Director Julie Pierson Gets An Earful From Lawmakers On Both Sides Of The Aisle

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) — Facing blistering criticism from Congress, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson said Tuesday she takes full responsibility for the breach of White House security in which a man with a knife entered the mansion and ran through half the ground floor before being subdued.

“It’s clear our security plan was not executed properly. It’s unacceptable,” Pierson told lawmakers, promising a review of how the storied but blemished agency carries out its mission of protecting the president and how it failed to intercept the intruder much earlier.

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“I’ll make sure that it does not happen again,” she said.

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.

Pierson also said there have been six fence-jumpers this year alone, including one just eight days before Army veteran Omar J. Gonzalez jumped the fence on Sept. 19.

Pierson appeared Tuesday before the House Oversight and government Reform Committee.

“The fact is the system broke down,” declared committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). “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.

“How on earth did it happen?” Issa asked. “This failure — has tested the trust of the American people in the Secret Service, a trust we clearly depend on to protect the president.”

Issa wasn’t the only lawmaker to give Pierson an earful.

“I’ve listened to your testimony very deliberately,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), “and I wish to God you protected the White House the way you’re protecting your reputation.”

“In this day and age of ISIL and terrorists, and IEDs, and dirty bombs, we don’t know what’s going on underneath that person’s clothing,” added Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). If they want to penetrate that, they need to know that they are going to perhaps be killed. That’s the message we should be sending.”

Members of Congress briefed by the agency apparently weren’t told of the full extent of the breach.

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Details only emerged later. Gonzalez raced 70 yards across the north lawn and brushed by a Secret Service officer who had a drawn gun, entering the mansion, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported. He then ran through the White House, into the East Room and near the doors to the Green Room before being apprehended.

On the way to the East Room, the intruder would have passed a stairwell that leads to the first family’s residence. It was unclear what security would have been in place to prevent Gonzalez from attempting to go up to the family quarters.

Pierson said Tuesday that the front door to the White House now locks automatically in a security breach. She said that on Sept. 19 a Secret Service guard was attempting to lock one of the doors manually when the intruder knocked the agent down.

Gonzalez was brought down by a door leading to the Green Room, a parlor adjacent to the East Room, which is used for formal events including bill signings, press conferences, receptions and ceremonies, CBS News reported.

According to CBS News’ White House correspondent, Bill Plante, Gonzalez was brought down by an off-duty secret service agent.

“This is just — it’s more than vexing, it’s just — it’s really, really troubling,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a telephone interview with CBS 2. “If the White House isn’t secure, what is? I think that’s what the average New Yorker and the average American would be thinking and they’ve got a very good point.”

In the hours after the Sept. 19 fence-jumper incident, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told The Associated Press that Gonzalez had been apprehended just inside the North Portico doors of the White House.

The agency also said that night the Army veteran had been unarmed — an assertion that was revealed to be false the next day, when officials acknowledged Gonzalez had a knife with him when he was apprehended.

Since the incident, the White House has treaded carefully. Although White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged the president was “obviously concerned” about the intrusion, he expressed confidence in the Secret Service as recently as Monday.

“The president and the first lady, like all parents, are concerned about the safety of their children, but the president and first lady also have confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service to do a very important job,” Earnest said.

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