Se­cu­rity tight­ens around White House

Se­cret Ser­vice con­cerned South Lawn is vul­ner­a­ble

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Kevin John­son

The Se­cret Ser­vice en­larged the pro­tec­tive bul­wark around the White House com­plex Wed­nes­day by clos­ing ac­cess to the en­tire fence- line along the man­sion’s South Lawn in the wake of per­sis­tent con­cerns about in­tru­sions.

The new plan, out­lined by agency of­fi­cials, attempts to repli­cate a buf­fer zone cre­ated on Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue, where iron bi­cy­cle racks were placed in front of the perime­ter fence to pro­vide of­fi­cers ad­di­tional time to re­act to fence jumpers. That ac­tion fol­lowed a brazen breach in 2014 by a dis­turbed Iraq War vet­eran who scaled the North Lawn fence and burst through the man­sion’s front door.

The popular and of­ten- crowded side­walk bor­der­ing the South Lawn was per­ma­nently closed to the public begin­ning at 11 p. m. Wed­nes­day, push­ing tourists to the north edge of the 52- acre park known as the El­lipse.

The mea­sures come as the Se­cret Ser­vice con­fronts a range of

The Se­cret Ser­vice con­fronts a range of se­cu­rity chal­lenges, in­clud­ing in­creas­ing en­coun­ters with the men­tally ill.

se­cu­rity chal­lenges, in­clud­ing in­creas­ing en­coun­ters with the men­tally ill. In the past three years, ac­cord­ing to the agency, there have been about 100 inci- dents in which peo­ple have sought to pen­e­trate the 18- acre White House grounds; 95% of those cases have in­volved sus­pects with some his­tory of men­tal ill­ness or emo­tional dis­tur­bance.

Se­cret Ser­vice spokesman Joe Casey char­ac­ter­ized the ac­tion as part of an “evolv­ing” strat­egy to bet­ter “mit­i­gate po­ten­tial threats.” Con­tracts for the con­struc­tion of a taller and more for­ti­fied perime­ter fence, largely prompted by the breach in 2014, are likely to be awarded this year.

RANGE OF TAC­TICS Re­cent threat as­sess­ments, Casey said, have iden­ti­fied a range of tac­tics that could be used to pen­e­trate the White House grounds, prompt­ing an on­go­ing eval­u­a­tion of phys­i­cal se­cu­rity and other safe­guards.

Among the tac­tics au­thor­i­ties ac­counted for in the ex­am­i­na­tion is the threat of at­tacks in­volv­ing ve­hi­cles, which have struck tar­gets last year in Europe and re­cently in Lon­don.

Casey cau­tioned that such as­saults were only one con­sid­er­a­tion in the anal­y­sis.

Se­cret Ser­vice spokes­woman Catherine Mil­hoan said au­thor­i­ties con­sid­ered the im­pli­ca­tions of im­pos­ing fur­ther re­stric­tions on public ac­cess to the im­me­di­ate area of the White House. She said van­tage points for the throngs of tourists drawn to the lo­ca­tion were pre­served.

“This is not go­ing to im­pede the public’s abil­ity to take the iconic photo of the White House,” Mil­hoan said. “It’s still there. It’s just go­ing to be pushed back a lit­tle fur­ther. We are al­ways try­ing to bal­ance the de­sire for ac­cess and the se­cu­rity for both the public and those inside the grounds.”

Key to the the de­ci­sion, Casey and Mil­hoan said, was to pro­vide agency of­fi­cers dis­tance be­tween the public and the fence- line to al­low for re­ac­tion time in the event of an at­tempted breach, sim­i­lar to what ex­ists on the north side of the man­sion.

FENCE JUMPERS Last month, the Se­cret Ser­vice ap­pre­hended two fence jumpers in less than 10 days, in­clud­ing one emo­tion­ally dis­turbed 26- year- old Cal­i­for­nia man who scaled bar­ri­ers on the north­east side of the prop­erty late on a Fri­day night and roamed the grounds for more than 16 min­utes be­fore he was dis­cov­ered.

Pres­i­dent Trump was in the res­i­dence at the time, but he was not threat­ened.

The in­ci­dent prompted the fir­ing of two uni­formed of­fi­cers on duty at the time of the late- night in­tru­sion.

A se­ries of prior breaches rocked the ser­vice, prompt­ing the dis­missal of Direc­tor Ju­lia Pier­son, the first woman to lead the agency. Her suc­ces­sor, Joseph Clancy, re­tired last month af­ter be­ing lauded for restor­ing sta­bil­ity to the ser­vice, while guid­ing the agency through an unusu­ally de­mand­ing pe­riod, stretch­ing from the U. S. visit of Pope Fran­cis, the rau­cous cam­paign sea­son and the Trump in­au­gu­ra­tion.

A new direc­tor has not been named.

The new area of se­cu­rity fo­cus, the south grounds of the White House com­plex, is on the side near­est the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment and draws large crowds on the bor­der­ing side­walks, es­pe­cially on oc­ca­sions when the pres­i­dent ar­rives or de­parts on Ma­rine One.

Mil­hoan said the area pro­vides lit­tle area for of­fi­cers to ma­neu­ver. Last week­end, she said, agency of­fi­cers at­tempted to break up a dis­pute be­tween two vis­i­tors, when a per­son jumped on the back of one of the re­spond­ing of­fi­cers.

“From a se­cu­rity stand­point, it can be seen as a vul­ner­a­ble area,” Mil­hoan said.

“This is not go­ing to im­pede the public’s abil­ity to take the iconic photo of the White House.” Catherine Mil­hoan, Se­cret Ser­vice

CAROLYN KASTER, AP

Peo­ple will be re­stricted from get­ting near the South Lawn of the White House.

SOURCE ESRI; The White House JANET LOEHRKE, USA TO­DAY ODAY

SAUL LOEB, AFP/ GETTY IM­AGES

Au­thor­i­ties pa­trol along the se­cu­rity fence around the White House, which has been the tar­get of tres­passers.

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