Non-audioPolitics

Securing the White House proves challenging

The Secret Service has tightened security around the White House after an Iraq war vet jumped the fence and entered the unlocked front door last

The Secret Service has tightened security around the White House after an Iraq war vet jumped the fence and entered the unlocked front door last week. It was Thomas Jefferson who first referred to the president’s home as "the people’s house”—but keeping the White House both accessible to the people and secure for its inhabitants has proven to be a tricky balance.

The recent incident certainly isn’t the first time an intruder has gotten past the Secret Service team at the White House, there has been a long list of security breaches.  On any given day, high school groups, brownie troops and lucky citizens parade through the building on tour. Then there are the official visitors, staff, media and, of course, the first family and their friends.

The building sits right in the center of downtown Washington D.C. and while it has more barriers today than it did a week ago, it’s still relatively easy to get close to the building. There’s no mote, it doesn’t sit on a hill, it not hidden behind tall trees and—as of now—there are no checkpoints for entry outside of its gates.

Jordan Frankel, founder of Global Security Experts, which has provided security detail and residential protection for former presidents, CEOs and the U.S. military said striking the balance between being the ‘people’s house’ and protecting the president, who is a high threat target, is an enormous challenge.

“You’re talking about an historic venue that’s visited at the rate that Disneyland is visited,” said Frankel. “But you don’t want the White House to look like a fortress and a prison. You don’t want to install a 20 to 30 foot fence. What message does that send out?”

Ken Wheatley, a former FBI agent who has provided security detail for Margaret Thatcher, Maya Angelou, and Benazir Bhutto, said that a person leading the people has to be seen as also being in touch with the people. According to Wheatley, the latest incident is a reminder of the price that comes with that accessibility.

The current fence around the White House hasn’t changed since 1965, when Lyndon B. Johnson was president. The gates were replaced in 1976 after an incident in 1974 when a man rammed his car through a gate and held police in a standoff, claiming to have explosives strapped to his body.

In 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing, streets around the White House were permanently closed to traffic. Bollards were added in 2004. And now, metal barricades have been temporarily erected a few feet from the existing fence.

Frankel said that world leaders’ homes are commonly connected to tourist walkways and driveways accessed by buses and trains and that it’s important that they remain that way.

“These people don’t live in bunkers. By having the leader’s homes look frightening or imprisoning, it sends a negative message to the people that the homeland could be attacked,” said Frankel. “The home has to look like a home and it has to look like a comfortable environment and not a military base. It would diminish everything that the White House represents: freedom and solidarity.”

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