Knife-wielding intruder prompts plans for expanded White House buffer zone

Knife-wielding intruder prompts plans for expanded White House buffer zone
The White House could become less accessible, as the US Secret Service considers ways of making the precinct safer by setting up checkpoints or barriers around it, after a man with a knife managed to make it inside the building.

Tourists willing to visit the area around the White House might soon have to get their bags and ID’s checked blocks away from the presidential mansion. Introducing the measure is being discussed by the US Secret Service, according to an anonymous law enforcement official, who spoke to the Associated Press on Sunday.

The official said the plan for the checkpoints was not new, but has gained momentum following a failure by the security agents to prevent an intruder carrying a knife from entering the White House’s front door.

Apart from the proposal on setting up checkpoints near the White House, other options being considered include trying to keep people off the sidewalks around the compound and creating additional barriers, the Washington Post reports.

Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, jumped the north fence of the US president’s workplace and home, ran to its entrance and was only detained once inside the building.

Gonzalez failed to comply with responding Secret Service Uniformed Division Officers’ verbal commands, and was physically apprehended after entering the White House North Portico doors,” the US Secret Service later described the incident in a press release, adding that “the location of Gonzalez’s arrest is not acceptable.

The breach happened 10 minutes after president Obama and his family had left for the Presidential Retreat at Camp David, Maryland.

AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm

The agency’s director, Julia Pierson, promptly ordered an internal review into the embarrassing episode, which led to a rare evacuation of much of the White House.

The investigation will first of all try to find out why guard dogs weren’t sent to stop the intruder and why the front door of the mansion was not immediately locked, sources close to the review told the New York Times.

So far the number of officers patrolling the territory around the White House has been increased and surveillance of the area has been enhanced on Pierson’s orders.

The White House intruder on Saturday faced charges of an unlawful entry while in possession of a deadly or dangerous weapon. A folding knife with 3.5-inch (8.90cm) serrated blade was found in one of Gonzalez’s pockets.

The man now faces up to 10 years behind bars.

His family meanwhile claims he is an Iraq War veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to a criminal complaint, Gonzalez told a Security Service agent, who was arresting him, that "he was concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing and 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 the affidavit, cited by AFP.

Attempts at trying to gain access to the White House are not a rare thing. Less than 24 hours after Gonzalez was detained on Friday, the Secret Service arrested a man who drove up to the White House gate and refused to leave.

What makes Gonzalez’s attempt stand out though is that he actually managed to make it inside one of the most protected buildings in the world.

The breach comes as the security services are recovering from a series of scandals.

In March, three agents from the US Secret Service responsible for protecting President Obama in Amsterdam were sent home after a night of drinking. One of the agents actually passed out in a hotel hallway and was later found by the hotel staff.

In 2012, 11 Secret Service agents who were in Cartagena, Colombia, preparing for Obama's arrival there, were relieved from their duties in light of claims they were drinking and visiting prostitutes instead of fulfilling their duties.