WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) — Facing blistering criticism from Congress, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson acknowledged on Tuesday that her agency failed in executing its plan to protect the White House when a man with a knife entered the mansion and ran through half the ground floor before being subdued.
“It’s unacceptable,” Pierson told lawmakers in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.READ MORE: Rally Calls For Asian Studies To Be Added To School Curriculum In Massachusetts
“I wish to God you protected the White House like you protected your reputation here today,” Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts told her at the hearing.
Calm but defensive in her testimony, Pierson disclosed that shortly before the intruder jumped the fence Sept. 19, at least two of her uniformed officers recognized him from an earlier troubling encounter but did not approach him or report his presence to superiors.
On Aug. 25, Army veteran Omar J. Gonzalez was stopped while carrying a small hatchet near the fence south of the White House, Pierson said. Weeks later, the same officers observed him “for some time” but never intervened. Gonzalez later went over the fence and broke inside the White House.
President Barack Obama and his daughters had left for Camp David shortly before the intrusion; Michelle Obama had gone to the retreat earlier in the day.
“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.
Lynch said that would be “half of a White House tour” to the American public.READ MORE: Dorchester Grandmother Killed By Stray Bullet While Sitting On Porch Identified As Delois Brown
“This is disgraceful,” he told Pierson, adding that he had “very low confidence in the Secret Service under your leadership. Based on the evidence, that’s how we have to call it.”
Pierson said she took full responsibility for the failures and “I’ll make sure that it does not happen again.”
WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller has been covering Lynch for 15 years and he said he’s never heard the congressman so angry.
“There seems to be no end to the calamity that the Secret Service is experiencing,” Lynch told Keller.
“Not only this most recent breach, but also going back to the shootings at the White House where it took them 3 or 4 days to discover that a shooter had actually hit the White House.”
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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