Although not as well known as the Rose Garden, the magnolias planted at the White House by Andrew Jackson, or the elm and sycamore plots commissioned by Frederick Law Olmstead, or other north lawn greenery, are just as iconographic.
On September 19, at two critical moments after Omar Oscar Gonzales jumped over the north lawn fence, responding Secret Service officers assumed that an imposing row of landscape architecture would hinder his progress.
Dome-shaped bushes, between four and five feet high and more than 10 feet in circumference, ring the north lawn drive that passes underneath the north portico. Another row of bushes, six to eight feet tall, extend along the north-lawn-facing side of the portico. They're part of Olmstead's 1935 White House garden plan, which horticulturists have used as their guide ever since.
According to the DHS inspector general's report on the incident, Gonzales was almost intercepted by shotgun-toting officers twice, in these bushes. One officer was inches away from the fence-jumper, followed Gonzales as he disappeared into the bushes, and then tried to grab him. He escaped, running from east to west for several feet, and the officer got momentarily stuck.
The report suggests that two Emergency Response Team officers and a K-9 officer who responded within 12 seconds of the security breach all believed that the bushes were too thick to pass through. The K-9 officer believed that the bushes themselves were supposed to serve as a barrier, a conclusion the report calls "mistaken."
Other officers could not see Gonzales for a several crucial seconds when he disappeared into the bushes. Their vantage point did not allow an unobstructed view of the entire north lawn. There were too many trees in the way.
Aside from agriculture, communication seemed to be the main problem that night. Emergency "crash" boxes were turned down, which might have alerted officers inside the complex earlier. Radio traffic on the "U.S.S.S. Uniformed Division White House 1" frequency was muffled and chaotic, with officers talking over each other and none able to preempt any other. (It's quite easy to design a system to allow supervisors or incident commanders to preempt radio channels.)
Twice, officers were in a position to fire their weapons and stop Gonzales. They did not because they determined he was not armed with a gun and did not pose an imminent threat to the protectee. I don't consider this a failing; had other security measures worked, these officers would be praised for their quick responses and restraint under pressure.
The report also concludes that in-service training for officers at the complex is given much less frequently because the Uniformed Division at the White House is stretched thin, something Secret Service defenders have pointed out. Officers often pull overtime to make sure all posts are staffed. And the Uniformed Division has never trained officers to in non lethal-force scenarios.