Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, a UCF alumna, appeared before a House committee Tuesday after mounting disclosures about dramatic White House security breaches.


Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, a UCF alumna, appeared before a House committee Tuesday after mounting disclosures about dramatic White House security breaches.

Pierson's appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee marked the director's first public statements about how an Army veteran managed to scale a perimeter fence and burst into White House where he made it all the way to the mansion's East Room before he was stopped.

Initial reports about the breach indicated Omar Gonzalez, armed with a knife, had been stopped immediately inside the front door.

The director 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.

In a prepared statement in advance of the hearing, Pierson said she took "full responsibility'' for the Gonzalez breach.

"What happened is unacceptable and will never happen again,'' she said.

"As director, my primary concern is the operational readiness of my workforce and, over the past 18 months, I have worked to proactively address all aspects of presidential protection and the security of the White House complex.''

Pierson said she has initiated a "comprehensive review'' of of the Sept. 19 breach to "ensure this will not happen again.''.

She promised that the review would include a determination of "necessary personnel actions.''

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 Sept. 19 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, agents consorting with prostitutes in Cartagena, Columbia, and a drinking incident in the Netherlands earlier this year. and ending with the Sept. 19 breach.

"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. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the panel's ranking Democrat, said the Sept. 19 incident prompts questions about "a broader problem with the Secret Service.''

A clearly agitated Cummings said the incident, along with recent disclosures about the 2011 shooting, raises questions about "the culture and competency'' of the elite protective agency.

The Gonzalez incident was particularly disturbing, he said, because the man had been stopped by authorities prior to the incident and was found with "a small arsenal'' of weapons and directions to the White House.

"This, ladies and gentleman, is not a Democratic issue," he said. "This is not a Republican issue. This is an American issue.''

The Secret Service is "a high profile job and the spotlight is rightly on their actions today,'' he said.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he has "serious concerns'' about the agency's current leadership. He cited the 2011 incident in which eight shots were fired at the White House. Although several witnesses and officers noted the gunfire, Chaffetz said, the agency failed to react immediately to the incident as an attack on the White House.

"We want to see overwhelming force,'' Chaffetz said. "Don't let somebody get close to the president…If they have to take action that is lethal, I will have their back.''

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said the agency's presidential protective operation was especially important because, she said, President Obama faced three times more threats than previous occupants of the White House.

"This is not a mere question of personnel,'' she said. "No scenario should be off the table...The White House and president have been thrust into a new era of danger."

"It is clear that our security plan was not properly executed,'' Pierson told the panel of the Gonzalez incident. She said the ongoing review is evaluating ''all decisions made that evening,'' including tactics and use of force.

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