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Report: Secret Service Knew of White House Vulnerability for 20 Years

Report: Secret Service Knew of White House Vulnerability for 20 Years

After Omar Jose Gonzales, 42, was arrested last Friday for jumping the White House fence and running inside, the Washington Post was informed of a classified mock attack on the White House security zone in the early 1990’s that showed the vulnerabilities in the security apparatus, the Post reported.

The mock attack, called the “Red Cell” study, was carried out by Delta Force, an elite military unit. The attackers had no knowledge of what security was in place, and still found two ways they could get inside the executive residence. The first was to put 6-8 attackers on a helicopter or small plane and crash into the White House compound. The survivors of the crash who were not killed by security when they got off the flying unit would make it inside, likely one or two attackers. The second method was to have roughly one dozen attackers climb over the fence one right after the other; again, one or two attackers would make it inside.

The report of the mock attack was classified–until now. Some of the report’s conclusions were declassified for training purposes; some people who knew the details wanted an assault team to be assembled as well as a plainclothes surveillance team to check the White House grounds and surrounding area.

Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan had no comment on the study, whose details the Post somehow obtained.  President Obama praised the Secret Service for doing a “great job,” adding that he was “grateful for all the sacrifices they make on my behalf and on my family’s behalf.”

One current problem with security is the paucity of staff complicated by a high turnover rate, likely prompted by budget cuts; in 2012 and 2013 all but three Secret Service academy classes, which create recruits, were canceled. Another factor is the overtime required of the workers for which they are not being compensated. But Donovan said new recruits will be trained, and Secret Service Director Julia Pierson is scheduling 11 new academy classes this summer.

On Monday, federal prosecutors alleged that Gonzales had 800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets, and a machete in his car, only blocks away from the white House, when he jumped the fence. In addition, one prosecutor also said that Gonzalez had been arrested in Wythe County, VA, in July holding a sawed-off shotgun as well as other guns and a map that featured a line heading toward the White House. In August, Gonzales was seen by Secret Service officers by the south fence of the White House with a hatchet in the back waistband of his pants.

Without being aware of the study, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Homeland Security, dismissed Gonzalez as a legitimate threat, and even said after Gonzales was caught that he was concerned what would happen “if 12 guys” all jumped the fence at the same time. He said on Monday, “We’re inviting more attacks. The bad guys are paying attention. It seems the current leadership is not taking security as seriously as it needs to be in this day and age. It really scares me.”

Dan Emmet, who used to work for the Secret Service’s early counterassault team, said of the Gonzales breach, “This particular incident is a tactical failure. The Secret Service cannot spin this or minimize it. The only thing I can imagine is there were no uniform division officers in that area when he happened to do that. And that is ridiculous.”

On Monday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Homeland Security said they would convene a hearing for next Tuesday.

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