Reuters is reporting that the Washington Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis, held a “Secret” security clearance and was issued a military-issued assess identification card.
Many are wondering how Alexis with at least three arrests, two gun related incidents, a history of mental illness and multiple incidents of misconduct while in the military was able to pass two extensive security background checks. Others wonder how he was able to purchase weapons legally with a history of violent incidents in his background. Alexis is said to have held a “Secret” security clearance that dates back to 2007.
The writer performed Mental Status Examinations (MSE) for the United States Armed Forces and Civilian personnel who were attempting to acquire or renew a security clearance so we are familiar with the process.
Mental health issues are examined when a security clearance is being obtained or renewed.
So what is a Security Clearance?
Personnel security clearance are to establish eligibility to assess classified materials or enter classified facilities. Security levels issued by the United States Government consist of Confidential, Secret, or Top Secret.
In order to apply for a security clearance one must fill out the Questionnaire for National Security Positions known as Standard Form 86 (SF-86). This form requires personal identification data, citizenship information, legal residence, education and employment history. The form also requires information about family members and associates including foreign connections and travel abroad.
The form additionally asks questions about ones criminal record, illegal drug use or alcohol related incidences, financial history, mental health issues including counseling, military service, prior security clearances, civil court actions, misuse of information technology like hacking or computer fraud and subversive activities against the government.
Following filling out the form and investigative service does computer background checks and may make personal contact with known family or associates. The extent of the background check depends on the security clearance applied.
Having outlined above, based on what we know currently about Aaron Alexis, he should have been disqualified from even a confidential security clearance.
It is clear that someone did not actually perform some of the necessary security background check functions outlined. A proper security clearance background check may have prevented the tragedy that took place at the Washington Navy Yard.
We expect that this security clearance failure, including how Alexis was able to purchase weapons with a history of weapons related incidents will be the focus of the investigation.