House oversight committee Chairman Darrell Issa blasted the Secret Service Tuesday over the security breach earlier this month where an intruder broke into the White House — and accused the agency of giving a “false” account of what happened.
In his opening statement, Issa, R-Calif., confirmed emerging reports that the intruder made it all the way into the East Room. Issa said that was contrary to an “early, false report” that claimed the intruder only made it just inside the door.
“An intruder walked in the front door of the White House, and that is unacceptable. Commonsense tells us that there were a series of security failures — not an instance of praiseworthy restraint,” Issa said.
He claimed the intruder breached at least five rings of security. Urging the Secret Service to fix its problems, he warned that the next breach could be a “planned attack by a terrorist organization.”
“The fact is, the system broke down,” Issa said.
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, testifying at the hearing, acknowledged that the security plan “was not properly executed.”
“This is unacceptable and I take full responsibility and I will make sure that it does not happen again,” she said. Pierson, without going into detail, said the intruder was ultimately arrested on the “State Floor,” which refers generally to the first floor of the White House. She said all decisions from that day are being evaluated.
The testimony comes after it was revealed that the suspect in the Sept. 19 incident made it far deeper into the White House than previously known.
Sources confirmed to Fox News on Monday that 42-year-old Omar Gonzalez overpowered a Secret Service officer and got all the way into the East Room before he was stopped.
A series of what one source called “catastrophic” security failures apparently allowed the intruder to get that far.
The Secret Service did not follow basic protocols during the incident to protect the White House, the president and the first family and the agency still does not know why, a source intimately familiar with details of the investigation told Fox News.
For example, the Secret Service didn’t lock down certain areas of the property and did not elevate the threat level at the White House so that other uniformed officers and agents would know what was happening, which is a standard response.
“This was a catastrophic failure when the President was not there. What if the president was there?” the source, a longtime Secret Service insider, added. “It turns out that basic functions in place to avoid this were never initiated.”
The Secret Service has been having high-level meetings to address the breach, the latest in a series of embarrassing scandals for the agency since a 2012 prostitution scandal erupted during a presidential visit to Colombia.
The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the Secret Service did not immediately respond to shots fired at the White House in 2011, amid what the agency describes as uncertainty about where the shots originated. Four days later, it was discovered that at least one of the shots broke the glass of a window on the third level of the mansion, the Secret Service said.
At the time of the 2011 breach, the president and first lady Michelle Obama were away, but their daughters were in Washington – one home and the other due to return that night.
Oscar R. Ortega-Hernandez of Idaho has been sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 2011 incident.
Gonzalez was on the Secret Service radar as early as July when state troopers arrested him during a traffic stop in southwest Virginia. State troopers there said Gonzalez had an illegal sawed-off shotgun and a map of Washington tucked inside a Bible with a circle around the White House, other monuments and campgrounds. The troopers seized a stash of other weapons and ammunition found during a search of Gonzalez’s car after his arrest.
The Secret Service interviewed Gonzalez in July, but had nothing with which to hold him. Gonzalez was released on bail. Then, on Aug. 25, Gonzalez was stopped and questioned again while he was walking along the south fence of the White House. He had a hatchet, but no firearms. His car was searched, but he was not arrested.
“There’s a misperception out there that we have some broad detention powers,” Ed Donovan, a Secret Service spokesman, said. The Secret Service, like other law enforcement agencies, must have evidence of criminal behavior in order to file charges against someone. “Just because we have a concern about someone doesn’t mean we can interview or arrest them or put them in a mental health facility,” Donovan said.
Fox News’ Ed Henry and The Associated Press contributed to this report.