WASHINGTON – The man who jumped the fence at the White House and entered the building in a major security breach was scheduled to appear in court on Monday amid reports that U.S. authorities are considering ways to increase the security buffer surrounding the presidential compound.
Omar Gonzalez, 42, who scaled the barrier Friday evening while carrying a knife, is expected in U.S. District Court in Washington at 1:45 p.m., according to court spokesman Sheldon Snook.
He faces charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a “deadly or dangerous weapon” and, if convicted, faces up to 10 years in prison.
Although President Barack Obama and his family were not at the White House at the time, the incident has shaken confidence in the ability of the U.S. Secret Service to protect the president.
The agency, already beset by a string of other recent embarrassing security lapses, is considering ways to expand the security zone around the White House to keep tourists and other members of the public farther away, media reports said.
One possible measure includes blocking the sidewalks around the White House or screening tourists before allowing them to use the walkways. Additionally, visitors to the complex, now screened at the entrance gates, could instead be screened blocks away, the New York Times and the Washington Post reported.
Representatives for the Secret Service did not respond to a request for comment on Monday but the agency, which stepped up security at the White House following Friday’s incident, said earlier it is reviewing its response.
On Friday evening, shortly after Obama and his daughters had departed for Camp David, Gonzalez allegedly climbed the White House fence and was able to cross the lawn and enter the mansion through the north doors.
After being apprehended, Gonzalez, a retired Army sergeant who served in Iraq, told a Secret Service agent that “he was concerned that the atmosphere was collapsing and (he) needed to get the information to the president of the United States so that he could get the word out to the people,” according to an affidavit released by prosecutors.
While fence jumpers are somewhat common at the White House, Friday’s incident was particularly concerning because the intruder was able to penetrate the actual building. Critics have said they are appalled by the lapse, saying it could give confidence to other potentially more deadly attackers.
It is also the latest in a series of lapses by the president’s security detail.
Just last month, a toddler was able to squeeze through the White House gates. The Secret Service also has faced scrutiny after some agents were involved in a prostitution scandal in 2012 and a 2009 breach involving an uninvited couple at a White House state dinner, although a 2013 Department of Homeland Security report found no evidence of misconduct or inappropriate behavior at the Secret Service.
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