Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus speaks to Washington Navy Yard personnel Sept. 19 during their first day back to work. (MCS 1st Class Arif Patani / Navy)
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The Navy’s top civilian ordered reviews Wednesday of the four-year naval career of the gunman responsible for the Washington Navy Yard shootings to ascertain whether his conduct, on and off duty, warranted his security clearance and fit-for-duty status.
The review ordered by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus will examine the service record of Aaron Alexis, the former petty officer and subcontractor, who was killed after reportedly entering the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command building with an identification badge and a sawed-off shotgun. The shooter also maintained a valid “secret” clearance, which has led some observers to question the vetting process after a Alexis’ mental health issues and prior arrests came to light.
Mabus also ordered rapid assessments of the rules for when contractors are required to notify the Navy that they’ve reviewed an employee’s clearance and of the Navy’s broader security clearance system, especially “the thresholds at which conduct issues demand a review of one’s clearance privileges,” the Navy said in a news release issued late Wednesday.
“I want a complete and comprehensive look at how we grant security clearances, as well as how we decide to renew them,” Mabus said in the statement. “We entrust our people with our nation’s secrets and with access to our facilities. We owe them and their families nothing less than the assurance that everyone else who enjoys such a clearance deserves it.”
These Navy reviews come on top of Defense Department-wide reviews ordered Tuesday looking at base security and security clearances. The reviews ordered by Mabus, which cover the Navy and Marine Corps, will be lead by Juan Garcia, the assistant Navy secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, and Paul Oostburg Sanz, the Navy’s general counsel, and must be completed by Oct. 1
To assess service members for secret and lower clearances, the military relies on a National Agency Check with Law and Credit, which requires the applicant to answer a questionnaire while agents review databases of crimes and security investigations, check the applicant’s credit and interview their colleagues. But this process appears not to examine the sort of misdemeanors for which Alexis was arrested — firearms-related offenses that may have given officials cause for concern.
Security experts say this process, known as the NACLC, needs a review.
“How you go about issuing a clearance to individuals is a process that originates from the Cold War days and is really not geared toward dealing with medical privacy, mental health issues,” said Fred Burton, a former counterterrorism agent who is now a security expert with the consulting firm Stratfor, in an interview. “They’re looking for serious felonies, [Uniform Crime Reporting]-kind of crime data — kidnapping, murder, rape, robbery. So, in that sense, if you’ve been arrested for disorderly conduct or shooting a firearm in some obscure county around the country, it would not necessarily show up in the NACLC background check.
“What you have is a system that perhaps needs to be looked at,” he said.