The man who jumped the White House fence this month and sprinted through the front door made it much farther into the building than previously known, overpowering one Secret Service officer and running through much of the main floor, according to three people familiar with the incident.
An alarm box near the front entrance of the White House designed to alert guards to an intruder had been muted at what officers believed was a request of the usher’s office, said a Secret Service official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The female officer posted inside the front door appeared to be delayed in learning that the intruder, Omar Gonzalez, was about to burst through. Officers are trained that, upon learning of an intruder on the grounds, often through the alarm boxes posted around the property, they must immediately lock the front door.
After barrelling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses.
Gonzalez was tackled by a counter-assault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident.
Secret Service officials had earlier said he was quickly detained at the main entry. Agency spokesman Edwin Donovan said the office is not commenting due to an ongoing investigation of the incident.
People jumping over the White House fence has become a more common occurrence, but most individuals are tackled by Secret Services officers guarding the complex before getting even a third of the way across the lawn. Gonzalez is the first person known to have jumped the fence and made it inside the executive mansion.
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson has said the breach was “unacceptable” to her, and on Friday she briefed President Obama on her plans to shore up security.
Pierson is expected to face tough questions about the Gonzalez incident Tuesday at a hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The hearing is likely to cover a number of security lapses by the agency, including new revelations published over the weekend by The Washington Post about the failure to identify and properly investigate a 2011 shooting attack on the White House.
The more detailed account of this month’s security breach comes from people who provided information about the incident to The Washington Post and whistleblowers who contacted Rep. Jason Chaffetz, (R-Utah), chairman of a House Oversight subcommittee on Homeland Security.
Chaffetz said he plans to ask Pierson how an alarm meant to alert officers to intruders could be silenced or turned down. The congressman said two people inside the agency told him that boxes were silenced because the White House usher staff, whose office is near the front door, complained they were noisy. A Secret Service official told The Post that the usher’s office was concerned the boxes were frequently malfunctioning and unnecessarily sounding off.
The alarm boxes, which officers call “crash boxes,” are key pieces of the agency’s first-alert system, according to former agents and officials. If they spot an intruder, officers are trained to hit the large red button on the nearest box — sending an alert to every post on the complex about the location of an incursion, and piping sound from that location to other boxes around the property.
“If true, the fact that crash boxes were muted to avoid being ‘disruptive’ is not due to a lack of resources or an insufficient number of checkpoints or barriers,” Chaffetz said.
He called the incident a “failure of leadership” by the Secret Service.
“The agency needs a solution that goes deeper than more fences and more people,” Chaffetz said. “It must examine what message is being sent to the men and women who protect the president when their leader sacrifices security to appease superficial concerns of White House ushers.”