'Devastating' Failures Lead Secret Service to Consider Raising White House Fence

PHOTO: Visitors take photos of the White House on the sidewalk in front of the White House in Washington, Oct. 23, 2014. PlayPablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo
WATCH Secret Service Arrest Man with Rifle Outside White House

The security failures that recently let a man with a small knife in his pocket jump the perimeter fence and make it "practically unencumbered" deep into the White House were "devastating," and now the U.S. Secret Service may make the fence taller, the new head of the agency said today in his first appearance before lawmakers at the helm.

"Without question, the agency has been severely damaged in recent years by failures," dating back to the Cartagena, Colombia, prostitution scandal in 2012, Acting Director Joseph Clancy told a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee.

"The range of shortcomings” is “what hits the hardest," he said.

The chairman of the committee, Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said a recently completed internal Department of Homeland Security review of the September intrusion "uncovered a laundry list of errors," from communications systems that didn't work to a canine officer who was on a personal cell phone call -- without his radio earpiece in his ear or his tactical radio -- and realized too late what was happening in front of him.

Outside of the hearing room, the man who led that internal review of the breach, DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, called recent scrutiny of the Secret Service “much-warranted."

Asked by lawmakers about the possibility of increasing the height of the White House fence, which currently stands at 7.5 feet, Clancy said that change is currently “being discussed” with “partners” such as the National Park Service, Capital Region Planning Commission and others.

“We have already started those discussions ... to see if there’s something amenable to all the groups so that we keep the historic nature of the White House but also increase security,” he said.

Within the next few months, Clancy said he expects to review renderings and drawings of proposed physical changes to the White House perimeter.

Still, both Clancy, who took over the Secret Service early last month, and Goodlatte defended the agency as a whole.

"I firmly believe the Secret Service is better than this incident," Clancy testified.

And Mayorkas, in an op-ed published in The Hill newspaper today, similarly praised and defended the broader Secret Service: "The much-warranted attention the ... September 19 fence-jumping incident at the White House is receiving should not overshadow the great work the men and women of the Secret Service perform every day."