Security tightens around White House
Secret Service concerned South Lawn is vulnerable
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
People will be restricted from getting near the South Lawn of the White House.
Authorities patrol along the security fence around the White House, which has been the target of trespassers.