The Naval Postgraduate School & The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Wolf at the Navy Yard: How Security Clearance Procedures Failed to Prevent Tragedy

Aaron Alexis from video footage on the day of the shootingWhen Aaron Alexis entered building 197 on the Washington Navy Yard and killed 12 people, families and authorities needed answers to address how such a tragedy could take place. A new report aims to point the blame for the event on a defective security clearance process.

The report, “Slipping Through the Cracks: How the D.C. Navy Yard Shooting Exposes Flaws in the Federal Security Clearance Process”, found that non-cooperation between police departments, lack of continuous monitoring of those holding a security clearance, and regulations that disallow the use of social media for background checks may have been the biggest roadblocks to preventing the Navy Yard shooting.

On September 16, 2013, Alexis worked for a small subcontracting company and held a Secret clearance, despite his problematic conduct over many years. These behaviors included drunken misconduct and various weapons violations that included shooting a gun into his ceiling and firing a bullet through the wall of his room.

He also maintained paranoid delusions about individuals attempting to harm him with microwaves. He reported to police that he was hearing voices of people trying to harm him. None of these incidents were brought to the attention of personnel with the power to revoke his Secret clearance. He also suffered from severe insomnia and was prescribed Trazodone, a medication used to treat depression and anxiety.

The report goes on to say that "On many occasions in the years leading up to the September 16, 2013 shooting, Aaron Alexis could have been stopped - either by a thorough investigation of his background prior to granting him a clearance, continuous evaluation of his competency for a security clearance while he was a Naval reservist, or reports of his behavior as a government contractor." For example, a previous arrest in Seattle in which Alexis slashed the tires of a car with a knife was never fully investigated and a police report was never obtained.

Due to the findings of this report, the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform plans to consider legislation to improve problems identified in the security clearance process. The report includes potential actions that might fix the issues found within.

More information can be found in the press release for the report.