VOA News – Security is more visible at the White House in Washington, after an intruder jumped a fence last week and entered the presidential mansion before being apprehended by Secret Service officers.
Secret Service agents patrolled Monday with dogs on the sidewalk outside the White House, while other agents could be seen on the rooftop, as U.S. authorities considered ways to increase the security buffer around the presidential compound.
Secret Service chief Julia Pierson ordered the extra patrols and increased surveillance along the black fence surrounding the White House.
The presidential security agency is also investigating how the intruder was able to scale the fence and make a dash inside the mansion’s front door before being stopped.
The White House is one of the most secure buildings in the U.S., but in the wake of the intrusion, the Secret Service is now considering whether to establish new checkpoints to screen tourists even before they approach the residence where U.S. presidents have lived for more than two centuries.
Omar Gonzalez, 42, who scaled the barrier Friday evening while carrying a knife, was to appear in U.S. District Court in Washington Monday afternoon, court spokesman Sheldon Snook said.
Gonzalez faces charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a “deadly or dangerous weapon.” If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.
After being apprehended, Gonzalez, a retired Army sergeant who served in Iraq, told a Secret Service agent that “he was concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing and (he) 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 an affidavit released by prosecutors.
Although President Barack Obama and his family were not at the White House at the time the incident has shaken confidence in the ability of the U.S. Secret Service to protect the president.
The president and his daughters had departed from the South Lawn by helicopter just a few minutes before the incident.
The agency is also considering ways to expand the security zone around the White House to keep tourists and other members of the public farther away, media reports said. Additionally, visitors to the complex, now screened at the entrance gates, could instead be screened blocks away, the New York Times and the Washington Post reported.
Representatives for the Secret Service did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, but the agency said earlier it is reviewing its response.
Fence-jumpers at White House
While fence jumpers are somewhat common at the White House, Friday’s incident was particularly concerning because the intruder was able to penetrate the actual building.
Critics have said they are appalled by the lapse, saying it could give confidence to other potentially more deadly attackers.
In a second incident on Saturday, the Secret Service said Kevin Carr of Shamong, New Jersen was arrested on Saturday for trespassing at the White House.
The man approached the gates on foot first, but returned with his vehicle to another gate after being sent away by security. When he refused to leave he was arrested for unlawful entry.
Just last month, a toddler was able to squeeze through the White House gates.
The Secret Service also has faced scrutiny after a prostitution scandal in 2012 and a 2009 breach involving an uninvited couple at a White House state dinner, although a 2013 Department of Homeland Security report found no evidence of misconduct or inappropriate behavior at the Secret Service.
From: Copperas Cove, Texas
Military career: Sergeant in the Army; enlisted July 1997, discharged September 2003, re-enlisted 2005, retired on disability 2012; served in Iraq October 2006 to January 2008
Military units: 10th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; Joint Base Fort Lewis-McChord in Washington state and Fort Hood
Charges: Accused of breaking into the White House while armed with a knife. If convicted, faces up to 10 years in prison.
Source: U.S. Army, Reuters
Some material for this report came from Reuters.