WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared at the Pentagon today that lessons learned from the Fort Hood massacre lessened the potential death toll at the Navy Yard mass shooting Monday.
The Fort Hood shooting prompted the Defense Department to “thoroughly review its approach to force protection and to broaden its force protection policies, programs, and procedures to go beyond their traditional focus on hostile external threats,” according to the Aug. 18, 2010, final recommendations memo from then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
That memo pledged the department would “strengthen its policies, programs, and procedures in the following areas: addressing workplace violence, ensuring commander and supervisor access to appropriate information in personnel records, improving information sharing with partner agencies and among installations, expanding installations’ emergency response capabilities, integrating force protection policy and clarifying force protection roles and responsibilities, and ensuring that we provide top quality health care to both our service members and our healthcare providers.”
“Force protection, although critical, is not a substitute for leadership,” Gates continued. “…The Department will continue to enable military leaders with the tools and discretion they need to take appropriate action to prevent and respond to potential problems, whatever their cause.”
At the first Pentagon press briefing since former Navy reservist and contractor Aaron Alexis opened fire at the Navy Yard, killing 12, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel acknowledged “obviously, something went wrong.”
“The fact is, starting with the tragedy of what happened Monday — and you mentioned other tragedies — we don’t live in a risk-free society. And every day, all the millions of DOD employees, whether they’re uniformed or civilian, that come to work, help this country, contribute to the security and safety of this country, there’s always some risk to that. And that isn’t a good answer. That’s not good enough. They deserve the security of a safe environment,” he added. “We will find those gaps, as I said, and we will fix those gaps.”
Hagel ordered two reviews — one of security and access procedures at DoD installations worldwide and the other focusing on the DoD’s security clearance practices — to be led by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. Hagel also directed that an independent review panel be established to “strengthen Secretary Carter’s efforts, and they will provide their findings directly to me.”
“The Department of Defense will carefully examine the assessments, the conclusions, and recommendations of these reviews, and we will effectively implement them. As you know, the Navy is also conducting its own review, and those results will feed into the broader DOD review worldwide,” Hagel said.
“Where there are gaps, we will close them. Where there are inadequacies, we will address them. And where there are failures, we will correct them.”
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said that changes made after the Bradley Manning leaks and Nidal Hasan’s killing of 13 people at Fort Hood helped.
“Early indications” that changes led “to a less horrific outcome” include “alert notices, coordination in advance of crises with other agencies of government, training for employees and law enforcement on active shooter scenarios,” Dempsey said.
“So, I mean, some of the things we did as a result of those earlier incidents, we believe, actually reaped the benefit we intended,” the general added. “The clearance piece of this is one I think we very clearly have to take another look at, and the secretary’s directed us to do so.”
Hagel said the “quick answer” of whether the Navy has explained Alexis’ security clearance despite problems with the police is “no.”
“On the question regarding the Rhode Island incident with this individual, we are reviewing all of that. I’m aware of those reports. I haven’t seen the specifics, but we will obviously get those kind of specifics. This will be part of the mix here. What should have been done that wasn’t done should have been more done. How could we have brought those kind of reports into the clearance process and so on?” the secretary added, referencing the incident six weeks before the shooting where Alexis described paranoid delusions to police officers.
Dempsey did make clear that sequestration did not play a role in Monday’s tragedy. “The budget issue did not degrade the security at the Navy Yard and in any way contribute to this,” he said.
Dempsey was, though, among those who decided a few years back to alter a mental health question on security clearance forms in an effort to de-stigmatize post-traumatic stress disorder.
Gates announced the change in May 2008 to Question 21 on Standard Form 86, allowing security clearance applicants to not reveal if they sought mental health care in the past seven years if it was “strictly related to adjustments from service in a military combat environment.” The memo was co-signed by current Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Dempsey said today he “believed that men and women should have the opportunity to overcome their mental disorders or their mental challenges or their clinical health challenges and shouldn’t be stigmatized. And so I still remain in that camp, that a man or woman should have the ability to — with treatment, to overcome them and then to have a fruitful life and gain employment, including inside of the military.”
“This particular individual, of course, wasn’t a simple matter. I don’t know what the investigation will determine, but he committed murder,” Dempsey added. “And I’m not sure that any particular question or lack of question on a security clearance would probably have revealed that.”
“Obviously, when you go back in hindsight and look at all of this, there were some red flags. Of course there were,” Hagel said. “And should we have picked them up? Why didn’t we? How could we? All those questions need to be answered.”
The 2010 post-Fort Hood report said updating of policies and programs was needed “to identify behavioral indicators of violence.”
The review also recommended “establishing a consolidated database to enable organizations across the Department to query, retrieve, and post criminal investigation and law enforcement data in a single repository.” It also called for a “DoD Privately Owned Weapons Policy.” At Fort Hood these days, permission from the senior commander is needed to carry a privately owned firearm on the base regardless of any state or local concealed carry permit.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said Tuesday that “eight disciplinary actions that were swept under the rug sounds a little familiar to me.”
“I mean, the political correctness. We saw the same thing with Major Hasan in the Fort Hood shooting. He was promoted. He was passed along. There were signs along the way and no action was taken, and that’s precisely the kind of case we want to stop here,” McCaul said.
“I think there’s just a tendency to want to not deal with the problem. It’s real easy to just pass it along. Pass the buck along to another military base, or in this instance to a defense contractor. And just to get that problem out of my office and move it on without looking at the bigger picture here.”