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AP/Press Association Images

US Secret Service chief resigns over security breaches

Julia Pierson had only taken up her post 18 months ago after a prostitution scandal erupted within the agency

THE DIRECTOR OF the US Secret Service resigned today following a string of lapses by the elite presidential protection branch, including one in which an armed intruder ran into the White House.

“Today, Julia Pierson, the Director of the United States Secret Service, offered her resignation, and I accepted it,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson appointed Joseph Clancy to serve as interim acting director until a permanent replacement is named for Pierson, who only took up her post 18 months ago after a prostitution scandal erupted within the agency.

An independent panel will be named to probe the September 19 incident, which saw knife-carrying homeless US army veteran Omar Gonzalez allegedly jump the White House fence and run into the residence, Johnson said.

Gonzalez pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to three counts including unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon.

Outraged US lawmakers grilled Pierson on Tuesday over a series of security breaches, including an incident last month in which an armed security contractor with a criminal record was allowed into an elevator with President Barack Obama when he visited Atlanta, Georgia.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday the presidency had only been made aware of the full circumstances of the Atlanta incident shortly before it appeared in a report on Tuesday.

Pierson had vowed to revamp her elite agency as she was subjected to withering criticism by angry lawmakers.

“It’s clear that our security plan was not properly executed,” Pierson said of the September 19 intrusion.

“This is unacceptable and I take full responsibility. And I will make sure that it does not happen again.”

The Gonzalez incident however proved to be the catalyst for Pierson’s departure.

The 42-year-old Iraq veteran’s intrusion triggered widespread incredulity, with lawmakers demanding to know how someone could scale an iron fence, race 70 yards (meters) across a lawn, enter an unlocked White House front door, knock down an agent and run into the East Room without being stopped.

Gonzalez was ultimately tackled by an off-duty Secret Service officer who was walking through the premises, according to reports. A search of a car later revealed hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

A string of security alerts around Obama have forced the Secret Service onto the defensive in recent years, including the firing of shots at the White House which struck the building in November 2011.

Secret Service agents were also embroiled in a 2012 prostitution scandal in Colombia ahead of a visit by Obama, while drunk agents in the Netherlands last March were also censured.

The 2011 shooting incident was the subject of a recent Washington Post report highlighting how long it took for the Secret Service to determine that the White House was struck by gunfire while one of Obama’s daughters was inside.

- © AFP 2014.

Read: Man jumps White House fence and makes it through the doors before being caught>

More: White House intruder was carrying a knife>

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