The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today released a report on the September Navy Yard shooting that found a flawed security clearance process allowed Aaron Alexis access to the buildings.
Alexis obtained and maintained a Secret level security clearance despite brushes with the law and unstable behavior.
The committee’s investigation found 450 police departments that don’t cooperate with federal background checkers.
“Federal law is vague on exactly what must be shared and many local law enforcement agencies frequently shun federal security clearance investigators, by providing only limited, if any, information,” states the report summary. “New York City, Newark, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Seattle – where Aaron Alexis had a gun-related arrest – are all included on OPM’s list of cities with non-cooperating police departments. Documents in the report detail incomplete information made available to background investigators, who did not know that a previous 2004 arrest of Alexis in Seattle involved a firearm and that a police report stated Alexis claimed to have suffered a ‘black-out fueled by anger.’”
The committee also found fault in the system that didn’t continuously monitor Alexis after he received his security clearance in 2007. Currently, Top Secret clearance requires renewal every five years, Secret requires a new investigation every 10 years and Confidential requires this every 15 years. “In the intervening years, cleared individuals and their supervisors must report any derogatory information but there are no effective checks enforcing compliance beyond the renewal requirement. Numerous violent incidents from Aaron Alexis’ post 2007 past – when he received his security clearance – would have only been recognized when his clearance required renewal in 2017.”
The report also faults regulations that keep background checkers from probing the Internet or social media for information on an applicant.
“Investigators conducting federal security clearance background checks do not see, search, or receive reports of the vast amount of information available online. Nor do current federal security process guidelines allow the adjudicators who grant the clearances to access this information,” says the report summary. “The current Investigators Handbook guidelines strictly prohibit the use of the Internet to obtain substantive information. The Handbook does not address the use of social media, but instead includes a near-blanket restriction on the use of the Internet. Regulations prohibit efforts intended to safeguard national secrets that many private employers conduct independently when making hiring decisions.”
The report stresses that “no legislation or congressional action can repair the damage that Aaron Alexis inflicted on both the families of his victims as well as the Nation as a whole.”
“Nonetheless, Congress has a responsibility to investigate the process that permitted Aaron Alexis to receive and maintain a security clearance, and Congress must take steps to improve that process to prevent dangerous people from gaining access to secure federal facilities and information. Congress, [the Office of Personnel Management], the Department of Defense (DOD) and other federal agencies must work together to tighten this process and ensure that fewer individuals like Aaron Alexis slip through the cracks in the future.”