The overnight tryst began in Baltimore, with three men, two dressed as women. It continued at a motel on U.S. 1, and when one of the men woke up Monday morning, his two cross-dressing companions, and his Ford Escape, were gone.
The dark-colored Escape was headed south on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Its driver, in what authorities believe could have been a mistake, took a restricted exit leading to a security post at the sprawling campus of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md.
An NSA statement said the driver ignored police commands to stop and instead accelerated toward a police vehicle as at least one officer opened fire. The stolen SUV crashed into the cruiser. One man died at the scene, and the other was taken to a hospital for treatment. An NSA officer also was injured, though officials did not say how.
What had first appeared to be an attempt to breach security at the listening post that eavesdrops on communications throughout the world now appears to be a wrong turn by two men who police believe had robbed their companion of his vehicle and perhaps didn’t stop because there were drugs inside.
A spokeswoman for the Baltimore office of the FBI, Amy J. Thoreson, said early in the investigation that authorities “do not believe [the incident] is related to terrorism.” A law enforcement official said: “This was not a deliberate attempt to breach the security of NSA. This was not a planned attack.”
Police have not released the identities of the people involved, or the conditions of the man who survived the incident and the injured NSA officer. The NSA statement did not say whether either person in the car was struck by gunfire or was injured as a result of the crash.
Details about how the incident began were pieced together with information from several law enforcement officials and others familiar with the case, who spoke on the condition they not be named in order to discuss a pending case.
A Howard County police spokeswoman confirmed that the men involved stayed at a Jessup motel and that the owner of the SUV called police Monday morning to report it stolen.
Police officials said late Monday afternoon that they were still trying to piece together the sequence of events and locations. One official said it appears that the owner of the SUV picked up the other two men in Baltimore, though the official said detectives had not confirmed that account entirely.
The police officials said the three men checked into the motel room and stayed the night.
Mary Phelan, a spokeswoman for the Howard police, confirmed that the SUV stolen from the motel was the vehicle that ended up at the NSA checkpoint. Officials said they are trying to sort through the vehicle owner’s statement; it was unclear whether the person injured in the incident could be interviewed at the hospital.
The encounter at the NSA occurred shortly before 9 a.m., when the vehicle entered the NSA complex in Anne Arundel County and “failed to obey an NSA police officer’s routine instructions for safely exiting the secure campus.” The statement said security barriers were raised.
One official said the vehicle struck a security officer and the security barrier. The NSA statement said that the “vehicle accelerated toward an NSA police vehicle blocking the road” and that police “fired at the vehicle.” It then crashed into the police vehicle.
Local television cameras showed two vehicles that were damaged near a gate at the military base.
Dozens of news media people descended on the NSA campus Monday morning eager for details, but when they arrived, the journalists and their news trucks were corralled to a parking lot blocks away from NSA headquarters with no view of the scene.
A line of cameras sat on a hill facing away from the NSA building into the evening because NSA officials told the media they could not take video or photos of the campus. News helicopters buzzed overhead most of the day.
Crews from the FBI’s evidence response team were processing the scene, and agents were interviewing witnesses. Deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz said President Obama was briefed on the incident.
Fort Meade has about 11,000 military personnel and an additional 29,000 civilian employees, according to its Web site. The facility sits near Odenton and Laurel and is the third-largest employer in Maryland. It houses other federal agencies in addition to the NSA, including the Defense Information School, the U.S. Army Cyber Command and various military intelligence offices.
A parkway sign that points to the exit says “NSA” and below, in black letters on a white background, says, “Restricted Entrance.”
Monday’s shooting comes after other incidents in which authorities said people either accidentally or intentionally tried to breach security at area government buildings.
This month, a Beltsville man was arrested in a string of shootings at public buildings around suburban Maryland, including one shooting at an NSA building just east of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. A former prison guard was arrested and named a suspect in the shootings and has told investigators that he was “hearing voices” that told him to fire the shots.
In September, a man with a knife was able to jump a fence, get past the U.S. Secret Service and enter an unlocked door of the White House before he was caught. That incident and others prompted a review of security procedures as well as staff changes at the top of the agency.
And in October 2013, a woman with her 1-year-old daughter in her car rammed a gate outside the White House, then sped to the U.S. Capitol, where police twice opened fire on her car. She was killed after getting past a security barrier on the Capitol grounds. Her family has said she suffered from mental issues and panicked when she saw police with guns and had not meant to breach the security barriers.
Lynh Bui, Dana Hedgpeth and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.