White House fence must be raised immediately: Panel

White House fence must be raised immediately: Panel

WASHINGTON - The White House fence should be immediately raised by four or five feet to prevent people from breaking into the grounds, according to an independent security review made public Thursday.

A public summary of the panel's classified report also warned that the Secret Service - the US agency that guards the president - is "starved for leadership" and needs root and branch reform.

It called for an outside leader, better training and more staff to boost an agency that has grown "too insular."

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson set up the four-member panel in Sept after a mentally disturbed veteran scaled the fence and burst into the White House carrying a knife.

President Barack Obama and his family were not present at the time, but the incident was the latest in a string of security failures surrounding the US leader.

The panel suggested building a taller fence, saying that an extra four or five feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) would make a difference, though it stopped short of detailing a specific design.

The White House, it suggested, should eliminate horizontal bars in the design or place them so that they provide little assistance to climbers, while curving the top of the fence outward.

"As the executive branch, Congress, and the service itself have all recognised, the fence must be addressed immediately," it said.

The report also suggested that designers pay attention to the appearance of a building seen by hundreds of tourists every day.

"Importantly, designers of the new fence must balance security concerns with the long and storied tradition of the White House being the 'People's House,'" the report's summary said.

Troubles at the top

But the panel stressed that "the problems exposed by recent events go deeper than a new fence can fix."

"From agents to officers to supervisors, we heard a common desire: More resources would help, but what we really need is leadership," the summary said.

The last head of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, resigned after the September fence-jumping incident, amid an outcry over several security lapses at the White House.

She had initially been appointed to clean up the service after a dozen agents were found to have hired prostitutes during a 2012 presidential trip to Colombia.

Obama then asked retired agent Joseph Clancy -- a man in whose hands he placed his own life as head of the presidential detail -- to steer his old agency through the immediate crisis.

But the panel warned that in the longer term, a leader from outside the agency would be better placed to clean house.

"Only a director from outside the service, removed from organizational traditions and personal relationships, will be able to do the honest top-to-bottom reassessment this will require," it said.

As for training, the panel said "the service's training regimen has diminished far below acceptable levels."

Nevertheless, White House spokesman Josh Earnest stressed that Obama "does have confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service."

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee said a separate, congressionally-appointed panel should prepare a "truly independent, bipartisan, top-to-bottom review."

"The men and women of the Secret Service deserve an organisation that is efficient and effective as possible, and the American people deserve confidence that the Service can effectively perform its vital and wide ranging missions," Representative Michael McCaul said.

The panelists included former associate attorney general Tom Perrelli, former deputy attorney general Mark Filip; Danielle Gray, a former cabinet secretary and assistant to the president; and former White House deputy chief of staff for operations Joseph Hagin.

They met with about 50 Secret Service employees and more than 120 members of different federal agencies, research facilities and major metropolitan police and security forces.

"The Secret Service itself must commit to change," Johnson said.

Senator Tom Carper, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, welcomed the report, saying it offered "substantive, corrective, and common-sense steps."

"Change at the agency won't happen overnight," he said in a statement.

"It will take strong, stable leadership and an unwavering commitment by the Department (of Homeland Security), the Secret Service, and its agents."

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