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Reports fault command for not flagging Navy Yard shooter

Apr. 5, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
An officer stands guard near the gate at the Washington Navy Yard the day after a gunman launched an attack inside. New reports say civilian and military officials failed to raise alarms concerning Aaron Alexis' erratic behavior prior to his shooting rampage.
An officer stands guard near the gate at the Washington Navy Yard the day after a gunman launched an attack inside. New reports say civilian and military officials failed to raise alarms concerning Aaron Alexis' erratic behavior prior to his shooting rampage. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)
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The command of then-Aviation Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class Aaron Alexis should have flagged him as a security risk while he was in the Navy, allowing Alexis’ supervisors to connect the dots between his troubling behavior and run-ins with authorities, three reports released in mid-March have found.

Investigations by the Defense Department, the Navy and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform all concluded that Fleet Logistics Squadron 46 failed to report several troubling incidents that raised questions about whether he should have held his “secret” clearance.

The Navy’s report largely blames Alexis’ supervisors and co-workers at The Experts and at Hewlett-Packard, the prime contractor, for not reporting his alarming behavior in the months before Alexis killed 12 employees at Naval Sea Systems Command on Sept. 16. But it also highlights that VR-46 officials could have done more.

“Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 46 did not properly continuously evaluate Alexis and report adverse information to Department of the Navy Central Adjudication Facility, as required,” the Navy’s investigation said.

Alexis’ run-ins included disorderly conduct, insubordination and extended absences from work, as well as the time he discharged a firearm in his apartment, firing the round into the apartment above. Not one of the incidents was flagged about his security clearance — laying the groundwork to reveal Alexis’ pattern of troubling behavior to those in the Navy and his later employers.

Per Navy rules, commands are required to report all adverse behavior to Central Adjudication. These reports are then entered into a database, known as Joint Personnel Adjudication System, visible to any person looking to hire someone with a security clearance.

Because his command failed to enter those reports, The Experts had no visibility on Alexis’ history of erratic behavior.

Thomas Hoshko, a former Navy cryptologic technician who is the chief executive of The Experts, said the Navy Yard mass shooting by his employee had taken a heavy toll on him and his family but that he’s not clear how his company, or anyone else, could have stopped it.

“When I look back on it, I’m not sure there was anything I could have done, or [Hewlett-Packard] or the Navy could have done to prevent this” without more information, Hoshko said in a March 27 phone interview. “I think this is a system problem.”

Warning signs unreported

“During his active duty, despite two additional arrests (one of which also involved discharge of a firearm) and chronic personal conduct issues resulting in formal counseling and imposition of non-judicial punishment, the Navy reported none of this adverse information in JPAS,” the DoD report said. According to the DoD review, “When The Experts first hired Alexis, there was no information available in JPAS that would have alerted the company to any misconduct while on active duty in the Navy,” the report reads.

“If The Experts had been aware of Alexis’ prior history, this information may have led The Experts to assess his erratic, troubling behavior in August 2013 as that indicative of an individual who might pose a threat to himself or others.”

Alexis’ command didn’t think it needed to report the incidents because he didn’t need access to classified information to do his daily duties, the DoD report said.

Officials are rewriting the instruction to make it clear on when to report any adverse information on personnel with classified clearances.

The DoD investigation raises questions about whether Alexis’ clearance would have been revoked in time to stop the shooting — or at all — if his contractor had reported him in the months before it took place. It also asserts the department lacks clear guidance as to what constitutes “adverse” behavior in regards to mental health.

The DoD review knocks The Experts and Hewlett-Packard for failing to seek guidance when Alexis’ behavior became worse. But the review also says that “it is unknown whether such reporting might have provided an opportunity for intervention measures to prevent the shooting in September.”

The Navy is working to ensure that the department and its contractors understand reporting requirements for incidents involving clearance-holders that raise red flags, said Lt. Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, the Navy’s lead spokeswoman for the investigation, in a statement.

“We continue to underscore the need to report aberrant behavior into existing security reporting systems,” Rebarich said.■

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