WASHINGTON – A 12-year veteran of the Secret Service who once guarded President Obama says the recent case of an Iraq war veteran who jumped the nine-foot White House fence and sprinted past the north portico doors reveals glaring problems with security around the executive mansion.
Dan Bongino told WND the episodes reveal startling holes in security, including a “jurisdictional mess” between police agencies and an outdated perimeter fence that must be reconstructed.
“They must re-engineer that fence. It was designed for tourists, not for safety,” the former Secret Service agent emphasized.
Bongino is not alone in his assessment that security at the executive mansion needs revamping, as a spate of security breaches at the White House has caused the Secret Service to suddenly reassess its procedures and safeguards.
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson has ordered more surveillance and officer patrols, as well as an investigation into this latest incident, the second in just two days at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Bongino said the Secret Service should diversify its weaponry to include nonlethal options.
“Bean-bag shotguns, and more dogs would be a start,” he said.
On Sept. 19, Omar J. Gonazalez, a decorated war veteran who had deployed to Iraq three times and was injured by a homemade bomb, jumped over the north fence, sprinted across the lawn and was stopped only after he entered the White House doors.
Gonzales’ family said the man suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, is homeless and has been living in his car and at campgrounds. When he was arrested, he had a Spyderco VG-10 folding knife in his pocket. In his car, police found more than 800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets and a machete, according to an affidavit.
Gonzalez reportedly served in the Army from 1997 to 2003, when he was honorably discharged, and again from 2005 to December 2012, when he retired. He has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and was being treated at Fort Hood, Texas, for a time, his family said. WND has revealed a crisis in psychological testing and treatment at the U.S. Army post.
In July, Gonzalez was reportedly arrested in Wythe County, Virginia, and charged with possession of a shotgun and sniper rifle, according to reports. Police said Gonzalez had a map of the area and had circled the White House.
Also in August, police say they stopped Gonzalez while he was walking around the White House fence, carrying a hatchet.
On Friday, when he scaled the fence and ran toward the mansion, a Secret Service officer said he shouted at Gonzalez, telling him to stop.
But Gonzalez slipped by guards and caused a rare evacuation of the White House, not long after President Obama had left the grounds.
A federal official said the Secret Service didn’t open fire or send attack dogs after Gonzalez, as agents quickly saw he had no weapon in his hands and was not wearing clothing that could conceal a bomb. The official said agents were also concerned about hitting bystanders outside the fence.
Asked why the agents wouldn’t simply tackle Gonzalez and handcuff him, Bongino responded, “There’s no good answer as to why that didn’t happen.”
He added, “Given the information presented – no visible weapon, empty hands, no suicide vest or visible explosives – the decision to not employ deadly force was justified. Some mistakenly believe that the Secret Service agents and uniformed officers have special law-enforcement powers, but that’s simply not the case. They are subject to the same use of force guidelines as any other federal agent.”
As a former Secret Service officer, Bongino brings a wealth of experience to assessing White House security, having guarded Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and authoring the New York Times bestseller “Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top-Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked Away From it All.”
He noted another problem with White House security is institutional.
“Another important point is that the jurisdictional fights over turf have to stop. Between Secret Service, D.C. Metro, and Park Police, the White House has been chopped up into a jurisdictional mess,” Bongino explained. “[It’s] just another visible symptom of the big government bureaucratic mess we created.”
The security review may have been prompted by this latest breach of White House security, but it is just the latest in a recent series of incidents.
- In September of 2013, a man was arrested for throwing firecrackers over the fence onto the north lawn.
- On Oct. 3, 2013, Miriam Carey drove up to a White House entrance, apparently by mistake, then made a U-turn to leave. She was chased by federal officers and shot dead near the Capitol.
- In August of this year, a man with a security pass for the Treasury Department, which is next door to the White House, also apparently drove up to a security gate by mistake, while following a motorcade carrying the president.
- Also in August, a toddler slipped through the bars of the White House fence.
- And, less than a day after Gonzalez scaled the fence, another man drove up to a White House gate and refused to leave. A bomb squad in full gear searched his car, and nearby streets were closed.
The two blocks in front of the White House’s north gates on Pennsylvania Avenue have been closed to traffic since 1995 to prevent car-bomb attacks.
But drivers can still go right up to the vehicle entrances, even by mistake, as evidenced by the examples of the Treasury Department employee and Carey.
Carey family attorney Eric Sanders, a former New York City Police Department officer, has blamed lax security at the gate, in part, for her death.
“She somehow got past them. You know how she got past them?” he asked. “Because they were over there, smoking and joking and lackadaisical, just like I said from the beginning. That’s why they don’t want to show the video,” he previously told WND.
When asked Monday to comment on the latest lapse of White House security, Sanders emphasized another point.
“Well, they claim because he appeared ‘mentally ill’ and not a threat, they did not use deadly physical force against him. How do you reconcile that with the Miriam Iris Carey shooting?” the attorney told WND.
Sanders believes a plain-clothes officer who blocked Carey’s car and tried to stop her from leaving was acting out of machismo.
“See, the other breaches were not ‘personal.’ Miriam’s shooting occurred because it was ‘personal.’ The key is the interaction between her and the off-duty U.S. Secret Service officer. Her case needs a lot more scrutiny,” he said.
Sanders also has a blunt contention, previously telling WND that officer “wanted to make that b—h pay.”
The attorney claims her wrongful death was caused by “the unidentified aggressive Caucasian male police officers, supervisors and managers assigned to the U.S. Secret Service Uniform Division and the U.S. Capitol Police” and that “their collective actions caused Carey’s ‘avoidable’ wrongful death.”
Sanders singled out the actions of one agent who was not in uniform, suggesting his bravado turned an innocent mistake into a deadly encounter.
Authorities also did not release video of the incident at the White House gate, only still photos. Sanders believes that video would show both the negligence of the officers on duty and that the confrontation with Carey was provoked by the off-duty officer.
Sanders has told WND numerous reasons why he insists officers should never have shot at Carey.
- Media reports claimed Carey tried to ram a White House gate or barrier with her car, but the initial police report did not;
- The police report said Carey tried to make a U-turn after arriving at a White House checkpoint;
- She apparently broke no laws until fleeing after being confronted by heavily armed guards;
- Police justified the shooting out of fear Carey might be a terrorist, but Sanders pointed out, if officers feared Carey had a bomb, that would be reason not to shoot at her;
- Additionally, WND found information that officers would have known within minutes that Carey was not a terrorism threat;
- Sanders and law-enforcement experts also told WND that the policy of most major police departments is to never shoot at moving vehicles;
- Non-lethal means, such as tire spikes, apparently were not used to try to stop the car.
- Non-lethal means, such as pepper spray or a Taser, apparently were not used to subdue Carey before officers shot her to death;
- Video showed officers shooting at Carey in a crowded public space at least seven times after officers inexplicably failed to block her car at a traffic circle.
Sanders wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder to request a civil rights investigation but told WND he never received a response.