The White House was beset by more security woes on Saturday morning, as a loud noise was heard from the South Lawn, prompting an immediate lockdown, Reuters reports. The incident occurred shortly before President Obama and his family were due to leave the premises by helicopter – although they had not yet exited the building.
The Obama family were set to depart for Selma, Alabama, where they intend to mark the 50th anniversary of the civil rights marches, recently depicted in the Academy Award nominated film, Selma – directed by Ava DuVernay. The Telegraph reports that the White House press pool had gathered on the South Lawn to watch and report the departure of the family for the historic occasion, before the event was halted by an explosion on a nearby street, accompanied by a “plume of black smoke.” Secret Service agents quickly proceeded to secure the assembled journalists in the press room, while assessing the situation for active threats. President Obama and his family delayed their departure briefly, then traveled by motorcade to Andrews Air Force Base.
The lockdown continued for approximately 30 minutes, until the Secret Service were satisfied that the noise had been caused by a vendor cart fire on the street outside the building. The New York Times reports that, simultaneously, a bomb-sniffing dog detected something on another nearby street. That vehicle is reportedly being investigated, although officials apparently believe there is no indication of a connection between the two incidents.
The Secret Service, which has a new director in the form of Joseph Clancy, has been heavily criticized in recent months due to scandals surrounding the conduct of agents, as well as repeated security breaches at the White House. These breaches have included an incident in September 2014, during which a man armed with a knife scaled the perimeter fence of the property, entered the building, and managed to access large areas inside before being challenged. More recently, an individual was apprehended while attempting to breach the outer fence.
Speaking to ABC News on March 1st 2015, new Secret Service director Joseph Clancy explained the enhancements he was hoping to make to improve the strength of security around the President.
“We’ve got to do a better job of mentoring, coaching, teaching, and training our people. [And], if we can build up our staffing, it will allow us to get more people out to training. With that, as we get more people trained, it’ll help our morale.”
For today’s incident, it is reported that the vendor cart fire was quickly contained, and is “not regarded as a major security threat”. The White House lockdown has been lifted.
[Image: Joshua Roberts/Getty Images]