President Obama has faced three times as many threats as previous presidents, reports the Washington Post. The number comes from "people briefed on the Secret Service's threat assessment" — and it makes the rest of the Post's story all the more disturbing.
On November 11, 2011, Oscar Ortega-Hernandez pulled up to the front gate of the White House, aimed a Romanian-made Cugir semiautomatic rifle at the residence, and fired. At least seven of his shots hit the White House. Sasha Obama was in the residence at the time. Malia Obama was on her way home. The attack was brazen enough that it was literally live-tweeted. "Driver in front of my cab, STOPPED and fired 5 gun shots at the White House," wrote one bystander.
But, as the Post reports, the Secret Service's response was a disaster. Agents were told to stand down, that it was just a car backfiring. Later, the story was changed to gang members shooting at each other just outside the White House. Agents who believed the shots had been fired at the residence were afraid to contradict their superiors. The truth was only discovered when a housekeeper noticed broken glass on the Truman Balcony. Ortega-Hernandez was only captured because he crashed his car.
As Carol Leonnig reports in a searing reconstruction:
A subsequent internal security review found that the incident illustrated serious gaps.
The Secret Service, for instance, could not use any of the dozens of ShotSpotter sensors installed across the city to help police pinpoint and trace gunshots. The closest sensor was more than a mile away, too far to track Ortega's shots.
Sullivan acknowledged in closed congressional briefings that the agency lacked basic camera surveillance that could have helped agents see the attack and swarm the gunman immediately.
Ortega-Hernandez was a lone lunatic. But what if he wasn't? What if the attack had been more expertly planned, using more serious weaponry, by people with more expertise?
The Secret Service's surveillance cameras have been upgraded. But the article makes clear that it's the agency's culture, not just its technology, that needs to be fixed. Secret Service Officer Carrie Johnson has chosen a job where she might need to lay down her life — but even though she was right about the White House being fired at, she said she didn't contradict her superiors "for fear of being criticized."
Read Leonnig's full story here. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on "new concerns about the Secret Service" on Tuesday.