Pentagon announces probe of security clearance process

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Carrie Dann

As lawmakers call for a probe into possible security clearance lapses that could have led to Monday’s Navy Yard shooting, top Pentagon officials said they will conduct sweeping reviews of the clearance process for military staff and contractors as well as the security of military facilities worldwide.

“Where there are gaps, we will close them,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters. “Where there are inadequacies, we will address them, and where there are failures, we will correct them.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks at a news conference at The Pentagon, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013.Charles Dharapak / AP

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will lead a departmentwide review of both the physical security of all DOD installations as well as the “practices and procedures for granting and renewing security clearances, including those held by contractors,” Hagel said.

Additionally, an independent panel will conduct its own assessments, he added.

Despite a checkered record while enlisted and an arrest record, Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis had a “secret” security clearance that allowed him access to the secure facility, where he killed 12 people Monday morning before being shot dead by law enforcement officers.

Hagel said that the reviews will attempt to determine how Alexis was able to get and maintain that clearance level in spite of his arrests.

“Obviously you go back in hindsight and look at all this and there were some red flags, of course there were,” Hagel said. “Should we have picked him up? Why didn’t we? How could we? All those questions need to be answered.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for a federal investigation into how Alexis obtained the clearance despite a history of misconduct and previous arrests.

After enlisting in the Navy,  Alexis was granted a “secret” security clearance in 2008 after passing a routine security check. That status was good for 10 years.

Due to reciprocity rules, Alexis could carry that level of clearance to a military contracting company after he was discharged as long as he was hired within 24  months.

Hagel said that those timelines for clearances must be examined.

“Obviously the longer clearances go without review, there is some jeopardy to that,” he said. “There's no question about it. So we're going to take a look at every one of those components.”

The Experts, the computer tech company that employed Alexis starting in 2012, says that he cleared two background checks and that his latest assessment found only a single traffic citation.

"At this time, we can confirm that the suspect had been employed by The Experts for approximately six months over the last year, during which time we enlisted a service to perform two background checks and we confirmed twice through the Department of Defense his Secret government clearance,” the company said in a statement.  “The latest background check and security clearance confirmation were in late June of 2013 and revealed no issues other than one minor traffic violation."

Local officials have also questioned if cost pressures due to budgetary cuts may have contributed to Alexis’ ability to gain access to the secure Navy facility.

“Have we somehow skimped on what would be available for projects like this and then we put people at risk?” asked D.C. Mayor Vincent Grey during an appearance on CNN Tuesday.

At a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert said any vulnerabilities in Naval security are unrelated to the across-the-board budget cuts.  

“We don’t cut budgetary corners for security,” he told the panel. “The two are unrelated.”

Greenert also told lawmakers that he expects a rapid review of security at Navy facilities worldwide completed within two weeks, and he pledged to correct any detected vulnerabilities “expeditiously.”