A week after an IT contractor gunned down 12 workers at the Washington Navy Yard, Navy officials began moving to close gaps in the security clearance process, recommending that all police reports involving an individual must be included when a background check is done.
The Navy, in a report released Monday, revealed that the shooter, Aaron Alexis, did not disclose a 2004 arrest or some financial problems when he filled out his application for a security clearance when he joined the Navy as a reservist several years later. And officials said the background report given to the Navy at the time failed to reveal that Alexis had shot out the tires of another person’s car during a 2004 dispute in Seattle.
Instead, the report from the Office of Personnel Management, said Alexis “deflated” the tires, and did not mention the use of a gun.
Defense officials have acknowledged that a lot of red flags were missed in Alexis’ background, allowing him to maintain a secret security clearance and have access to a secure Navy facility despite a string of behavioral problems and brushes with the law. Over the past week, they have been struggling to determine what might have been missed, and what changes could be made in order to try to prevent similar violence in the future.
So far, however, the detailed reviews only underscore how subjective the security checks can be and how difficult it is to predict violent behavior based only on minor conduct issues that could easily be overlooked.
A review of Alexis’ nearly four-year Navy career, ordered last week by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, revealed that the full scope of the 2004 arrest was not included in the security clearance report.
According to a senior Navy official, the police report included information about Alexis shooting out the tires of another man’s car, after a recurring dispute over parking. Alexis was arrested, charged with malicious mischief, fingerprinted and spent the night in jail. But when he appeared in court the charges were dismissed and he believed the incident was erased from his record.
The OPM report, provided to the Navy, described the incident in which Alexis deflated the man’s tires in retaliation for the man putting an unknown substance in Alexis’ gas tank.
The discrepancy prompted Mabus to recommend to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that all police reports — not just arrests — be included in a security check. He also recommended Monday that the Navy beef up its management of sailor evaluations and fitness reports by assigning more senior officers to oversee them.