Washington: Secret Service Director Julia Pierson said on Tuesday she takes full responsibility for the breach of White House security in which a man with a knife entered the mansion and ran through half the ground floor before being subdued.
Pierson also said there have been six fence-jumpers this year alone, including one just eight days before Army veteran Omar J. Gonzalez jumped the fence on Sept 19.
Pierson appeared today before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to face blistering criticism. "The fact is the system broke down," declared committee chairman Darrell Issa. "An intruder walked in the front door of the White House, and that is unacceptable."
Not only that, he said, but the intruder penetrated at least five rings of security protecting what is supposed to be one of the world's most secure properties.
"How on earth did it happen?" he asked. "This failure ... has tested the trust of the American people in the Secret Service, a trust we clearly depend on to protect the president."
Members of Congress briefed by the agency that protects the president and his family apparently weren't told of the full extent of the breach. Details only emerged later.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, said Monday night that whistleblowers told his committee that the intruder ran through the White House, into the East Room and near the doors to the Green Room before being apprehended. They also reported to lawmakers that accused intruder Omar J. Gonzalez made it past a guard stationed inside the White House, Chaffetz said.
"I'm worried that over the last several years, security has gotten worse — not better," Chaffetz said.
In the hours after the Sept 19 fence-jumper incident, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told The Associated Press that Gonzalez had been apprehended just inside the North Portico doors of the White House. The agency also said that night the Army veteran had been unarmed an assertion that was revealed to be false the next day, when officials acknowledged Gonzalez had a knife with him when he was apprehended.
The Secret Service declined to comment on the latest details to trickle out of the investigation of the embarrassing security breach.
It was not clear late Monday what Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was told about the extent of the incident.
Senate Judiciary Committee staffers who were briefed about the investigation by the administration a week after the incident were never told how far Gonzalez made it into the building, according to a congressional official who wasn't authorized to discuss the investigation and requested anonymity. The official said the committee later was told that the suspect had, indeed, made it far beyond the front door.