Capitol Police Missed Device

By Mary Beth Sheridan and Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Federal officers searching a suspicious pickup truck near the U.S. Capitol in January missed an explosive device that remained undetected behind the seat for three weeks, officials said yesterday.

Michael S. Gorbey, who was initially detained for carrying a loaded shotgun near the Capitol, is now facing charges of planning to set off a bomb, according to an indictment filed in D.C. Superior Court. U.S. Capitol Police are investigating how their top-rated bomb squad failed to spot the hazardous device.

The revelations evoked one of the nightmare scenarios that Congress has spent millions of dollars to avert since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The contraption in Gorbey's truck, parked about two blocks from the Capitol, "could have caused serious injuries" if detonated, said Terrance W. Gainer, the Senate sergeant-at-arms.

Sources familiar with the investigation said, however, that the device was not in imminent danger of exploding. It was identified in court documents as being made of a can of gunpowder duct-taped to a box of shotgun shells and a bottle containing buckshot or BB pellets.

The device was discovered during a second search of the vehicle in February by Capitol Police. The truck had been sitting in a government parking lot since being seized in January, authorities said.

Gorbey has been charged with trying to possess or make a weapon of mass destruction, "that is, an explosive device capable of causing multiple deaths" or destruction of property, according to an indictment handed up last week.

Gorbey is also accused of making or transporting an explosive device with the intent to use it against people or property. And he faces multiple firearms counts, in addition to the initial weapons charge lodged against him in January.

Gorbey, 38, of Rapidan, Va., has pleaded not guilty and has been jailed since January. He has said he plans to defend himself at his trial, set to begin April 21.

Gorbey was detained by Capitol Police on Jan. 18 as he carried a loaded shotgun and a sword in the 300 block of First Street NE. In his backpack was the title for a 1981 Chevrolet pickup, which was parked illegally on D Street NE between the Capitol and Union Station, according to court documents.

After spotting propane tanks and wires in the pickup, officers called in the Capitol Police bomb squad. The squad did not find any immediate danger, officials said.

One Capitol Police source familiar with the incident said bomb technicians tried to make a careful search of the vehicle, which was crammed with clothing, papers and other goods.

But it was a Friday afternoon and the start of the long Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, and people were complaining about road closures related to the bomb scare, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment.

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