Official: Secret Service twice interviewed, released would-be White House intruder

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Story highlights

  • Omar Gonzalez jumped a fence, made it in the White House before getting caught
  • The Secret Service interviewed him twice before that incident, an official says
  • Once came after a July arrest on a gun charge; he also had a White House map
  • The other was in August, after being stopped with a hatchet outside the White House
Secret Service investigators interviewed Omar Gonzalez twice, well before he scaled a White House fence with a large knife in his pocket, determining both times that they didn't have enough reason to keep him, a law enforcement official told CNN on Tuesday.
Gonzaelez, a 42-year-old Iraq war veteran who apparently suffers from PTSD, hopped the north fence late last Friday and sprinted just inside the north portico White House doors before being stopped, Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary has said.
At the time -- which happened to be mere minutes after President Barack Obama and his daughters flew via helicopter from the South Lawn to Camp David -- Gonzalez had a Spyderco VG-10 folding knife with a 3½-inch serrated blade in his pants, according to an affidavit. In his car, he had more than 800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets and a machete.
An official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said soon after the incident that Gonzalez was known to the Secret Service even if he hadn't been arrested by the agency before.
On Tuesday, the details of these interactions became clearer.
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Investigators from the Secret Service -- whose mission includes protecting U.S. leaders -- interviewed Gonzalez after his July 19 arrest in Wythe County, Virginia, on charges of possessing a shotgun and sniper rifle as well as eluding and evading arrest.
Virginia State Police contacted the Secret Service after tying Gonzalez to a map with a circle around the White House or a line pointing to it, said the law enforcement official. The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also notified.
The discovery of the map led Secret Service investigators to ask Gonzalez standard protective intelligence questions and then let him go after determining that he did not pose a threat to the President, according to the law enforcement official.
"That could easily be explained as somebody who wants to tour DC," the official said of the map, explaining why it wasn't tied to any devious plot.
Just over a month later, on August 25, Secret Service agents stopped Gonzalez outside the White House's South Lawn after noticing he was carrying a camping hatchet.
The agency knew then of the Virginia incident, and the related Secret Service interview, from the previous month, the law enforcement official said.
Once again, Secret Service investigators talked to Gonzalez at the agency's Washington field office.
The law enforcement official said that -- after getting permission from Gonzalez -- the Secret Service found empty gun cases in his car. Investigators figured the cases were empty because Gonzalez's guns were seized in the July arrest, the official said.
When asked why the Secret Service didn't detain Gonzalez at this point, the law enforcement official responded, "For what? ... We can't randomly commit people."
Gonzalez's former stepson, Jerry S. Murphy, told CNN's Mary Grace Lucas that Gonzalez suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and paranoia. Murphy said Gonzalez's mental state seemed to deteriorate after each of his three deployments to Iraq.
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The Secret Service is reviewing security policies and procedures in light of last Friday's incident at the White House, as well as one the following day.
In that separate incident Saturday, a man -- identified by Leary as New Jersey resident Kevin Carr -- was arrested on an unlawful entry charge after he allegedly drove up to a security barrier and tried to walk to and enter the White House.
In addition to its internal review, the Secret Service in recent days has done things such as increasing the number of officers patrolling near the White House and boosting surveillance measures. The agency has also set up a makeshift fence -- basically bike racks zip-tied together -- along the North Lawn as a temporary response to Friday's incident, according to the law enforcement official.