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White House Fence Jumper Made It Farther Into Building Than Reported

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The White House intruder who jumped the fence and ran through the front door earlier this month made it much further once inside than first known. Omar Gonzalez, carrying a knife, was able to run through much of the first floor of the White House.

The Washington Post's Carol Leonnig is reporting these new details about the incident. She joins us now with more. Welcome to the program, Carol.

CAROL LEONNIG: Thanks, Rachel.

MARTIN: So this is a very different description that what we first heard from the Secret Service, that Gonzalez had gotten through the front door. This is much different. How did these new details emerge?

LEONNIG: So these new details came as a result of people who are concerned that the full account should be out there. They've approached - whistleblowers, rather - have approached Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who's got an oversight rule over Secret Service and also have come to us at The Washington Post to talk about what they know has happened. And the account they give goes like this - that the intruder, as everyone knows his name by now, Omar Gonzalez - after he jumps the fence and makes a wild dash for it, crossing the North Lawn and getting in the front door, he actually blows past a female officer who is stationed inside the door there. He overpowers her. She appears to be unaware that there is an intruder about to burst through that door. When she tries to collar him, he overpowers her, gets past her runs into the - sort of what you'd call the nerve center of the ceremonial floor of the White House into the East Room, down the length of that 80-foot-floor room to the South side and is tackled finally by an agent in the entrance to the Green Room. It's a lot further than we knew.

MARTIN: We should say, according to your reporting, on this day there were layers and layers of safeguards that failed. How could that happen?

LEONNIG: Yes, it's interesting. About a week ago a colleague and mine and I wrote a story about these layers of security that we need then were breached. Former agents have told us that, you know, part of the Secret Service's mantra is prevent, mitigate and create these layers so that if one fails another one won't.

So that day outside on the White House grounds on the North Lawn there were five rings that all got pierced. And they were - the Counter Surveillance officers on the outside; this is probably the least important, in terms of failures. It's not really a failure, they just didn't notice this guy trying to jump the fence. There's an alarm that sets off and then there should be uniformed officers that hear that alarm when the man is over the fence and that come rushing to collar him. That didn't work. The third layer of security is a canine - an attack canine who's managed by trained handler. That dog is released like a missile that goes after the bad guy and tackles him and then holds him until the handler arrives. But the dog wasn't released and we're learning a little bit more about that today. It seems like the dog handler may not have released the dog out of fear that it would have attacked other officers that were in pursuit. The fourth layer is the front door. A guard should be at that front door blocking it and ready to collar whoever comes. The door was unlocked and the officer was not in front of it. The officer was over far to the left with his gun drawn and watched as the intruder made his way in. And the fifth layer is the emergency response team, which is a very highly skilled team that is supposed to rove around the grounds and grab any intruder and they were behind him, according to the videos I've watched of the event.

MARTIN: This is the latest in a string of incidents that have plagued the Secret Service missteps. What does this mean for the Service? Is there more - a broader - inquiry happening?

LEONNIG: I think there are a lot of questions being asked and on Tuesday, Secret Service Director Julia Pierson will be asked a lot of hard questions about a number of events. The fence jumper is why the hearing was scheduled, but I believe the director will also be asked about a 2011 shooting that the Secret Service failed to properly identify and investigate.

MARTIN: Has the White House responded to these most recent revelations?

LEONNIG: If you mean the jumper, the president has consistently said that he has a lot of faith in the Secret Service and a lot of gratitude for the sacrifices they make every day to protect him and his family. What's going on behind the scenes, we just don't know.

MARTIN: Thanks so much, Carol.

LEONNIG: You bet.

MARTIN: That was Carol Loennig of The Washington Post. She broke new details today about the intruder who made it into the White House 10 days ago. She reports that he made it much further inside than the Secret Service had previously disclosed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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