Secret Service Erects Extra Barrier to Buffer White House

The U.S. Secret Service today erected a temporary extra barrier outside the White House as it reviews how a trespasser managed to get inside the executive mansion.

A buffer zone was created by erecting a metal security fencing a few feet in front of the existing iron fence that surrounds the White House complex.

“This temporary closure is in effect while the Secret Service conducts a comprehensive review of the fence jumping incident which occurred on Friday September 19th,” Agent Ed Donovan, an agency spokesman, said in a statement.

Donovan didn’t say how long the barriers might be in place.

The Secret Service is examining its security measures after a 42-year-old Army veteran vaulted over the White House fence, sprinted across the lawn and slipped through the executive mansion’s front door before being tackled.

Former agents said that the agents and officers at the scene most likely acted appropriately by not using deadly force to stop Omar Gonzalez, who was armed only with a small knife in his pocket.

However, they pointed to other errors stretching back weeks that may have played a role in allowing the fence jumper access to the White House.

Authorities say he was stopped on Aug. 25 near the south fence of the White House with a hatchet in his waistband. On July 19, he was pulled over in Wythe County, Virginia, about 300 miles from Washington, and charged with possession of a weapon after officers found in his Ford Bronco a sawed-off shotgun and a map with a line drawn to the White House.

Tracking Suspect

The former agents said the Secret Service should have handled those episodes more aggressively by keeping better track of Gonzalez and checking his name during the encounter near the White House.

Former agents also pointed to a more mundane error: leaving the door at the North Portico of the White House unlocked.

The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, a Washington-based civil liberties legal group, called proposals to further restrict the area around the White House, frequently the site of protests, “an outrageous assault on free speech.”

First Amendment

“The Secret Service’s security failures inside the perimeter of the White House grounds do not provide a legitimate basis for extinguishing the First Amendment rights of the American public,” stated Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, the group’s executive director, in a statement.

The temporary barricade, which is about three feet tall and about four to five feet from the permanent White House fence, drew mixed reviews from pedestrians and tourists today.

Mohammad Eltahir, 40, of Northern Virginia, was visiting the White House with a friend from Sudan so he could grab a picture. “It doesn’t bother me,” Eltahir said. “Five feet -- it doesn’t matter.”

Marcus Tarnowski, a 23-year-old college student visiting from Germany, said the fence frustrated him because he wanted to stick his camera through the iron fence and get an unobstructed shot of the White House. “It’s kind of sad,” he said.

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