WASHINGTON (AFP) – The head of the US Secret Service pledged to revamp her elite agency Tuesday as she was subjected to withering criticism from angry lawmakers outraged over White House security breaches.
Julia Pierson’s grilling before a House of Representatives panel came as a federal grand jury indicted a US Army veteran over a September 19 incident at the White House when he allegedly scaled a fence and made it deep into the presidential mansion armed with a knife.
Omar Gonzalez, 42, was indicted on three counts including unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon.
He is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday for a detention hearing.
The Washington Post meanwhile reported a fresh breach in which a security contractor with a gun and a criminal record was allowed into an elevator with Barack Obama when the president visited Atlanta, Georgia in mid-September.
“It’s clear that our security plan was not properly executed,” Secret Service director Pierson told lawmakers of the September 19 incident, one of the most serious – not to mention embarrassing – White House security breaches during Obama’s presidency. “This is unacceptable and I take full responsibility. And I will make sure that it does not happen again.”
House Democrat Gerald Connolly called the incident – the latest in a string of Secret Service gaffes – the result of a “cascading set of mistakes” that put Obama and his family in jeopardy.
Obama “was obviously concerned about this situation,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest, adding that the president remains “absolutely” confident in Pierson’s leadership.