The Navy Yard Shooting Could Have Been Prevented, Review Finds

But the Defense Department says it does not have the current capabilities to prevent such a large-scale attack.

Law enforcement rushed to the Washington Navy Yard following a shooting that left 12 dead on Sept. 16.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
March 18, 2014, 7:07 a.m.

The Wash­ing­ton Navy Yard shoot­ing that left 12 people dead in Septem­ber could have been pre­ven­ted, a De­fense De­part­ment in­tern­al re­view re­leased on Tues­day re­veals.

It took six months to com­plete the re­view of a shoot­ing that baffled Wash­ing­ton, when Aaron Alex­is, a fed­er­al con­tract­or with se­cur­ity clear­ance, drove in­to work on Sept. 16 with a shot­gun and opened fire on his cowork­ers. Law-en­force­ment of­ficers on the scene killed him.

After its in­vest­ig­a­tion, the De­fense De­part­ment re­view stated that there were “missed op­por­tun­it­ies” that “may have pre­ven­ted the tra­gic res­ult at the Wash­ing­ton Navy Yard.”

But the re­view in­cludes one ma­jor, dis­con­cert­ing caveat: “Even if those vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies had not been present, neither the per­son­nel se­cur­ity pro­cess nor the phys­ic­al se­cur­ity cap­ab­il­ity is equipped or de­signed to pre­vent the kind of vi­ol­ence ex­hib­ited by Aaron Alex­is.”

Fol­low­ing his ser­vice in the Navy, Alex­is was treated on sev­er­al oc­ca­sions for psy­cho­lo­gic­al is­sues. He also had a couple of run-ins with the law for il­leg­ally dis­char­ging his weapon. While the Pentagon con­cedes that, in­di­vidu­ally, these events were not enough to pre­dict this out­come, to­geth­er they are damning.

These in­stances, the re­view says, should have been de­tec­ted by the back­ground in­vest­ig­a­tion be­fore he re­ceived his se­cur­ity clear­ance. His em­ploy­er at the time of the shoot­ing, a de­fense con­tract­ing com­pany called the Ex­perts, had no in­sight in­to these be­ha­vi­ors, nor did the com­pany re­port his psy­cho­lo­gic­al is­sues to the De­fense De­part­ment, the re­port con­tin­ues.

There were also gaps in se­cur­ity at the Wash­ing­ton Navy Yard, the re­port shows, as ran­dom in­spec­tions for vehicles and bags did not meet De­fense De­part­ment stand­ards.

“There is no way to know, however, wheth­er more fre­quent in­spec­tions might have giv­en law-en­force­ment per­son­nel the op­por­tun­ity to dis­cov­er the weapon Alex­is car­ried onto the in­stall­a­tion and neut­ral­ize or min­im­ize the im­me­di­ate threat,” the re­port says.

Plans to cut se­cur­ity pres­ence at mil­it­ary bases, however, “are likely to leave the de­part­ment vul­ner­able to threat.”

In light of re­cent fatal shoot­ings at U.S. mil­it­ary bases, in­clud­ing when Maj. Nid­al Has­an killed 13 people in 2009, the Pentagon has looked in­to ways of pre­vent­ing this kind of vi­ol­ence long be­fore the shoot­ing be­gins. The re­view re­com­mends more eval­u­ations of cleared De­fense De­part­ment per­son­nel us­ing “auto­mated re­cords checks and re­ports of be­ha­vi­or of con­cern and re­com­mend ac­tion as ap­pro­pri­ate,” while also in­creas­ing a se­cur­ity pres­ence at mil­it­ary build­ings.

A sep­ar­ate in­de­pend­ent re­view also re­com­mends new se­cur­ity in­stall­a­tions at mil­it­ary build­ings, while also cut­ting the num­ber of De­fense De­part­ment em­ploy­ees and con­tract­ors with se­cur­ity clear­ance by 10 per­cent. The re­view fur­ther notes that there should be “more and bet­ter” data for clear­ance checks, and in­creased men­tal health care aware­ness.

De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel said Tues­day the de­part­ment would close the “troub­ling gaps” with the se­cur­ity of con­tract­ors, mil­it­ary, and se­cur­ity per­son­nel.

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