Security lapse may cost America its ‘people’s house’

I didn’t know how good we had it in the United States as recently as when my kids were small (20 years or so) and we could walk through the White House, standing in the East Room, right where the president stands for important news conferences and, no matter who he is, uses words like “freedom.”

Even if we weren’t on the tour, we could peer through the fence that surrounds the White House, “the people’s house” as a few tour guides referred to it. There was an important reason why the White House didn’t look like an impenetrable fortress. It’s a symbol of our freedom, our accessible leaders, our open democracy.

But the Washington Post reports today that in the wake of the embarrassing security lapse that allowed two separate incidents involving men jumping the fence, the Secret Service and National Park Service may move America farther away.

Checkpoints would be set up farther away from the White House. People would no longer be able to stroll along Pennsylvania Avenue.

It’s a common reaction now when those responsible for security botch the procedures already in place. They create new measures.

The New York Times today details some of the ones that weren’t followed:

According to officials briefed on the review, one of the biggest questions senior Secret Service officials want answered is why officers on the grounds did not deploy attack dogs that are specifically trained to stop intruders, even those sprinting across the White House lawn.

At all times, there are several muzzled Belgian Malinois on the White House grounds, officials said. The early assessment by senior agency officials is that the dog handlers should have quickly removed the muzzles and unleashed the dogs.

Agency officials are also puzzled as to why the guard at the front door of the White House did not follow procedure and lock the door as soon as an alarm signaled that someone had breached the fence.

The man who breached the fence, Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Tex., had been questioned in the past few months by Secret Service personnel outside the White House after they noticed him loitering. Mr. Gonzalez had not been arrested, nor was he told to stay away from the White House, as the Secret Service often warns people it is concerned about.

The usual congressional suspects on the Sunday talk shows yesterday were justifiably upset at the breach and demanded more security measures.

None of them mentioned getting more help for war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder as part of the overall plan.