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A review of security after an intruder with a knife entered the White House last week may prompt measures considered and rejected in the past, including tourist checkpoints, a federal law enforcement official said.
Options such as closing the sidewalks along the White House fence are only being discussed and no process or timeline has been set to ramp up security by the U.S. Secret Service, said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss measures before a decision is made.
Logistical questions have emerged with some of the steps, including responsibility among multiple agencies for the checkpoints and funding for the measures, the official said.
Several agencies and organizations would need to approve any changes that would restrict Pennsylvania Avenue pedestrian access in front of the White House, the official said. Part of the street has been closed to vehicles for two decades.
A trespasser on Sept. 19 scaled the White House fence, ran across the north lawn and slipped through the front door, bypassing one of the world’s most sophisticated security systems before being arrested.
The breach forced a partial evacuation of the mansion just minutes after President Barack Obama and his two daughters had left by helicopter from the South Lawn to spend the weekend at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, where First Lady Michelle Obama was waiting.
“This is unfathomable,” David Axelrod, Obama’s former senior adviser, said today on MSNBC. “The idea that a guy could just sprint across the lawn, I mean this place is crawling with security.” Less than 24 hours later, another intruder drove up to a White House gate where he didn’t belong, forcing the closing streets in a city already on edge.
The security incidents in Washington put the Secret Service under a spotlight. Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, called for hearings on the security threats.
Thousands of visitors pass legally through the White House front door every year and millions more gather just yards away on Pennsylvania Avenue, poking cameras through the decorative iron bars that ring the front garden.
There have been about 100 intruders, including fence jumpers, in the past 20 years, the U.S. law enforcement official said.
The incident last week was different, because the person was able to enter the secured property without being tackled by agents or knocked to the ground by dogs.
Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary identified the fence- jumper as Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas. According to court documents, he was carrying a folding knife with a 3.5-inch serrated blade.
The official said a security review began hours after the breach, with inspectors reviewing what happened with officers on duty. Yet no action is imminent because there’s no plan in place and no working group is drafting new procedures.
Any plan to enlarge the security perimeter and screen tourists a block or two from the White House would have to be approved by multiple interests, the official said, citing the White House Historical Society, National Park Service, U.S. Park Police and Metropolitan Police Department, among others.
All those entities have a say in the security procedures, the official said. Any change would need to resolve issues, including staffing for the checkpoints, and would it involve the U.S. Secret Service asking Congress for a budget increase next February, when the fiscal 2016 budget is scheduled to be proposed.
It’s all about balancing public access to the White House, for public tours for example, against the security of the president, the official said.
–With assistance from Lorraine Woellert and Jeanna Smialek in Washington.
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