Washington: A man who jumped over a White House fence and entered the presidential mansion was carrying a folding knife and claimed to be an Iraq war veteran, triggering a security review.
The White House — the president’s workplace and home — is generally regarded as one of the most secure and protected places on the planet.
All the more troubling, Secret Service officials said, that the fence jumper, identified as 42-year-old Omar Gonzalez, had entered the building unimpeded late Friday after sprinting across the North Lawn.
President Barack Obama and his family were not home at the time, though officials and journalists were rushed out of the building during the evening disturbance.
“I ran toward Omar Gonzalez and yelled at him to stop. Instead, Omar Gonzalez ran toward the White House,” a Security Service agent said in an affidavit.
Gonzalez, of Copperas Cove, Texas, was arrested just after entering through the North Portico doors of the White House. Agents found a Spyderco VG-10 black folding knife with a 3.5-inch (8.90-centimeter) serrated blade in his right front pants pocket, according to the affidavit.
During an initial appearance in US District Court in Washington on Saturday, he was charged with unlawful entry while in possession of a deadly or dangerous weapon. He faces up to 10 years behind bars.
After his arrest, Gonzalez told a Security Service agent that “he was concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing and needed to get the information to the President of the United States so that he could get the word out to the people,” according to the affidavit.
The document also said that Gonzalez claimed he had served three tours of duty in Iraq.
“Although last night the officers showed tremendous restraint and discipline in dealing with this subject, the location of Gonzalez’s arrest is not acceptable,” the Secret Service said.
An agency within the Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service is tasked with protecting America’s highest elected officials and visiting foreign officials, and securing events of national significance. But the service in charge of security for America’s commander in chief has also been dogged with scandals and mishaps in recent years.
The investigation was ordered by Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, whose office said that the review’s findings would be submitted to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
The Secret Service said the review began late Friday, with a physical assessment of the site and personnel interviews, and would encompass “all operational policies and security procedures during this process.”
In the interim, Pierson has ordered increased patrols and surveillance around the fence line of the White House complex.
The announcement of the internal Secret Service probe coincided with the second security incident in as many days at the White House, where a man was arrested and charged with trespassing.
Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary told AFP that Kevin Carr of Shamong, New Jersey, had turned up in his car a short time after being denied entrance at a pedestrian access point.
“He doesn’t hit the barriers, he gets out of his vehicle, he’s compliant — but he was in a restricted area and he was told not to be there, so he was arrested,” said Leary. Officials said this breach was a relatively minor affair compared to the fence-jumper the day before.
“This is an everyday occurrence,” said Ed Donovan, another Secret Service spokesman, adding that at no point did Carr attempt to enter White House grounds.
“It’s being overblown,” he said, as US media quickly ramped up coverage of the incident.
The attention also comes after several embarrassing incidents for the agency. In March, three agents were sent home from Amsterdam after a night of drinking, with one found passed out in a hotel hallway.
And in 2012, a dozen agents and officers drank heavily and brought prostitutes to their hotel in the Colombian Caribbean resort of Cartagena before the president’s arrival for an economy summit.