White House

Report on White House security: Need higher fence, new leadership

A Secret Service police officer patrols near the North Portico of the White House Oct. 23, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
A Secret Service police officer patrols near the North Portico of the White House Oct. 23, 2014 in Washington, D.C. MCT

A panel charged with reviewing the Secret Service following a series of security breaches is recommending significant changes to the fence that surrounds the White House to make it more difficult to climb, including raising it by about five feet, adding outward curves on top and eliminating horizontal bars.

More broadly, the panel said Thursday that the Secret Service is “an organization starved for leadership” that needs more agents, better training and discipline and a new leader from outside the agency.

“The problems exposed by recent events go deeper than a new fence can fix,” the panel wrote. “We believe that at this time in the agency’s history, the need for service experience is outweighed by what the service needs today: dynamic leadership that can move the service forward into a new era and drive change in the organization.’’

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson appointed the panel in October following several dangerous breaches, including a Sept. 19 incident in which a man scaled the fence and ran far into the executive mansion through an unlocked front door. That led to the resignation of the Secret Service Director Julia Pierson.

News reports also indicate that a man fired a semiautomatic rifle at the White House while Sasha Obama was home in November 2011, and that President Obama shared an elevator with a security contractor who was carrying a gun during a trip to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta earlier this year.

Johnson called the report “astute, thorough and fair” and said that his department and the Secret Service must ensure that all the recommendations are carefully considered.

“Some of the panel’s recommendations are similar to others made in past agency reviews, many of which were never implemented. This time must be different,” Johnson said in a statement. “The Secret Service itself must commit to change.”

Much of the report, including details of assessments and recommendations, is classified and will not be released to the public. But the executive summary, which Johnson released, indicates that the panel found significant problems at the elite agency charged with protecting the president, his family and other dignitaries, as well as investigating financial crimes.

It recommends hiring an additional 200 agents in the uniformed division and 85 agents in the presidential protective division as quickly as possible. It recommends breaking with tradition and hiring someone from the outside to lead the agency. And it recommends replacing the seven-and-a-half-foot outer fence that surrounds the 18-acre compound, not just along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the review does not go far enough and that Congress should create a panel to conduct an independent, bipartisan, top-to-bottom review.

“An objective, comprehensive review . . . will provide direction to the (Secret Service) on how best to address today’s threats,” he said.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said it is imperative that the Secret Service begin to review and implement the recommendations made by the panel.

“Security breaches like the fence-jumping incident in mid-September are completely unacceptable and must be prevented from happening again in the future,” he said.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that Obama had not seen the report but that senior administration officials will be briefed by the end of the week. “It is clear that some changes are needed,” he said.

Obama does not have a timetable for replacing Pierson, Earnest said. Joseph Clancy, formerly special agent in charge of the presidential protective division, is serving as the acting agency director.

“We certainly do believe that having a permanent director in place is important, and that’s why you’ve seen this independent panel that was stood up take very seriously their responsibilities,” Earnest said. “We’ll be sure that their recommendations are carefully reviewed.”

The panel was comprised of two officials who had worked for Obama – former Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli and Cabinet secretary Danielle Gray – and two who worked for former President George W. Bush – Mark Filip, a former deputy attorney general, and Joseph Hagin, a former deputy chief of staff for operations.

Top lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had asked for a independent review of the Secret Service that looked beyond the Sept. 19 security breach.

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