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National

House Lawmakers To Hold Hearing On White House Security Issues

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The White House is supposed to be secured like a fortress. It's surrounded by tall, black fencing with spikes on top and crawling with armed Secret Service agents. But last Friday a man jumped the fence and made it all the way through the front door. As NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports, there are now serious questions about security there and the agency responsible for it.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Forty-two-year-old Omar Gonzalez is being held without bond, charged with unlawfully entering a restricted building while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon. He had a pocket knife with him. But a federal prosecutor said in court yesterday he had more than 800 rounds of ammunition in his car. In July the homeless Iraq war veteran was arrested in Virginia with a sawed off shotgun and a map with the White House circled. The Secret Service is now conducting an internal review of how Gonzales essentially got through the front door of the White House before being subdued.

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: Now we have, I think, the most blatant example of failure to lock the White House's front door. And I mean that literally, not just figuratively.

KEITH: Republican Congressman Darrell Issa is chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which will hold a hearing next week looking into the incident and also possible responses.

ISSA: The public has a right to know how this could happen and how it's going to be prevented.

KEITH: But without further cutting off public access to Washington's popular tourist attraction. The president and first family weren't home at the time, but the concern now is that there could be copycats; that this incident will embolden others to jump the fence or worse. Jon Wackrow is president of i4 Strategies, and until very recently was part of the Secret Service Presidential Protection division.

JON WACKROW: You ask any Secret Service agent, we would say, hey make the fences, you know, 15-feet tall and put barbed wire across the top and no one's going to climb that fence. But that's not what the symbol of the White House is.

KEITH: Wackrow says there's a difficult balance between security and access. He says the agency has to learn from this and adjust. Still President Obama told reporters he has confidence in the service.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The Secret Service does a great job. I'm grateful for the sacrifices they make on my behalf and my family's behalf.

KEITH: As for the front door, the White House press secretary says it will be secured - A.K.A. locked - when it isn't in use. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.