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September 29, 2014

White House Fence Jumper Made It Into the East Room; 2011 Shooting Incident Downplayed by Secret Service Revealed to Have Been More Serious Than Claimed

This story broke Saturday night, I think.

This 2011 incident was -- well, let me say, as non-provocatively as possible, not reported accurately to the public.

In 2011, a gunman fired a rifle at the White House (when Obama was not present, but members of his family were). Seven bullets hit the White House.

Do you remember reading about that?

Well, if not, there's a reason for that.

A bullet smashed a window on the second floor, just steps from the first family’s formal living room. Another lodged in a window frame, and more pinged off the roof, sending bits of wood and concrete to the ground....

Then came an order that surprised some of the officers. "No shots have been fired. . . . Stand down," a supervisor called over his radio. He said the noise was the backfire from a nearby construction vehicle.

...

By the end of that Friday night, the agency had confirmed a shooting had occurred but wrongly insisted the gunfire was never aimed at the White House. Instead, Secret Service supervisors theorized, gang members in separate cars got in a gunfight near the White House’s front lawn -- an unlikely scenario in a relatively quiet, touristy part of the nation’s capital.

It took the Secret Service four days to realize that shots had hit the White House residence, a discovery that came about only because a housekeeper noticed broken glass and a chunk of cement on the floor.

It's an important article, with some real reporting going on (for a change).

On the heels of that comes another story in which the Secret Service seems to have seriously downplayed how far an attacker penetrated White House grounds.

Spoiler Alert: The East Room.

The man who jumped the White House fence this month and sprinted through the front door made it much farther into the building than previously known, overpowering one Secret Service officer and running through much of the main floor, according to three people familiar with the incident.

An alarm box near the front entrance of the White House designed to alert guards to an intruder had been muted at what officers believed was a request of the usher's office, said a Secret Service official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The officer posted inside the front door appeared to be delayed in learning that the intruder, Omar Gonzalez, was about to burst through. Officers are trained that, upon learning of an intruder on the grounds, often through the alarm boxes posted around the property, they must immediately lock the front door.

After barreling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses.

I sort of understand the reason for, um, less than accurate public reports here. The Secret Service is a security and intelligence outfit. Intelligence outfits generally conceal their successes, and their failures, and especially how they succeeded and how they failed.

This is the "methods" part of intelligence which spooks always claim is highest-level tippy-toppiest top secret. Letting your enemies know how you respond when probed or attacked gives your enemies far too much information about how to probe or attack you in the future.

I doubt this is a genuine "political" scandal, because I'm thinking Obama's political interests lay with overselling the danger here, not underselling it. I imagine, to the extent he blessed the Secret Service's course of action of underplaying these threats, he did so for reasons of concern about his personal safety and that of his family, and not due to any political advantage.

I imagine the Secret Service will be likely given the "methods" pass on this as well -- they do have, I think, a plausible case to make about why they choose to conceal/downplay attacks which are semi-successful (in that they result in far too deep a penetration for comfort).

However, on this last point, it's useful to point out something about human nature.

When one has a failure -- an embarrassment -- one has personal, selfish reasons to conceal that.

But people are very good about making up stories for their own consumption about how The Greater Good actually requires the same thing that their personal good requires (here, downplaying the incidents and concealing the Secret Service's failure).

And if someone in the Secret Service found these lapses embarrassing, I think it's entirely plausible that such a person might have made a good case to himself that the best course of action was to conceal the embarrassing lapse -- for the sake of the President's security, you understand.

Not out of any grubby desire to hide the embarrassing lapse.

I'm not saying that's what did happen * -- I'm just saying that when personal advantage can be argued to align with ethical imperative, people are very eager to believe such arguments, and convince themselves that they're right.

People tend to be very willing to agree with their own interests. We're all pretty great at that.

That said, I don't expect these stories to go anywhere. The Secret Service does have a facially-plausible reason for downplaying these stories -- "We don't wish to give future attackers an insight into our response and the gaps in our security" -- and that will probably be enough to shut people up.

It's enough to shut me up, personally, and I'm a loudmouth.

I just hope that they're right about that being the actual best course of action, and they're not letting a desire to conceal their mistakes color their judgment.


* Intelligence services are prone to repeated mistakes because they always have an easy out: "Shut up and stop asking questions, because asking questions will compromise security."

But sometimes that sort of mindset precludes the sort of criticism and motivated response required to cure the original defect.

And so sometimes the cover-up results in a new crime -- or a new failure.

I'm sure that most of the time the CIA says "We're not answering that because it would compromise security," that is true, most of the time.

However, I'm equally sure that when the CIA is probed about a lapse in judgment, and it says, again, "We're not answering that because it would compromise security," that is false, a lot of the time.

Hmmm... wheatie has an interesting claim.

I know nothing at all about White House security, except from what I see on 24. (Best way to smuggle a bomb into the White House: recruit the Vice President into your terrorist cabal).

But wheatie says this:

That thing about the doors not being locked?

The doors have traditionally been left unlocked for security reasons!

That's because the Secret Service agents need to be able to have instant access to all areas...in the event of an emergency situation.

So if they are now going to start locking all the doors, it's going to create an impediment to the SS agents.

That kinda makes a whole lot of sense to me.

The real defense against a threat is not a locked door. It's a Secret Service agent.


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posted by Ace at 05:43 PM

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