September 19, 2013

Hagel orders two reviews in response to shooting

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered two sweeping reviews of military security and employee screening programs, acknowledging Wednesday that "a lot of red flags" may have been missed in the background of the Washington Navy Yard shooter.

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey speak during a press conference on military base security on Wednesday at the Pentagon.


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Two days after former Navy reservist Aaron Alexis gunned down 12 people in a shooting rampage inside the Navy base, Pentagon leaders struggled with whether a string of minor arrests, mental health issues and other behavioral problems should have been enough to strip him of his security clearance or deny him access to the secure facility in southeast Washington.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, meanwhile, announced Wednesday night that he wants three rapid reviews completed by Oct. 1, including whether a contracting company should inform the Navy if it decides to review a worker's security clearance.

That order raises questions about whether the company that employed Alexis, the Florida-based IT consulting firm The Experts, had decided to review his clearance. A security clearance often is critical for contractors working in defense jobs. Law enforcement officials have said they don't yet have a motive for Alexis' shooting rampage.

Mabus also ordered a review of Alexis' service record to determine whether his conduct problems while in the Navy should have threatened his ability to keep his security clearance. And the secretary asked for a broader look at what types of behavior should trigger a re-evaluation of a person's clearance.

The reviews underscore widespread concerns that there are gaps in the current procedures for screening workers, particularly for conduct or mental health problems and other changes that occur over time.

"Obviously, there were a lot of red flags" about Alexis, Hagel told reporters at a Pentagon briefing. "Why they didn't get picked, why they didn't get incorporated into the clearance process, what he was doing, those are all legitimate questions that we're going to be dealing with."

But Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he still believes that those who have served in the military should not be stigmatized by having to answer questions about their mental health status on security clearance forms.

In recent years, Dempsey and other military leaders had argued that service members — many of whom have been plagued by stress disorders and other problems after multiple deployments in more than a decade of war — should have the opportunity to overcome their mental health challenges without being stigmatized.

He questioned whether forcing Alexis to disclose that he had been undergoing mental health treatments could have prevented Monday's tragedy.

"I don't know what the investigation will determine, but he committed murder," said Dempsey, sitting next to Hagel. "And I'm not sure that any particular question or lack of question on a security clearance would probably have revealed that."

As officials worked to untangle the events surrounding the shooting spree and what may have triggered or enabled it, they continued Wednesday to say that routine security procedures were followed when Alexis used his authorized access card to get onto the base and into Building 197.

They said his checkered Navy career, marred by unauthorized absences and other misconduct, as well as two brushes with the law in Georgia and Texas, were probably not enough to prompt a review of his "secret" level security clearance or prevent him from using that clearance to go onto the base and do his job as an information technology contractor.

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