Navy Yard Shooting Raises Question Of Security Adequacy

Sep 17, 2013
Originally published on September 17, 2013 4:34 pm
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We're learning more now about the man responsible for the shootings. Aaron Alexis had a record of erratic behavior, both while he served in the military and in civilian life. Despite that, he somehow managed to obtain an honorable discharge from the Navy, and he had secret security clearance.

NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has been following the story, and he joins us now. And, Tom, let's start with those reports of misconduct because Aaron Alexis' did have an honorable discharge. How did that happen?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, I was told by defense official, Audie, that it was clear over time that Aaron Alexis was not going to make it as a sailor. He had repeated unauthorized absences. There was an incident of insubordination, another of disorderly conduct. And he had troubles in the civilian world as well, a couple of incidents involving discharge of a firearm, but he was arrested and not charged. And now, this added to the pattern of behavior, so the Navy was going to process him out and give him a general discharge, one rung below honorable. Instead, they gave him a quick way out through the special program, and he got an honorable discharge. But again, nothing here rose to the level of great concern. There were no serious crimes here. They just kind of let him get on with his life.

CORNISH: Also, this issue of his security clearance in the Navy, the level of secret, did he keep it when he left the Navy?

BOWMAN: Yes he did, and that's standard procedure in military. The clearance goes with you when you leave. And in this case, his secret clearance would last 10 years, starting from 2008, according to defense officials. The company that hired him said they checked with the Navy to make sure he had that clearance. They were told, yes. And the company also said in a statement that they hired a service to do a separate check and the only thing that popped up were some minor traffic offenses.

CORNISH: So that security clearance and that job got him access to the Navy Yard this week. Is that what the investigators think?

BOWMAN: That's right. The FBI says he used his own ID to get in. It was his and it was active. The FBI says he had with him a shotgun that he purchased legally in Virginia. But since you have a proper ID card to get on to that base, no one would have checked your car or your bags.

CORNISH: Now, there is a report released today by the inspector general at the Pentagon that's very critical of the security at Navy installations. Does that have a bearing on this case?

BOWMAN: Well, the report found out there was cost-cutting for access cards at Navy bases. That people weren't properly vetted. The IG found that, as a result, 52 convicted felons were allowed on to Navy bases, including an unnamed base in Washington, D.C., and that this putting workers and families and the facilities at risk. But it's important to remember here, at the time Aaron Alexis showed up at the Navy Yard, he was a government contractor with proper identification who had no convictions.

CORNISH: Lastly, Aaron Alexis, there are reports that he had mental health issues. What's the evidence you've learned of that?

BOWMAN: Well, there were reports from back in 2004, after an incident in Seattle, in which Alexis shot out the tires of a car. His father said at the time that his son had anger issues, some stemming from being in New York City during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. More recently, just last month, there was something more troubling, especially in hindsight. The Newport Rhode Island Police Department responded to a call from a hotel. They said they encountered Aaron Alexis. And according to the police report, he told officers that people were following him. And I'm quoting from the report here, "They were using some sort of microwave machine to send vibrations through the ceiling so he couldn't fall asleep." Now, the Newport Police Department said in a report that he notified the naval base in Newport and apparently made contact with the naval police on duty just to follow up. But again, this is something that didn't raise red flags.

CORNISH: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.