Once again there has been a breach of security at the White House, and this one could have been serious. A 42-year-old man with a 3.5 inch knife jumped the White House fence and bolted 70 yards across the North Lawn to the front of the White House. He found an unlocked door, and opened it before a guard took him down. President Obama and his two daughters had left the White House by helicopter a few moments before.
The man has been identified as Omar J. Gonzalez, who had served three tours in Iraq as a sniper. He was reportedly homeless and relatives in Texas said he might have been suffering from PTSD.
The next day there was another incident at the White House. A man was arrested for trying to drive past a White House barricade.
I have been privileged to cover the White House and other venues since 1968, and there have been many tense occasions. A few years ago someone shot at the White House from Pennsylvania Avenue and bullets lodged in the Press Room walls and windows. A small plane crashed into the White House.
There have been numerous cases of people trying to jump the fence. Recently, an infant squeezed through the bars and ran loose on the White House lawn. There was also the serious case when one of the hijacked 9/11 jets may have been headed towards the White House; the passengers crashed it in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The Secret Service has been embarrassed or unnerved by these and other incidents, and investigations are ongoing. But I want to put in a good word for them. I feel they do their best to keep us safe without being bullies or heavy handed. I am honored to go into the White House frequently in my job as a reporter. We know many of the officers by name and they know us. In the Press Room, some of the officers duck inside to quickly use the toilets or soda machines. We are all human.
I have seen many events since 1968 and many were scary. I was near Robert Kennedy when he was shot in Los Angeles. At one memorable White House ceremony, President Carter, the Shah of Iran and the rest of us were choked with tear gas from demonstrators outside. There are often loud and colorful protests outside the White House.
It is obvious changes will be made. The White House fence might be higher and curved in. The budget for the White House police and Secret Service might be increased, and some rules will be tightened. We all know these are crazy and dangerous times. But I do hope we and the people beyond the fence do not lose our freedom of movement, and I hope politicians will take their risks and not cut themselves off from the public they are meant to serve.