White House fence must be raised immediately, Secret Service needs reform, says panel

A member of the US Secret Service stands guard in front of the North Lawn of the White House in Washington Oct 23, 2014.  The White House fence should be immediately raised by four or five feet (1.2m to 1.5m), according to an independent se
A member of the US Secret Service stands guard in front of the North Lawn of the White House in Washington Oct 23, 2014.  The White House fence should be immediately raised by four or five feet (1.2m to 1.5m), according to an independent security review made public Thursday, which also said the Secret Service needs root and branch reform. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The White House fence should be immediately raised by four or five feet (1.2m to 1.5m) to prevent people from breaking in to the grounds, according to an independent security review made public Thursday.

A public summary of the panel's classified report also warned that the Secret Service - the US agency which guards the president - is "starved for leadership" and needs root and branch reform.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson appointed the four-member panel after a mentally disturbed veteran scaled the fence and burst into the White House while carrying a knife.

President Barack Obama and his family were not present at the time, but the incident was the latest in a string of security failures surrounding the US leader.

The panel suggested building a taller fence, saying that an extra 1.2m to 1.5m would make a difference.

The White House, it suggested, should eliminate horizontal bars in the design or place them so that they provide little assistance to climbers, while curving the top of the fence outward.

"As the executive branch, Congress, and the service itself have all recognised, the fence must be addressed immediately," it said.

But the report also suggested that designers pay attention to the appearance of a building seen by hundreds of tourists every day.

"Importantly, designers of the new fence must balance security concerns with the long and storied tradition of the White House being the 'People's House,'" the report's summary said.

The last head of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, resigned after the September fence-jumping incident, amid an outcry over several security lapses at the White House.

She had initially been appointed to clean up the service after a dozen agents were found to have hired prostitutes during a 2012 presidential trip to Colombia.

Obama then asked retired agent Joseph Clancy - a man in whose hands he placed his own life as head of the presidential detail - to steer his old agency through the immediate crisis.

But the panel warned that in the longer term a leader from outside the agency would be better placed to clean house.

"Only a director from outside the service, removed from organisational traditions and personal relationships, will be able to do the honest top-to-bottom reassessment this will require," it said.

As for training, the panel said "the service's training regimen has diminished far below acceptable levels."