WASHINGTON – The chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will ask the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the U.S. Secret Service's failure to prevent a knife-carrying intruder from running through the White House before being apprehended.
U.S. Rep. Darryl Issa, R-California said he did not think the Secret Service could adequately investigate its own failures.
"It is the considered view of the chair, and I believe in concurrence with the ranking member [Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland], that an internal investigation by the Secret Service is not sufficient," Issa said. "I will be working on a letter to the ... Department of Homeland Security asking for a more aggressive and grater independent investigation."
Issa, whose call for an outside investigation was supported by Democrats, spoke during a hearing where Secret Service Director Julia Pierson conceded that the White House force failed in the mission that day.
"I do not know [why security protocols were not followed], and that is one of the main issues I hope to resolve in the course of this investigation," he said.
Lawmakers also expressed dissatisfaction with Pierson's explanation for a recently revealed 2011 incident in which the south side of the White House was struck by several bullets. Though Secret Service reports from the time revealed several officers drew their guns and ducked for cover, believing the White House was taking fire, a supervisor told them to stand down because the sounds were that of a car backfiring.
Three or four days after the 2011 incident, White House staff found a third floor window had been broken by a bullet, and that several other rounds struck the building façade.
Pierson told Congress on Tuesday that it was not typical for Secret Service teams to sweep the upper levels of the building and had not noticed the cracked window and bullet holes.
As for the recent intrusion by Gonzalez, Pierson was quick to take responsibility for the failure by uniformed secret service to stop him, but offered little in the way of explanation for how it could have happened.
Gonzalez had previously been interviewed by the Secret Service after he was spotted near the White house in July with a hatchet in his belt. After interviewing Gonzalez, officials determined he was not a threat.
Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Massachusetts, said Virginia State Police – which had arrested Gonzalez earlier and searched his car at the time – had told the Secret Service it found 11 weapons in his vehicle. These included a 12-guage shot gun, an AR-15 equipped with a flashlight and scope, a bolt-action rifle with scope, two .45-caliber handguns, one of them a Glock with 800 rounds of ammo, a .357-magnum, and a map of Washington with a line drawn to the White House.
"He had been pulled over. He had a small arsenal in the car," Lynch said. "When does the red flag come up for the Secret Service? The Secret Service was informed that he had 11 weapons in the car."
Gonzalez, 42, served in the Army from 1997 to 2003, and then again from 2005 until he was medically retired in 2012. He was wounded by an IED blast in Iraq in 2008, and reportedly has been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
In a hearing most unusual for the House panel, the criticism of the Secret Service was bipartisan, with both Republican and Democrat lawmakers condemning the agency's failure with words such as inadequate, shocking, disgraceful and outrageous.
Pierson told lawmakers she did not disagree with the descriptions, but insisted that the agency would learn from the incident and make the changes necessary.
Initial Secret Service reports stated that Gonzalez made it into the White House and to the East room before being stopped. The Washington Post on Tuesday, citing confidential sources, said Gonzalez had made it through the East Room – the large function room often used for social and diplomatic functions – and into the Green Room.
Pierson disputed that Gonzalez made it to the Green Room but conceded he was close to it.
U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, also hit the agency for praising its White House security team in a Sept. 20 press statement for showing "tremendous restraint" when it capture Gonzalez.
"Tremendous restraint is not what we're looking for [when it comes to protecting the President]. The objective is overwhelming force," he said. "Don't praise them for ‘tremendous restraint.' That's not the goal,"
At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Tuesday that President Obama continues to have confidence in the Secret Service.
"[The President] did relay that he was obviously concerned about his situation, as a parent, as a father who is raising two young women in the building," Earnest said. "But, that said, the President does continue to have confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service to perform their very difficult task with the professionalism and dedication you would expect."
The Secret Service's embarrassment at failing to stop an intruder is only the latest incidents to call into question the culture and professionalism of the agency.
In recent years, agents have been involved in scandals involving a wanna-be reality show couple crashing an official White House event, and Secret Service agents being involved in public drinking episode in the Netherlands and using prostitutes in Colombia.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org