Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday ordered a review of access to defense bases worldwide and of the issuance of security clearances, after a defense contractor entered the Washington Navy Yard and fatally shot 12 people Monday.
"Obviously, something went wrong," Mr. Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon. "That's the point of the directives that I have made in the reviews that will go forward."
The gunman — Navy computer contractor Aaron Alexis — held a secret clearance and had been issued a common access card, which allows holders access to military facilities regardless of the branch of service. Police killed Alexis in a shootout at the Navy Yard.
Federal officials have said Alexis used the card to drive into the Navy Yard on Monday, carrying a Remington shotgun in a bag.
His secret clearance was granted 10 months after he applied for it when he enlisted in the Navy Reserve in May 2007, a Defense official said, underlining the delays that still plague the security clearance system.
"He underwent a background investigation, but as he had no felony convictions and no bankruptcies, he was adjudicated eligible for a secret clearance," he said, adding that the access card was granted in March 2008.
Clearances at the secret level are good for 10 years without renewal, if they are kept active by the work the holder is doing.
Alexis was honorably discharged in 2011, despite a troubled history that included numerous disciplinary infractions and an arrest by civilian police.
After his discharge, his clearance was moved to "inactive" status, but it was reactivated automatically the following year when he was hired by a defense contractor doing work for the Navy on its classified computer systems, the official said.
Subsequently, his clearance would have been checked again when he was issued his common access card, he said.
On Aug. 7, according to a Newport, R.I., police report, Alexis told officers called to his hotel that he was hearing voices, that people were following him and that they were using a "microwave machine" to keep him awake.
The police department said it notified security at the naval base where Alexis was working, but Navy officials said Wednesday that information was never passed on from the base.
"Where there are gaps, we will close them," Mr. 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," he said.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter will lead both reviews, Mr. Hagel said, adding that he would soon establish an independent panel to "conduct its own assessment of security at [Defense Department] facilities and our security clearance procedures and practices."
Also Wednesday, the Veterans Affairs Department issued a statement saying Alexis had visited two of its hospitals in late August but did not repeat his complaints about voices or microwave machines nor in any way did he refer to violent or self-destructive thoughts.
The Aug. 23 visit to the VA Medical Center emergency room in Providence, R.I., heard only a complaint about insomnia, for which he was given sleep medication and advised to follow up with a doctor's visit. A VA hospital in Washington took a similar complaint and refilled his medication.
He enrolled in VA health care in February 2011 and was receiving disability payments.
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