilities such as tracking down counterfeiters. There are also questions about the agency's morale, staffing and budget cuts. But it's not clear there are any easy or quick fixes for what now ails the Secret Service. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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