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Monday, December 5, 2016

Washington (AFP) — President Barack Obama is “concerned” about an incident in which an intruder with a knife entered the front door of the White House, directly below the first family’s living quarters, officials said Monday.

The U.S. Secret Service is reviewing new security measures inside and outside the White House fence after the man made it all the way inside the presidential mansion on Friday before being tackled.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama had been repeatedly briefed on the massive security breach, and had expressed disquiet about the incident.

“His family lives in the White House, and so he is obviously concerned by the incident that occurred on Friday evening,” Earnest said.

“At the same time, the president continues to have complete confidence in the professionals at the Secret Service.”

Obama later said in a brief comment to reporters that he thought the Secret Service did “a great job.”

“I am grateful for all the sacrifices they make on my behalf, and on my family’s behalf,” Obama said.

– Seconds to act –

Earnest said the probe by the elite presidential protection branch would test the feasibility of what he called the “positioning of tactical and non-tactical assets inside and outside the fence line.”

The probe will also look at Secret Service staffing, procedures, and physical and technical security enhancements, he said.

The incident happened a few minutes after the president and his daughters had left the White House by helicopter on Friday for a weekend at his official retreat at Camp David in Maryland.

The drama has whipped up intense media and public interest, prompting Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to warn against jumping to premature conclusions about the drama.

“I encourage all of us to not rush to judgment about the event and not second-guess the judgment of security officers who had only seconds to act, until all the facts are in,” Johnson said in a statement.

“It is important to remember that the U.S. Secret Service remains one of the best, if not the best, protection services in the world.”

The intruder, Omar Gonzalez, 42, is facing charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

The Texas man served two tours of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army. His former stepson told CNN that Gonzalez suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and paranoia.

The fence-jumper caused a rare evacuation of much of the staff and journalists on the White House grounds on Friday evening.

Extra security measures involving uniformed Secret Service officers were in evidence around the presidential mansion and nearby Lafayette Park on Monday.

Earnest said that the ceremonial front door of the residence — through which large groups of tourists routinely file on White House tours — would from now on be secured when not in use.

AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards

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