News & Politics

Navy Yard Shooting Could Have Been Prevented With Stronger Background Checks, Pentagon Says

An internal report released Tuesday says the Pentagon did not properly record gunman Aaron Alexis’s troubled history.

Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis moves through the hallways of Building 197. Photograph courtesy of the FBI.

The mass shooting last September at the Washington Navy Yard in which 12 people were killed could have been avoided if background checks conducted on gunman Aaron Alexis had been more thorough, according to an internal report released today by the Defense Department.

The review blames both the US Navy and the contracting firm that employed Alexis with failing to see the “insider threat” he posed, based on a personal history that should have invalidated his security clearance, the report says.

Alexis, who was killed by police about an hour after he began his rampage, had been arrested several times during his four-year stint as a Navy Reserve member, at least twice for incidents involving firearms. He also suffered from episodes of paranoia and other mental instabilities which were not properly treated, according to investigators.

The report blames Alexis’s employer, the Experts Inc., for not alerting mental-health professionals that he was showing signs psychological instability in the weeks before the shooting, despite having temporarily revoked his security clearance. The company allowed Alexis to return to work without getting a professional assessment of his mental state.

But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ultimately faulted the Pentagon for the lapse, noting that the Experts could have known more about Alexis’s history if his superiors during his Navy service had entered his past adverse behavior into the Navy’s security-records system.

“The reviews identified troubling gaps in DOD’s ability to detect, prevent and respond to instances where someone working for us—a government employee, a member of our military or a contractor—decides to inflict harm on this institution and its people,” Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference Tuesday morning.

Hagel called for the creation of a “continuous evaluation program” to review federal employees with access to classified information against law enforcement databases and other systems to determine if people with security clearances are still trustworthy or mentally fit enough to retain them. He also said the Pentagon will establish a new office to manage insider threats.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.