Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel acknowledged at a news briefing this morning that there were “a lot of red flags” about Aaron Alexis’s behavior that in hindsight should have been picked up but were missed.
“When you go back in hindsight and look at all this, there were some red flags, of course there were,” said Hagel at a Pentagon news conference Wednesday.
“Why they didn’t get picked up, why they didn’t get incorporated into the clearance process, what he was doing — those are all legitimate questions that we’re going to be dealing with,” Hagel said. “How do we fix it?”
He didn’t assign blame but said “obviously something went wrong,” which is why he announced a series of reviews in the wake of Monday’s shootings.
As ABC News reported Tuesday, Hagel announced a review of worldwide base security. But he also said that he has ordered an additional review that will look at how security clearances are granted and renewed. That would include to contractors like Aaron Alexis, who had a national security clearance. He said he’s also forming an independent panel to conduct its own review of security and security clearance procedures and practices.
“Where there are gaps, we will close them,” Hagel said. “Where there are inadequacies, we will address them. And where there are failures, we will correct them. We owe the victims, their families and all our people nothing less.”
Department of Defense employees deserve the security of a safe environment, he added.
The practice of issuing long-lasting security clearances, like the one Alexis possessed, would have to be examined, Hagel said. “Obviously the longer [that] clearances go without review, there’s some jeopardy to that. There’s no question about it.”
Hagel said he did not have specific information about the incident in Newport, R.I., involving Alexis. Police records there show that Alexis called cops saying that he was hearing voices, and that police notified Navy officials. But what the Navy did after that incident will also have to be looked at, Hagel said.
“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,” Hagel said.
Both Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Dempsey declined to engage on a question about their stance on gun control as both said they’re not involved in domestic policy debates.
Dempsey reaffirmed what Chief of Naval Operations Jon Greenert said on Capitol Hill earlier today that “the budget issue did not degrade the security at the Navy Yard and in any way contribute to this.”
As for the removal of mental health questions from security clearance forms, Dempsey said he doesn’t believe such questions could have flagged Alexis as a potential risk. The questions were removed to de-stigmatize PTSD applicants seeking a national security clearance. Dempsey said he supported that move as well as other efforts for those in uniform to overcome their mental health challenges with treatment.
“This particular individual of course wasn’t a simple matter,” Dempsey said. “I don’t know what the investigation will determine, but he committed murder. And I’m not sure that any particular question or lack of question on a security clearance would probably have revealed that.”