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New job screening rules in wake of Navy Yard shooting

Sep. 24, 2013 - 02:38PM   |  
By SAM FELLMAN   |   Comments

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After reviewing Aaron Alexis’ four-year Navy career, Navy officials said Monday that they are moving to close some gaps in the performance-review process — changes that may have allowed supervisors to better flag the sailor’s behavior, even if there are no indications that he would be given to killing shipmates.

After examining Alexis’ final evaluation, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has ordered the Navy and Marine Corps to assign more senior officers to be command security managers and to require commanding officers to sign off on all detaching performance reviews.

Alexis’ record did not mention his arrest for discharge of a firearm or any behavior issues. And it’s that record that helped the former sailor get a job with a subcontractor and gain access to the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters building at the Washington Navy Yard. It was in that building on Sept. 16 that Alexis gunned down 12 employees before being killed himself by safety officials.

Alexis’ final eval said the departing aviation electrician’s mate third class “will be a valuable asset to any civilian organization.” It was signed by his department head.

In addition, the Navy has recommended that the agency responsible for security clearance investigations include all available police reports to determine a candidate’s eligibility. That agency, the Office of Personnel Management, may have downgraded an incident three years before Alexis’ 2007 enlistment.

As is required of all recruits, Alexis submitted to the National Agency Check for Law and Credit. When his fingerprints were sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, they came back with one abnormality: the “malicious mischief” charges that Alexis had been arrested for in Seattle. In that episode, Alexis shot out the tires on a car in a fit of rage while staying at his grandmother’s house.

OPM investigators sat down with Alexis, who did not disclose his arrests.

Their scrubbed report to the Navy removed any reference to Alexis using a gun; it says only that Alexis “deflated the tires on a construction worker’s vehicle.” Based on that characterization, the Navy granted Alexis a secret clearance March 11, 2008.

It is not clear whether Alexis would have gained his security clearance had the report mentioned that he’d shot out the tires, given that the clearance process is geared toward finding those who represent espionage threats, rather than who are mentally unstable or dangerous. But Mabus has recommended to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that all police records be included in a person’s security clearance investigation.

“In many ways, the security clearance process is designed and built to detect potential for disloyalty or for giving away secrets — in some ways a relic of the Cold War,” said one senior Navy official, who has reviewed Alexis’ personnel records, on the condition his name not be used. “Very different from a check that looks for potential danger or for the kind of behavior we saw last week.”

The in-depth review of Alexis’ files did not turn up evidence of any mental health or anger issues or any visits to chaplains or Navy psychiatrists, the senior Navy official told reporters Monday.

Alexis spent the majority of his active-duty time with Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 46. He worked as a avionics technician and mechanic on the squadron’s C-9 Skytrain jets, which moved people and parts around the world. Alexis was an OK mechanic but felt maligned in the Navy. He had entered the Navy as a 27-year-old and felt many of the tasks he was ordered to do were beneath him. He also struggled out in town, getting in fights at nightclubs.

On Sept. 5, 2010, he was arrested for firing a gun into the apartment above his. The command saw that as his last straw. VR-46’s commanding officer, then-Cmdr. Steven Knight, prepared paperwork to boot out Alexis with a general discharge, which would have stripped him of some benefits, such as the GI Bill. However, Knight dropped that plan because Alexis was never charged for the incident.

Instead, Alexis got an early out from his six-year commitment four months later. He left with an honorable discharge, a good evaluation and a secret clearance. He was given the re-enlistment code RE-1, the most favorable such category.

Other security reviews, including those of base security procedures, are ongoing.

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