(CBS News) -- The U.S. Secret Service is facing questions about how a South African interpreter who admits he suffers from serious mental health issues got so close to President Obama at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.
At first, the complaint was just that his signing for the deaf was incomprehensible, but then serious security questions were raised when the interpreter admitted that he is schizophrenic with a history of violence and that he was having visions during the ceremony.
Thamsanqa Jantjie stood just a few feet from Mr. Obama and other world leaders at Tuesday’s memorial service, seemingly signing their speeches.
On Thursday, the White House deflected all questions about whether the president was in danger to the Secret Service.
“For matters regarding the president’s security, I would refer you to the Secret Service. Obviously they worked very hard on this trip, which came about on short notice,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.
The Secret Service said it had an understanding that the South African government was responsible for vetting the people on the stage for the ceremony and that agreed-upon security measures were in place.
But in an interview with CBS News Jantjie admitted to suffering from violent outbursts and hallucinations as a result of his condition, even on the day of the memorial.
“When I get an episode, I see ugly things, see ugly things,” said Jantjie. “But that day I see angels.”
A South African government minister is calling the selection of the interpreter a “mistake” and said the government was “embarrassed.” They also admitted he was not fully qualified and had been hired at a bargain rate.
In a statement, the Secret Service said that its special agents are always in close proximity to the president, wherever he is.
But, as CBS News’ Bill Plante reported on “CBS This Morning,” security is always more difficult in a large multi-national setting like the memorial, but this case is particularly disturbing because the Secret Service had to rely on another government, and this individual with a record of violence was not spotted.