Intrusions into the White House are nothing new, particularly in the years since President Obama took office. On November 24th, 2009 two people were allowed into the White House for a social event, breaching to levels of security-and even got pictures with President Obama. On November 16th 2011, shots were fired at the White House. On June 9th, 2013 a man named Joseph Reel launched his Jeep into the White House fence. On September 11th, 2014, a man scaled the White House fence and entered the North Lawn.
In fact, Since 1912, there have been 37 different documented cases of White House intruders. Over the years, White House security has been improved. After the start of World War II, more on-the-ground restrictions were placed on the White House. Police barricades weren’t implemented until 1983, and the White House fence itself was expanded further from the White House in the 1990s due to fear of truck bombs.After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there were additional measures taken to secure White House airspace.
The White House has been an obvious target for some time, attracting intruders even before the Obama administration. On May 23, 1995 an intruder scaled the White House fence with a gun in hand. On February 7, 2001, shots were fired at the white house by a disgruntled IRS worker. Then, there are the more serious attempts to attack the White House. On 9/11 a commercial airliner, Flight 93 was intended to strike the White House before it crashed in Shanksville Pennsylvania.
Most threats to the White House are in actuality, a proxy for a Presidential assassination. The last credible threat to a sitting President was the Reagan assassination attempt of 1981. As we all know, Reagan lived, but several serious attempts to take the lives of subsequent Presidents have been uncovered in the years since.
In 1996, at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, Osama Bin Laden plotted an attack to kill President Clinton through a truck bomb that was set to deploy under a bridge Clinton was to use. Clinton’s route was diverted at the last minute. In 2005, President George W. Bush was giving a speech in Freedom Square, Georgia. During the speech, a man from the audience threw an armed grenade on stage as Bush was speaking. The only reason it didn’t explode was the trigger engagement was blocked by a cloth that was used to smuggle in the object.
Then the Obama era began. Early on as a Senator, Obama had received so many death threats that he had a secret service detail since 2007, marking the only time in American history that a candidate received a Secret Service detail before gaining the nomination of a major political party.
Since becoming president, Barack Obama has received 300 percent more death threats than any recent president, and there have been several high profile assassination attempts that have been successfully foiled. The first attempts happened when Obama was the Democratic Presidential nominee in 2008, when several individuals with weapons were arrested in Denver after it was unveiled they planned to kill Obama at the Democratic National Convention. Later in the campaign there was another plot in Tennessee that was foiled. Two White Supremacists plotted a massacre of black schoolchildren and then planned on using their vehicle and weapons to assassinate Obama. In April of 2013, President Obama was sent letters with Ricin poison as retaliation for Obama’s support for gun control. Since 2008, nine additional assassination plots have been made public.
On September 20th, 2014, Iraq war veteran Omar Gonzalez successfully breached the halls of the White House, with a knife in hand. Gonzalez started by jumping the northern White House Fence. At the front entrance of the White House, an alarm box designed to alert guards to possible intruders had been turned off, allowing Gonzalez to get into the North Entrance of the White House. The door on the North Lawn wasn’t locked. Dogs were not released to chase after the suspect. As Gonzalez entered the White House, he overpowered the Secret Service Officer he confronted. He then turned left to the East Room of the White House where he was taken down by an off-duty Secret Service Agent. Shockingly, Gonzalez successfully made it through the plain clothes Secret Service detail outside the fence, SWAT teams on the lawn, rooftop snipers, and agents in the White House. After Gonzalez was detained, it was revealed that Gonzalez, who was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, had 800 rounds of ammunition in his car as well as a map with markings on the White House.
The Secret Service has come under increased scrutiny in the last few years after a slew of high profile missteps. In Colombia, 11 agents were involved in a scandal in which members of the President’s security detail brought prostitutes to their hotel rooms prior to the President’s arrival. Subsequent investigations found that additional officers may have been involved in illegal drug use on the same trip. On September 30th, it was revealed that President Obama was escorted on an elevator at the CDC command center in Georgia. Later it was revealed that the person escorting President Obama was a private contractor with a criminal history. The private contractor was not sufficiently vetted, and was chastised by the service after he started taking video of President Obama using a cell phone. In an interview with the contractor after the incident, the Secret Service learned for the first time that the contractor was carrying a gun. Also revealed was an incident from 2011 where seven shots were fired at the White House. The Secret Service did nothing because they believed the sound was “construction backfiring”.
Director of the Secret Service Julia Pierson came under fire when Congress reconvened for a special House Oversight Committee hearing on September 30th to address the recent security breach at the White House.
Pierson took “full responsibility” for the recent breach, and stated “What happened is unacceptable and we will never happen again” adding “As director, my primary concern is the operational readiness of my workforce and, over the past 18 months, I have worked to proactively address all aspects of presidential protection and the security of the White House complex.”
Pierson then concluded her testimony by stating that she had bugun a comprehensive review for the purposes of necessary personnel actions. Before the hearing was over, Pierson experienced blistering criticism from both sides of the aisle, with Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass) stating, “When do the red flags go up for the Secret Service? This is disgraceful. I wish you spent the time protecting the White House that you spent protecting your reputation here today.” Utah Republican Lincoln Chaffetz stated, “We want to see overwhelming force, don’t let somebody get close to the president. If they have to take action that is lethal, I will have their back.” adding he had “serious concerns” over the leadership of Pierson.
On October 1, Julia Pierson resigned her post. Even after the resignation, questions still remain. What changes are going to be made within the service under new leadership? Hopefully Americans will have more answers in the coming weeks.