Officials should not have granted Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis security clearance. The signs were there: a history of mental illness, shooting arrests, and anger-management issues. But still he was cleared.
In a letter to Inspector General Patrick E. McFarland this morning, four senators — Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio — requested a review of the security-clearance background investigation for the Navy Yard shooter. You can read the full letter below.
The senators are particularly interested in one aspect of the shooter’s background: He was a government contractor. The shooter was hired in September 2012 by a subcontractor of Hewlett-Packard, and his security clearance was then apparently confirmed with the Defense Department. That security clearance was reconfirmed earlier this summer. The shooter then used his secret-level clearance to get into the Navy Yard on Monday.
While it is easy to look at this situation in hindsight and wonder why he had access to the Navy Yard, which eventually allowed him to carry out the shooting, senators want a detailed explanation from officials on why his troubled past was not flagged.
More broadly, this could lead to further congressional investigations into the level of access government contractors are afforded. The most recent and highly public example is obviously Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who leaked a trove of classified information about surveillance programs. Since then, the Obama administration has scrambled to explain to the American people, lawmakers, and international leaders the extent to which the U.S. spies on its own citizens and people and governments around the world.
Embarrassingly for the White House, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceled a state visit over concerns about the NSA’s surveillance program, which the leader cited in a phone call with President Obama on Tuesday. While the trip was scheduled for Oct. 23, talks with White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice proved unfruitful, because differences in philosophy remained between the two countries.
Another incident occurred during the Iraq war, when private contractors killed a number of unarmed civilians in Nisour Square, while also being partially responsible for detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison.
Separately, the International Code of Conduct Association was launched in 2011 by several governments around the world, including from the United States, Switzerland, and the U.K, to address these gaps in government accountability and oversight for these contractors. Nearly 600 private security groups have signed up for this accord since its launching.
To be sure, a few high-profile examples of government contractors behaving badly is not in and of itself a trend. There were over 4.9 million federal government workers and contractors with security clearances in 2012, although the exact number of contractors is more difficult to pin down. But these few recent incidents are enough to bring heightened attention to just how contractors get clearance.
It may not be wise to expect Congress to act on gun legislation after the Navy Yard shooting. But that doesn’t mean they won’t touch contractors.
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When it comes to name-calling among America's upper echelon of politicians, there may be perhaps no greater spat than the one currently going on between Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump. While receiving an award Tuesday night, she continued a months-long feud with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Calling him a "small, insecure moneygrubber" who probably doesn't know three things about Dodd-Frank, she said he "will NEVER be president of the United States," according to her prepared remarks."We don't know what Trump pays in taxes because he is the first presidential nominee in 40 years to refuse to disclose his tax returns. Maybe he’s just a lousy businessman who doesn’t want you to find out that he’s worth a lot less money than he claims." It follows a long-line of Warren attacks over Twitter, Facebook and in interviews that Trump is a sexist, racist, narcissistic loser. In reply, Trump has called Warren either "goofy" or "the Indian"—referring to her controversial assertion of her Native American heritage.
The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."
"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."
Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."
"Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the rules of how the House will consider spending measures to try to prevent Democrats from offering surprise amendments that have recently put the GOP on defense. ... Ryan announced at a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning that members will now have to submit their amendments ahead of time so that they are pre-printed in the Congressional Record, according to leadership aides." The change will take effect after the Memorial Day recess.