White House secure as it's going to get

Moat, barbed wire, attack dogs aren't considered viable alternatives

By Paul Bedard

The Secret Service has run out of "realistic" options to protect presidents from loners and maniacs on a death wish, according to administration officials and several former agents.

"There is probably nothing that can be done to stop these loners without putting [the president] in a totally protected environment and one he can't work in. There is no way to stop them" said former Secret Service agent Jack Smith, now a Baltimore security consultant.

"You could dig a moat around the White House and fill it with water and fill it with alligators and have only one bridge. That's the only way to protect" the president and White House, according to Tom Roemer, a Chicago security consultant.

"If someone is willing to study all the elements and put himself in the position to do harm ... you can't stop that" Mr. Roemer said.

While it is not clear what motivated Leland William Modjeski to scale the South lawn gate at 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, his intrusion came just minutes after Mr. Clinton's motorcade arrived at the nearby southwest gate.

Mr. Modjeski was shot by a Secret Service agent after jumping down on the White House grounds and triggering the electronic sensors ringing the building.

His attack showed that closing off Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House -- and other security enhancements of the past week that remain classified -- can't stop an intruder arriving on foot.

The Secret Service and other federal law enforcement agencies have several ideas on how to beef up security, but there are problems with all of them.

Among the alternatives:

Install razor wire or barbed wire on top of the black iron fence ringing the White House. That won't fly, however, because it would make the White House look like a federal penitentiary, said officials.

Expand the number of uniformed Secret Service agents around the gate. That, however, is viewed as too costly.

Expand the perimeter of the gate. Mr. Smith said that would limit the public's view of the "people's house."

Dig a deep moat trench-style around the complex. Security specialists, however, said that would require that current seismic and motion detectors be moved -- an expensive process.

Build an electrified fence inside the gate. But, said Mr. Roemer, the liability is too high a price to pay.

Place ferocious dogs on the grounds to roam for intruders. "What if a young guy feeling his oats jumps the fence! You have to introduce human element sometime to decide if there is a real threat. Dogs and [electric] fences don't do that" Mr. Smith said.

"I don't think there's too much more that can be done" said Mr. Koemer. "Nothing's wrong except these crazies keep trying to get in."

Even the Treasury Department security review that prompted Mr. Clinton to close Pennsylvania Avenue between 15th and 17th streets noted that fence jumpers can't be stopped.

"It is important to note that fence jumpers rarely make it far once they are on the White House grounds, although there have been some notable exceptions" said the report. For example, the report noted that Gerard Gainous strolled up to President Ford's daughter in 1975 and that Gustav Leijohhufved walked up to the West Wing in 1991.

Even though the Tuesday attack came after the Secret Service and FBI had instituted the most severe security arrangements ever at the White House, spokesman Michael McCurry and the president had nothing but praise from the Secret Service.

"The systems here to protect the president when there is an intrusion of this nature worked and worked rather well, obviously," Mr. McCurry said.

Law enforcement officials said that security will be unusually tight for a while as a result of Mr. Modjeski's intrusion. They said that more guards and even horse patrols will be stationed around the White House, but only temporarily, or until the "threat" is reduced.

Mr. Koemer said the temporary increase in security is aimed at stumping "copycat" attackers. "There will be a heightened sense of awareness because people want to do a copycat kind of thing....It's kind of a cat-and-mouse game," he said.

Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park