Secret Service wants $8 mn White House replica for training

US Secret Service director James Clancy said the 2016 budget "includes $8 million for the design and initial construction of a White House mock-up" in Maryland (AFP Photo/Jewel Samad) (AFP/File)

Washington (AFP) - The US Secret Service has requested $8 million to build a replica of the White House for use in training agents to prevent incidents like last year's mansion intrusion, the agency's director said Tuesday.

Joseph Clancy said the agency's current rudimentary training facility, in Beltsville, Maryland, is not to scale, and has "no structures, vehicle gates, lighting, or other aides to enhance the training simulations."

He told a House of Representatives panel reviewing 2016 funding that his agency's budget "includes $8 million for the design and initial construction of a White House mock-up" in Maryland that will provide for a "more realistic environment conducive to scenario-based training exercises."

At the current facility, for example, "bike barricades" are stand-ins for White House fencing, Clancy said.

The lack of realistic training facilities is in marked contrast to US military operations, which have used such replicas for years.

The US Navy's elite SEAL Team 6 constructed and trained in a replica of the Pakistan compound where terror mastermind Osama bin Laden was holed up and eventually killed in 2011, according to a Navy SEAL who wrote a book on the operation.

Other military units are known to have built mock-ups of Iraqi and Afghan villages.

The Secret Service has been under intense scrutiny in recent years for a series of security lapses and breaches in behavioral protocol including agents drinking and consorting with prostitutes while on or ahead of presidential trips.

Last September, in an incident that triggered alarm in Congress and across government, an intruder carrying a knife scaled the outer fence of the grounds, made his way into the White House, and ran through several rooms before he was finally apprehended.

Last month, President Barack Obama appointed Clancy as the new head of the Secret Service after a critical report into the incident.

But the storied agency which protects the president, his family and other dignitaries suffered another blow last week when it was revealed that two agents allegedly crashed a car into White House security barriers and drove through an ongoing bomb investigation scene after a boozy night out.

Clancy told lawmakers that the incident was under investigation, the two agents have been reassigned to "non-supervisory" jobs outside the White House and that the pair could end up being fired.

But he also startled lawmakers when he told them that while the latest White House incident occurred on a Wednesday, Clancy did not learn of it until the following Monday.

"I should have been informed," he said. "We're following up on that, and there will be accountability."