Firm Didn’t Warn Navy of Shooter’s Odd Behavior
A subcontractor knew of the Washington Navy Yard shooter's mental health issues but never told the military, one of many security lapses that contributed to the tragedy that left 12 dead, according to investigations released by the Pentagon on Tuesday.
Supervisors at The Experts Inc., an information-technology firm based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., then a subcontractor on a Navy contract to Hewlett-Packard Co., were aware of gunman Aaron Alexis' "erratic behavior" in the weeks leading up to the shooting but didn't report it to military officials as required, according to one of the documents.
"Those requirements were not met," Adm. John Richardson said during a news conference at the Pentagon. "They did observe those behaviors and did not make those reports and so it was impossible for the Navy to act on that information."
A separate Navy report written by Richardson concluded: "Had this information been reported, properly adjudicated, and acted upon, Alexis' authorization to access secure facilities and information would have been revoked."
Instead, Alexis, a Navy reservist, kept his security clearance and on Sept. 16, 2013, used it to gain access to the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., where he shot and killed a dozen civilians and wounded several others before he was killed by police. It was the second-deadliest shooting on a U.S. military facility after the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas.
Alexis had several prior arrests -- two involving firearms -- and, in the weeks before the incident, he complained of "being followed, hearing voices, and of being under attack by vibrations and microwaves," according to the Pentagon's internal review of the shooting.
Representatives at The Experts didn't return a telephone call from Military.com requesting comment.
The Pentagon's multiple investigations into the incident revealed "troubling gaps" in the military's security clearance system and installation management practices, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at Tuesday's press conference.
To close those gaps, Hagel said he has accepted recommendations to begin automated record checks of personnel with access to defense facilities or information, create a center to analyze so-called insider threats, task the under secretary of defense for intelligence with overseeing such efforts, and expedite deployment of an identify-management system in fiscal 2016.
"While individuals with security clearances undergo periodic reinvestigations, I am directing the department to establish automated reviews of cleared personnel that will continuously pull information from law enforcement and other relevant databases," Hagel said. "This will help trigger an alert if derogatory information becomes available."
The current system relies on a periodic re-investigation in which a previously completed background check is updated every five, 10 or 15 years, depending on the type of clearance, according to Principal Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel Lettre.
"That approach limits our ability to understand the evolution that may occur in a person's life that may have them evolve from a trusted insider to an insider threat," Lettre said.
Hagel said he is also considering additional recommendations to reduce the number of personnel with security clearances, reassess whether it should rely on the Office of Personnel Management to conduct background investigations of its employees and contractors, and do more to de-stigmatize the process for mental health treatment.
The proposals came from an independent review of the shooting led by retired Adm. Eric Olson and Paul Stockton, a former assistant secretary of defense who argued that the Pentagon relies too heavily on perimeter security to protect its workers.
"That approach is outmoded, it's broken, and the department needs to replace it," Stockton said. "Increasingly, cyber, kinetic, all threats, they're inside the perimeter."
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the number of people eligible for security clearances with the Pentagon has tripled, Stockton said. Today, an estimated 2.5 million individuals have active clearances – a figure that should be decreased by at least 10 percent, he said.
"Far too many people have security clearances," he said.
-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at email@example.com
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