Secret Service Director Julia Pierson appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Tuesday morning to answer questions about recent White House security breaches.
Pierson’s appearance before the committee were her first public statements about how an Army veteran armed with a knife, was able to jump the fence on Sept. 19 and bust into the White House where he made it all the way to the East Room before he was stopped.
Initially, we were told that Omar Gonzalez had been stopped right inside the front door.
Pierson, who took over as director of the Secret Service 18 months ago, was also questioned closely about a 2011 incident in which the agency failed to recognize that the White House had been struck by several rounds of gunfire until damage was found days later by staffers.
More from the hearing:
Early in the hearing, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, said that the country has “placed great trust” in the Secret Service and referred to the $1.5 billion that funds the agency.
But he said a “history of misbehavior” has tarnished the agency’s reputation. The Gonzalez incident represented a breach of five layers of security, he said, and he went on to list a catalog of other missteps, beginning with the 2009 crashing of a White House state dinner by an uninvited couple, agents consorting with prostitutes in Cartagena, Columbia, and a drinking incident in the Netherlands earlier this year.
“We have to ask whether the culture of the Secret Service has been impacting the operation,” he said. “How much would it cost to lock the front door of the White House?”
Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., offered an inventory of weapons Gonzalez was carrying in his car during his first encounter with police months before the Sept. 19 incident.
“Then he shows up at the White House with a hatchet in his belt. No red flags and you let him go,” Lynch said.
“When do the red flags go up for the Secret Service? This is disgraceful,” he said, adding that the distance Gonzalez traveled inside the White House represented half a public tour of the White House.
“I wish you spent the time protecting the White House that you spent protecting your reputation here today,” Lynch said.
Pierson sat silently before interjecting: “Let me be clear, the United States Secret Service does not take any of these incidents lightly.”
But Lynch pressed on, saying that he had “very low confidence in the Secret Service under your leadership.”
“Have you ever heard of these guys?” asks Rep. Mica pic.twitter.com/wMtyIdYvOD
— Charlie Spiering (@charliespiering) September 30, 2014