A pair of embarrassing security breaches at the White House in recent days may prompt the Secret Service to expand the complex's perimeter so that tourists could have their bags checked well before they reach the front gates.
Multiple potential plans were reported late Sunday, including one in which the Secret Service would establish checkpoints several blocks from the White House – an area that encompasses well-known hotels and restaurants, along with other federal buildings like the Treasury Department.
The Washington Post reported, however, that the new perimeter might not be that wide. One option reportedly under consideration included barring tourists from the sidewalk bordering the famous wrought-iron fence on Pennsylvania Avenue, which has become one of the country's most popular places for taking photos and holding ad-hoc demonstrations. The Post also reported that the Secret Service is considering a one-block checkpoint.
The plans are being floated after a knife-carrying Iraq War veteran who jumped the fence on Friday evening somehow made it all the way into the unlocked front doors of the White House before being stopped. Less than 24 hours later, a man was arrested when he tried to get into the White House grounds with his car.
The security balance at the White House has been a source of debate throughout its history, as officials have tried to protect what is essentially a military command center situated in the middle of a city while still allowing some access to one of the world's most famous buildings.
The stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House was closed to cars under President Clinton in 1995, as officials feared the damage of a car- or truck-bomb after the attacks in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center.
But the possibility of further restrictions prompted protests from longtime Washingtonians, who said the Secret Service would essentially be punishing everyone for its own incompetence.
this is a bad idea rt: White House May Check Tourists Blocks Away http://t.co/gusjVK1Fjh— Jim Manley (@jamespmanley) September 22, 2014
Seriously @SecretService - it's pretty easy to make it impossible to climb a fence. Do that. Don't create another bunker in DC.— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) September 22, 2014
You had one job, Secret Service.— Joe Flood (@joeflood) September 22, 2014
Suggestions for the Secret Service included building a higher fence or increasing patrols.
But by far the most popular one was a time-honored technique employed at millions of residential homes for generations: Start by locking the front door.
UPDATE: White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Monday confirmed that the Secret Service had initiated a review of its security procedures following the incidents over the weekend. The department made immediate changes, including expanding surveillance and foot patrols, he said, but more could be coming. Earnest would not specify whether the perimeter around the building would be widened, and he acknowledged that the Secret Service faced "a challenging task" in balancing the need to protect the first family and ensuring access to "the people's house."
"Balancing those equities is challenging work," Earnest said.
He said President Obama was briefed repeatedly over the weekend and expressed "obvious concern" that his security team had let an armed man into his home. Obama had left for Camp David with his daughters just minutes before the first incident occurred.
As for the front door in question, Earnest noted that it was used by thousands of tourists on a near-daily basis, along with the hundreds of staffers who go in and out of the building.
But he said that after Friday night's incident, "when the door is not in use, it will be secure."