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Pentagon Review: Navy Yard Shooting Could Have Been Avoided

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Image: A Navy employee who did not want to be identified lays flowers near the main gate to the Washington Navy Yard.
A law enforcement officer stands guard at the entrance of the U.S. Naval Yard in Washington the day after 12 people were killed in a shooting, on Sept. 17, 2013.John Makely / NBC News file

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WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered steps to improve Pentagon security on Tuesday after reviews found the Navy Yard shooting that killed 12 people last year could have been averted if concerns about the gunman's mental health been properly handled.

Hagel and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Tuesday released the results of three reviews of the shooting incident late last summer, including one that said the tragedy might have been averted had authorities not "missed opportunities for intervention."

"The reviews identified troubling gaps in DoD's (Defense Department's) ability to detect, prevent and respond to instances where someone working for us, a government employee, member of our military, or a contractor, decides to inflict harm on this institution and its people," Hagel told reporters.

Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old former sailor with a prior record of firearms complaints, had reported hearing voices and suffering from insomnia in the weeks leading up to Sept. 16, when he entered the Washington base and opened fire with a sawed-off shotgun.

Lawmakers in the Senate and House welcomed the findings of the three reviews — one Pentagon, one Navy and one independent — and pressed Defense to move forward with steps to improve the issuance and regular review of security clearances.

"There is a gaping hole in the current security clearance process that has enabled people who exhibit obvious signs of high-risk behavior to remain undetected," said Senator Susan Collins.

The Navy review found that Alexis' employer, an information technology company called The Experts that worked on defense contracts, had concerns about his mental state but did not report them. It said the Navy itself had earlier failed to properly evaluate and report his behavior while he was a sailor.

"The company leadership decided not to inform the government of adverse information concerning Alexis' emotional, mental, or personality condition, even when they had concerns that Alexis may cause harm to others," the Navy report said.

"This information was not reported to the government as required," it said. "Had this information been reported, properly adjudicated and acted upon, Alexis' authorization to access secure facilities and information would have been revoked."

The independent review ordered by Hagel concluded the Pentagon grants far too many people secret security clearances, as it did to Alexis, even though he never needed it to perform his Navy job.

— Reuters

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