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 awoke 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, or State Route 295. 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, Maryland, which also is home to other federal agencies with restricted access.
What first seemed to be an attempt to breach security at the listening post -- the NSA 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.
Details about how the crash began were pieced together with information from several law enforcement officials and others familiar with the case. Some spoke on the condition that they not be named, in order to discuss a pending case.
Shortly before 9 a.m., 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 NSA said. An NSA statement said security barriers were raised.
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One official said the vehicle struck a security officer and the security barrier. The NSA statement said 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. One man died at the scene, and the other was rushed to a hospital, according to the NSA statement. The NSA did not say whether either man in the Escape was struck by gunfire or was injured as a result of the crash. An NSA officer also was injured, though officials did not say how.
Police have not released any identities or the conditions of the surviving SUV occupant and the injured NSA officer. A law enforcement official said, "This was not a deliberate attempt to breach the security of NSA. This was not a planned attack."
A Howard County police spokeswoman confirmed that the men involved had stayed at a Jessup, Maryland, motel and that the owner of the SUV called police yesterday morning to report the vehicle stolen.
Police officials said yesterday afternoon they were still trying to piece together the events. The officials do know that the three men checked into the motel room and stayed the night. One official familiar with the investigation described the episode as "prostitution- and drug-related."
Mary Phelan, a spokeswoman for Howard County police, confirmed that the SUV stolen from the motel was involved.
Deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz said President Barack Obama has been briefed on the crash and shooting.
It's not the first time someone has disobeyed orders at an NSA gate. In July, a man ignored a command to stop as he approached a checkpoint and drove away, injuring an NSA officer. The man was arrested later. Earlier this month, police captured a man who allegedly fired at a building and vehicles on the NSA campus. The man told police he heard voices.
With The Associated Press