An armed man who has been convicted of assault and battery three times was somehow able to slip past the Secret Service and ride in an elevator with President Barack Obama earlier this month, several media reports have said.
The incident – which reportedly took place just three days before a man with a knife in his pocket climbed over the White House fence and made it into the building – is the latest in a string of security breaches attributed to Secret Service blunders.
According to accounts first reported by the Washington Examiner, the incident took place on September 16, when President Obama visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, for a briefing on the Ebola crisis.
The unnamed man – identified as a private security contractor – was able to get onto the same elevator as Obama, where he then took photos and videos of the president. He was “behaving unprofessionally,” reports said.
Despite orders from Secret Service agents to stop what he was doing, the man did not listen. Agents then questioned the man, and discovered his multiple convictions during a database check. According to the Washington Post, the contractor was fired on the spot by his supervisor and was ordered to turn over his gun.
The detail that seems particularly surprising is that the Secret Service was apparently unaware of the man being in possession of a gun the entire time he was inches away from Obama. The only people permitted to be armed when the president travels are Secret Service agents and sworn law enforcement officials – privately employed contractors don’t make the cut.
“You have a convicted felon within arms reach of the president and they never did a background check,”said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to the Post. “Words aren’t strong enough for the outrage I feel for the safety of the President and his family.”
“His life was in danger. This country would be a different world today if he had pulled out his gun,” he said.
While the man was not described to the Examiner as a serious threat to Obama’s safety, the fact that he was able to slip past detection by the Secret Service – which is supposed to know exactly who will be in close proximity to the president – has raised alarm over the agency’s performance.
At the time of reporting, Obama himself seemed to be unaware of the incident, according to the Post.
News of the elevator blunder came on the same day that Secret Service director Julia Pierson testified before Congress, where she faced significant criticism from both Democrats and Republicans for recent security breaches at the White House. She acknowledged the episodes are “unacceptable” and promised they would never happen again.
On September 20, military veteran Omar Gonzalez, 42, made it into the White House through an unlocked door after jumping the fence. It was not the first such incident though; Pierson told lawmakers that 16 fence jumpers have been documented in the past five years.
“I recognize that these events did not occur in a vacuum. The Secret Service has had its share of challenges in recent years,” Pierson wrote in her opening testimony prepared for Congress, promising to “redouble” her efforts in bringing the agency’s performance up to standard.
Responding to reports of security breaches, White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that he expects ongoing investigations to reveal more information.
“It is my view that it is in the interest of the agency in question – and all of you – for the information to be accurate and released as soon as possible,” he said. “There is legitimate public interest in this matter because it relates to the safety and security of the commander in chief.”
“While you heard some additional details from Director Pierson today, I’m confident that as investigators continue to do their work, there’s likely to be more information that they uncover, that they’re able to lock down,” Earnest said.