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Report Released On White House Fence Jumper


This has not been the best year for the Secret Service. Its number one job is to protect the president of the United States and his family. But in the past few months, there have been several breaches of security surrounding the president, leading the Secret Service director to resign. Perhaps the most jarring incident occurred last September, when a man jumped the White House fence and made it inside before he was captured. There's been an official investigation for what went wrong. NPR's Brian Naylor has had a look at that investigation, and he joins us now. Welcome.


MONTAGNE: Now, the Secret Service is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which conducted this investigation. What was new here?

NAYLOR: Well, we have a lot of new details, Renee, that provide a picture of what one Republican congressman is calling a comedy of errors that occurred last September 19. That was when Omar Gonzalez, an Iraq War veteran, scaled the fence along Pennsylvania Avenue. So here's the first mistake or issue. It turns out that the top part of the fence that he climbed over was broken, and it didn't have that kind of ornamental spike that might have slowed him down. Gonzalez then set off alarms when he got over the fence, and an officer assigned to the alarm board announced over the Secret Service radio there was a jumper. But they didn't know the radio couldn't override other normal radio traffic. Other officers said they didn't see Gonzalez because of a construction project along the fence line itself. And in one of the most perhaps striking breaches, a K-9 officer was in his Secret Service van on the White House driveway. But he was talking on his personal cell phone when this happened. He didn't have his radio earpiece in his ear. His backup radio was in his locker. Officers did pursue Gonzalez, but they didn't fire because they didn't think he was armed. He did have a knife. He went through some bushes that officers thought were impenetrable, but he was able to get through them and to the front door. And then an alarm that would've alerted an officer inside the front door was muted, and she was overpowered by Gonzales when he burst through the door. So just a string of miscues.

MONTAGNE: A stunning series of screw-ups.

NAYLOR: Yeah. Everything from broken or inoperable radios, bad training, and there's also an issue with staffing. A lot of the uniformed division works a lot of hours because they seemingly don't have enough officers for all of the duties that they have.

MONTAGNE: Well, another thing. When Omar Gonzalez jumped the White House fence in September, that was not the first time that law enforcement and specifically the Secret Service had encountered him.

NAYLOR: Yeah. Yeah. He had been - come to their attention twice before. In July, he was stopped in Virginia with 11 weapons and a map of Washington with the White House highlighted. The Secret Service interviewed him shortly after that. And then he was found in August near the White House with a hatchet under his clothes. He was interviewed then. But the report says that the Secret Service who conducted the first interview hadn't really informed the uniformed division that this was someone that they had wanted to keep an eye on. And so he wasn't listed as a person of interest.

MONTAGNE: So what happens now? The Secret Service director has resigned. More changes coming?

NAYLOR: Yeah. We're going to get a full report next month. This is just part of the review. The rest of the report is going to look at some of the other incidents involving the Secret Service - other security breaches. The acting director, Joe Clancy, is just that - he's acting. So there's going to be recommendations by this review board for a new director. And all of that is due sometime next month.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Brian Naylor. Thanks very much.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.