President Barack Obama expressed confidence in the Secret Service on Monday, days after an intruder managed to scale the White House fence and actually walk through the front door of the mansion before being subdued.
Uniformed Secret Service officers walk along the lawn on the north side of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014. The Secret Service is coming under intense scrutiny after a man who hopped the White House fence made it all the way through the front door before being apprehended. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
“The Secret Service does a great job,” Obama said. “I'm grateful for all the sacrifices they make on my behalf and my family's behalf.”
The Secret Service is committed to stopping future wall-climbers, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said earlier in the day. At the same time, the administration is urging the public not to jump to conclusions over the quality of security.
Earnest said the agency is conducting an intense review and immediately stepped up additional surveillance around the property.
“The Secret Service has beefed up foot patrols along the fence line of the White House complex,” Earnest said. “The Secret Service has deployed additional surveillance resources to beef up surveillance around the White House. The Secret Service has changed procedures for ensuring that the entrance to the White House is secure. And there already is some stepped-up training for officers who are essentially standing on the front lines of the White House to ensure that they're aware of the policies that are related to securing the White House and dealing with incidents like the one that we saw Friday.”
Prosecutors say Omar J. Gonzalez, a 42-year-old Iraq War Army veteran from Copperas Cove, Texas, climbed the fence facing Pennsylvania Avenue and ignored orders to stop as he raced across the lawn, entering through the doors of the North Portico where he was finally tackled by Secret Service. The police report said he was “concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing” and needed Obama “so he could get word out to the people,” the Associated Press reported.
Obama and the first family were not in the White House at the time.
“The president is going to leave it up to the professionals to determine the security posture that is necessary to both protect the first family but also to ensure the White House remains the people's house,” Earnest said.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Jonson called for the public to relax and not rush to judgment.
“It is important to remember that the U.S. Secret Service remains one of the best, if not the best, protection services in the world,” Johnson said in a statement Monday. “This week it is responsible for the protection of approximately 140 heads of state or heads of government who will convene at the U.N. General Assembly in New York City. Last month the Secret Service provided protection for over 46 world leaders who convened in Washington for the Africa Summit, and it did so flawlessly and without incident. There is virtually no other protection service in the world that could accomplish these things.”
During the press briefing Monday, Earnest took another question about reports that Gonzalez had fallen through the cracks in getting the care he needed from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Earnest said he did not want to comment on the specific case under criminal investigation.
“As a general matter, the president has spoken on a number of occasions about the important commitment to ensure that all of our veterans, particularly those who served on numerous deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have access to physical health and mental health benefits to which they are entitled,” Earnest said. “There are a number of reforms to the VA to try to improve to ability of those individuals to receive those benefits to which they are entitled.”