When Omar Gonzalez scrambled over the iron fence, setting off electronic alarms, and bolted for the White House entrance some 70 yards away, Secret Service officers had just seconds to react.
They had two possible options that might have prevented the intruder from reaching the president’s home and place of business: One of the sharp shooters on the roof of the White House could have killed him. Or a dog handler could have unleashed the Belgian Malinois trained to bring down a target individual. Neither of those things happened.
Mr. Gonzalez didn’t appear to be carrying a weapon, nor was he wearing loose clothing or a backpack, which might have concealed explosives. Fence jumpers are not that unusual (there was one just the previous week), and this one didn’t appear dangerous enough to shoot. The dog is very smart, but could have attacked one of the Secret Service officers racing after Gonzalez, who was tackled just inside the unlocked White House door at the North Portico.
In retrospect that may have been the right decision – right up until the point at which Gonzalez made it inside the White House entrance, setting off alarm signals for a high-pressure agency already under close supervision for recent misdeeds, including carousing by off-duty agents expected to be the highly-professional, real-life “Men in Black.”
"Been investigating the Secret Service for some time. Frustrating. Good men and women but HUGE question marks for their leadership," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, (R) of Utah, who chairs the House subcommittee on national security oversight, tweeted. "This is not the first time Secret Service has shown too much vulnerability. There are other unreported incidents. I will continue to push."
On “Fox News Sunday," Rep. Peter King, (R) of New York, said, “I have great respect for the Secret Service, but this is absolutely unacceptable.”
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson agrees. (She was appointed by President Obama last year after a 2012 scandal when agents in Colombia were disciplined for soliciting prostitutes.) She immediately ordered increased surveillance and more officer patrols of White House grounds, as well as a full investigation of the incident.
“Every day the Secret Service is challenged to ensure security at the White House complex while still allowing public accessibility to a national historical site,” the agency said in a statement Saturday. “Although last night the officers showed tremendous restraint and discipline in dealing with this subject, the location of Gonzalez’s arrest is not acceptable.”
Details have begun to emerge about the intruder whose actions have set off political alarm bells.
He’s from Copperas Cove, Texas. According to the public defender assigned to represent him, Gonzalez served 18 years in the US military, including three tours in Iraq. He has no prior convictions or arrest warrants.
“He’s a very good guy. He is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder,” former stepson Jerry Murphy told the Washington Post. “I don’t believe he had any intention in hurting anybody. He has served his country for years.”
Mr. Murphy said Gonzalez has been living out of his car for the past two years, driving around the country with his two dogs, according to this report.
"We talked to him on 9/11 and he said he planned to go to a Veterans Administration hospital to seek treatments," a family member told the Los Angeles Times.
"He's been depressed for quite some time," the relative said. "He'd been taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. I suspect he stopped taking it, otherwise this wouldn't have happened."
According to the criminal complaint filed in federal court Saturday, Gonzalez in fact was carrying “a deadly or dangerous weapon” – a 3 ½-inch folding knife in his pants pocket.
In the complaint, Daniel Hochman, the reporting uniformed Secret Service officer, says Gonzalez told officers “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.”
A second security incident occurred Saturday when a man drove up to a White House gate and refused to leave. He was arrested for trespassing, and his car was searched for a bomb by an explosive technician in a bomb suit.