How the Secret Service 'Bungled' White House Shooting

Agency didn't even know White House had been hit: investigation
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 28, 2014 5:20 PM CDT
How the Secret Service 'Bungled' White House Shooting
This Nov. 16, 2011 file photo shows law enforcement officers photographing a window at the White House in Washington, as seen from the South Lawn.   (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)

The Secret Service fumbled its response to a 2011 attack on the White House so badly that the president and Michelle Obama were furious with the agency behind closed doors, according to a Washington Post investigation. The Post's article—apparently based on documents, radio transmissions, and interviews with key White House players—reports that the Secret Service didn't even realize bullets had hit windows near the Obama residence until a housekeeper found broken glass four days later. By then, the gunman had nearly gotten away. It started on the evening of Nov. 11, 2011, when Oscar Ortega-Hernandez, 21, parked on Constitution Avenue and hit the upstairs residence of the White House with at least seven bullets. Witnesses say he frantically drove off, smashed his car, and fled on foot, while Secret Service supervisors believed the gunfire had come from a Washington gang fight. Among the Post's findings:

  • Witnesses saw the attack happen. "Driver in front of my cab, STOPPED and fired 5 gun shots at the White House," tweeted a woman in a cab. "It took the police a while to respond."
  • Two Secret Service officers near Constitution Avenue ran to the shooting area and smelled fresh gunpowder, but received a call from a supervising agent telling them to stand down. "Shots fired," one of the officers radioed back, to no avail.
  • Secret Service Officer Carrie Johnson heard shots from her position under the Truman Balcony but didn't challenge superior officers "for fear of being criticized," she later admitted.
  • The president and Michelle Obama were outraged when they heard about bullet holes in the White House four days later. Michelle gave then-Secret Service Director Dan Sullivan a tongue-lashing that could be heard from the next room, sources say, although Sullivan "disputed this account of the meeting," the Post reports. (Sullivan retired from the service last year and was replaced by its first female leader, Julia Pierson.)
  • Further investigation found that the Secret Service "lacked basic camera surveillance" of the White House grounds and had no access to sensors across Washington, DC, that track gunshots. Some technology issues have since been addressed, officials say.
The White House defended the Secret Service today despite the Post article, the LA Times reports, while a Secret Service official told the AP that the agency's investigation of the shooting was sidetracked by nearby gunshots and confused witness reports. "I’m not saying this was our shining moment, but we never stopped looking for this guy," he said. Ortega was arrested the day after the bullet-hole discovery and eventually received a 25-year prison sentence. (More Secret Service stories.)

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