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Congresswoman: Secret Service "ruined" Wednesday's celebration

Saturday - 8/31/2013, 1:52pm  ET

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Crowds make their way through a security checkpoint at 17th Street to get into the area around the Lincoln Memorial for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington Wednesday. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)
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WASHINGTON - The U.S. Secret Service came in for some sharp criticism over how they handled security at Wednesday's March on Washington anniversary celebration.

D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton says the security checkpoint at 17th Street, where thousands of people waited hours to get into the area around the Lincoln Memorial, was handled poorly by the Secret Service.

"They proved themselves to be absolute amateurs," Norton told WTOP on Saturday.

Norton has written the agency's director, Julia Pierson, calling the checkpoint "a massive failure." She said that the agency "failed to prevent an organizational breakdown that was entirely unnecessary."

On Saturday, Norton told WTOP that "The Secret Service ruined the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for thousands of people, many of whom had come long distances."

WTOP reporters saw a large number of people giving up after waiting in line for hours and going home early, before getting into the area around the Lincoln Memorial where the speeches were taking place.

The weather was hot and humid. Norton says dozens of people had to be treated for exposure to the weather while they waited in line to go through metal detectors. The congresswoman says there were not enough metal detectors.

The Secret Service issued a written statement on the event after the congresswoman's letter was sent.

"During this event, every effort was made to adapt with resources and personnel to accommodate the surge in attendees that arrived after 11 o'clock for security screening," the Secret Service says in the statement.

"Throughout the entire event, we continued to process people to make sure that everyone that wanted to attend the event was able to attend - no one was denied access to the event."

The statement also says the agency will conduct an after-action review with the National Park Service to see where improvements can be made.

There's no official estimate on the size of the crowd for the event, but it was much smaller than the crowd on a typical 4th of July or at recent presidential inaugurations.

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