Air Force Brass Confident of Nuclear Base Security Following Deadly Navy Incident

Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire
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Elaine M. Grossman, Global Security Newswire
Sept. 18, 2013, 10:02 a.m.

NA­TION­AL HAR­BOR, MD. — A two-star Air Force gen­er­al re­spons­ible for over­see­ing atom­ic mat­ters on Tues­day voiced con­fid­ence in se­cur­ity at ser­vice bases hous­ing nuc­le­ar-tipped ground-based bal­list­ic mis­siles and grav­ity bombs, fol­low­ing Monday’s deadly shoot­ing at the Navy Yard in Wash­ing­ton.

Asked if the Air Force would re­view its con­tract­or se­cur­ity clear­ances and base-ac­cess pro­ced­ures — giv­en rev­el­a­tions that al­leged killer Aaron Alex­is had a his­tory of men­tal-health prob­lems and gun-re­lated in­cid­ents — Maj. Gen. Gar­rett Har­en­cak played down the idea that sim­il­ar se­cur­ity gaps could af­fect his ser­vice’s stew­ard­ship of two-thirds of the na­tion’s nuc­le­ar ar­sen­al.

“We nev­er stop do­ing that,” said Har­en­cak, the Air Force as­sist­ant chief of staff for stra­tegic de­terrence and nuc­le­ar in­teg­ra­tion. “We’re al­ways con­stantly self-as­sess­ing our se­cur­ity pro­ced­ures; we’re al­ways test­ing our se­cur­ity pro­ced­ures.”

“This is not just part of the nuc­le­ar en­ter­prise … but [is] throughout our United States Air Force,” he con­tin­ued, speak­ing at an Air Force As­so­ci­ation con­fer­ence just out­side of Wash­ing­ton.  “We’re nev­er stat­ic when it comes to look­ing at bet­ter ways … to se­cure our air­men and our fa­cil­it­ies.”

The nuc­le­ar lead­er ad­ded, though, that he would have to check with his ser­vice’s se­cur­ity dir­ect­or­ate be­fore know­ing wheth­er a fresh Air Force re­view would be con­duc­ted, based on the ap­par­ent Navy Yard lapses that al­lowed Alex­is a fa­cil­ity badge as a con­tract­or and entry in­to the Navy fa­cil­ity.

The Air Force did not provide a re­ques­ted re­sponse on the mat­ter pri­or to press time on Wed­nes­day.

The Navy Yard shoot­er killed 12 ci­vil­ian per­son­nel at the base be­fore be­ing shot dead him­self by law en­force­ment. Sev­er­al oth­ers were wounded in the at­tack, which has since been at­trib­uted to Alex­is as the lone gun­man.

De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel on Wed­nes­day an­nounced that he had launched two ma­jor re­views the pri­or day, both of which will be led by Ashton Carter, the Pentagon’s No. 2 of­fi­cial.

“We will do everything pos­sible to pre­vent this from hap­pen­ing again,” Hagel said at a press con­fer­ence.

One re­view is to fo­cus on “phys­ic­al se­cur­ity and ac­cess pro­ced­ures” for U.S. bases world­wide, while the oth­er will ad­dress De­fense De­part­ment “prac­tices and pro­ced­ures for grant­ing and re­new­ing se­cur­ity clear­ances,” in­clud­ing for con­tract­ors, he said.

Pentagon lead­ers would im­ple­ment the re­com­mend­a­tions of both re­views and ad­dress any gaps they find, Hagel said.

“Ob­vi­ously there were a lot of red flags,” the de­fense sec­ret­ary said in ref­er­ence to Alex­is’s abil­ity to re­tain a se­cur­ity clear­ance and fa­cil­ity priv­ileges. “Why they didn’t get picked up, why they didn’t get in­cor­por­ated in­to the clear­ance pro­cess, what he was do­ing — Those are all le­git­im­ate ques­tions that we’re go­ing to be deal­ing with.”

Alex­is pre­vi­ously had been ar­res­ted but nev­er charged with a crime, lead­ing some ob­serv­ers to ques­tion wheth­er the clear­ance pro­cess may not ac­count suf­fi­ciently for troub­ling warn­ing signs.

The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stopped short of con­clud­ing wheth­er the pro­cess was to blame, or if in­stead there was hu­man er­ror in im­ple­ment­ing ex­ist­ing clear­ance or ac­cess rules.

“I think this will be scru­tin­ized a great deal,” said Gen. Mar­tin De­mp­sey, speak­ing at the same press brief­ing. “Un­til I un­der­stand the out­come of the in­vest­ig­a­tion, I can’t render a judg­ment about wheth­er it was a red flag or just something that flew be­neath the radar.”

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