By Emily Stephenson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An intruder carrying a backpack was arrested after scaling a fence around the White House and entering the grounds, the U.S. Secret Service said on Saturday, in the latest breach of security at the president’s official residence.
President Donald Trump was inside the White House when the male suspect climbed over the fence on the complex’s South Grounds at 11:38 p.m. on Friday, and uniformed officers arrested him, the Secret Service said in a statement.
The intruder, who authorities did not immediately identify, was quoted by CNN as telling the agents that he was a friend of the president and had an appointment with him.
Trump thanked the service on Saturday afternoon, and commended the agents for apprehending the intruder.
“Secret Service did a fantastic job,” Trump told reporters at the start of a working lunch with several Cabinet members at his golf course outside Washington. “It was a troubled person.”
The incident unfolded despite a series of recommendations to tighten security after a 2014 intrusion that led to the resignation of Secret Service director Julia Pierson.
In 2015, a row of sharp spikes was bolted to the top of the black iron fence around the 18-acre property, making it more difficult to scale.
In the latest incident, the suspect was apprehended near the south portico entrance, where presidents often address the public, CNN said. The entrance is near the part of the White House where the president resides.
The backpack carried by the intruder was screened and searched as a precaution, and no hazardous material was found, according the statement. The Secret Service searched the north and south grounds but nothing of concern turned up.
The suspect had no arrest record or history with the agency charged with protecting the president, his family and other elected officials, the service said in a statement.
Neither the Secret Service nor the White House responded immediately to a request for further details.
In the September 2014 White House intrusion, the most serious of the recent security incidents, an Army veteran carrying a knife climbed the fence and pushed his way inside the building before he was stopped.
Another man wearing an American flag jumped the fence in November 2015. In April 2016, an intruder threw a backpack over the outer fence and then scaled it before getting arrested.
Earlier this year, a plan proposed by the Secret Service and National Park Service to build a taller, stronger fence with added features to detect and deter climbers won final approval.
Construction of the new 11-foot-7-inch fence, compared with the current 7-foot barrier, is due to begin by next year, the Secret Service said in January. That timetable is about two years behind estimates made in 2015.
The breaches have further eroded the credibility of the service, whose reputation was already damaged when it was revealed in 2012 that members had hired prostitutes while in Colombia in advance of a trip by then-President Barack Obama.
Joseph Clancy, who had replaced Pierson during Obama’s administration, said in February that he planned to step down in March, allowing Trump to name his own security chief.
(Additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York and Roberta Rampton and Patrick Rucker in Washington; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Franklin Paul)
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