How Safe Is The White House? Secret Service Overhaul Hopes To Fix Previous Years' Mistakes
After months of criticism for poor decisions and security lapses, four of the Secret Service's most senior officials were dismissed from their positions, The Washington Post reports. The assistant directors of protection, investigations, technology, and public affairs have been informed by Acting Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy that they must leave their current jobs. This isn't quite a firing, as the four can take other positions within the agency or retire, but it's clear that the acting director is trying to clean house in the face of these safety breaches.
The biggest gaffe by the Secret Service last year, of course, was when a Texas man was able to jump the fence and actually enter the White House while carrying a knife in his pocket. Omar Gonzales was charged with "unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon." The breach, which was only one of several embarrassing moments for the Secret Service in the previous couple of years, prompted a review of the president's security detail.
Not long after details of the fence-jumping incident and other security breaches were brought to light, Julia Pierson resigned as Secret Service director.
In November, the Department of Homeland Security reviewed the fence-jumping incident, and it made the Secret Service look pretty bad. For starters, most of the officers on duty at the time didn’t notice Gonzalez when he first jumped the fence. Agents' radios didn't work, and apparently no one followed Gonzalez, because who thought he would get through these ginormous North Portico doors? They're supposed to always be locked. Except in this instance, they weren't locked, and Gonzales did get in, making it all the way to the East Room before he was caught.
But will the dismissals of top Secret Service officials make the White House any safer from security breaches?
In theory, the White House is already one of the most secure places in the country. An alarm is supposed to sound when anyone breaches the fence, and attack dogs are supposed to chase and knock down any intruder. Bullet-resistant glass lines the windows in the front of the building, though that didn't prevent a gunman from hitting the White House with seven bullets in 2011, while members of the Obama family slept inside.
The Secret Service has been tasked with protecting the president since the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley. It has an annual budget of $1.7 billion (with a "b"). But before she resigned, Pierson said the Secret Service had seen its budget cut, losing 550 agents and putting staffing "below minimum levels."
After the September incident last year, a new fence was put up around the White House, keeping the public an additional five feet away from the previous barriers.
Even with all the security measures, lapses obviously happen. The White House was long envisioned by presidents as a place where they could welcome the public, and many are wary of having it too closed off and too restricted from any and all visitors. In an October hearing on Capitol Hill, The New Yorker reported, former Secret Service Director W. Ralph Basham testified that the White House is not a place to keep secure "at all costs."
[The White House] “is an important symbol for the American people. It is obviously critically important that it be kept safe, but that security must be accomplished in a way that does not jeopardize the very values that we seek to protect.”
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