Newspaper article International New York Times

Two Centuries of Unwelcome Guests, on Foot or by Air

Newspaper article International New York Times

Two Centuries of Unwelcome Guests, on Foot or by Air

Article excerpt

Long before the latest fence-jumper captured international attention, the history of White House security breaches was vast and varied.

Much as his predecessors did, President Obama refers to the White House as "the people's house." And over the two centuries since it was built, a surprising number of uninvited people have made their way into the building or onto its grounds.

Indeed, long before the latest fence-jumper captured international attention, the history of White House security breaches was vast and varied, from the intruder in a white karate outfit who carried a knife in his Bible to the stranger who slipped in to watch a movie with Franklin D. Roosevelt to the pilot who crashed a Cessna into the mansion.

Over the decades, the Secret Service has installed more and more barriers to keep out the unwanted even as presidents struggled to preserve their home as an environment welcome to visitors. Roads have been closed off to traffic, gates have been fortified, ballistic windows have been installed and sharpshooters have been deployed on the roof. Yet that has not always stopped the determined, the curious and the mentally ill from trying to force their way in.

Julia Pierson, the director of the Secret Service, told Congress on Tuesday that before the most recent incident this month, when a man ran around the first floor after jumping a fence, 16 people had made it over or through the White House fence in the last five years, including six this year alone.

Many of them do not seem intent on harming the president but are hoping to draw his attention to some issue or cause. One this year was actually a toddler who slipped through the fence. But some were deemed dangerous, and the recent breach by an Iraq war veteran carrying a knife focused new awareness on the issue.

For much of the history of the country, the White House grounds were reasonably open to the public, and from time to time, presidents found themselves with unwelcome guests. …

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