The West Wing was partly evacuated yesterday after a bomb-sniffing dog alerted the Secret Service to something suspicious in a car parked on the north side of the White House.
Both President Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney remained in part of the White House during the incident, continuing their daily schedules. Both of them had lunch in a private dining area beside the Oval Office.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney “were never in any danger,” Secret Service spokesman Tony Ball said.
Secret Service spokesman Jim Mackin said the incident began about 10:15 a.m., when the highly trained “sniffer” dog alerted uniformed agents of something unusual in a car, which had clearance to be parked on a driveway at the northwest corner of the White House. A dog alerts an officer by sitting beside a vehicle or package.
“The dog was alerted on a routine sweep. And when a dog is alerted to something, we have to make a thorough check,” said Mr. Mackin said.
Yesterday’s evacuation occurred after the dog alerted officers about the same car a second time. The car belonged to a staffer who had accompanied a congressman to a morning program on Medicare reform in the White House Rose Garden. The car was driven away later by its owner, Mr. Mackin said.
The incident was over around noon, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Mr. Fleischer said “it’s too soon to say” if yesterday’s incident will have any bearing on Mr. Bush’s decision to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. Mr. Bush is waiting on a report from a National Capital Planning Commission task force evaluating the possibility of reopening the avenue, which has been closed since 1995.
“I don’t see a connection,” he said.
After the dog — a Belgian malinois trained only to sniff for bombs and explosive materials — came upon something odd in the silver-colored car, White House staffers and journalists were shepherded from areas in the West Wing and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Mr. Mackin said.
“It was because of the proximity of the vehicle, ” Mr. Mackin said. “It was to give a safe zone till the car or package could be cleared.”
He said the dog “may have made a mistake” or could have been alerted to something that was not a security threat.
“There is such a wide range of substances” the dog could have sensed, Mr. Mackin said.
The Secret Service, he said, has a standard protocol in place for whenever a dog or an agent finds even the smallest possible threat near the White House. In yesterday’s incident, once the uniformed agents were alerted by the dog of a possible threat, the technical security division moved in to peruse the contents of the car.
The Secret Service patrols the White House complex 24 hours a day and makes security sweeps of vehicles more than once, Mr. Mackin said.
“Cars are subject to search,” he said, noting that special privileges are not given to members of Congress and that each situation dealing with vehicles at the White House is unique.
There have been other incidents at the White House over the past six months that have kept the Secret Service busy, including a man brandishing a handgun outside the White House in February. And Mr. Mackin said the Secret Service routinely inspects suspicious packages left near the White House, especially the iron gates surrounding the perimeter of the executive mansion.
Mr. Mackin said the Secret Service has also recently investigated an out-of-place package left in front of the Blair House — across the street from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue — where presidential guests frequently stay.
As part of the evacuation, Mr. Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card also were forced to leave, although Miss Rice was about to leave anyway, for a speech at the National Press Club downtown.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.