The civilian man who boarded a guided-missile destroyer, disarmed a guard and then used the guard’s pistol to fatally shoot a sailor at Norfolk Naval Station on Monday night used federal government credentials issued by the Department of Homeland Security to gain access to the ship, Navy officials say.
The shooting took place at approximately 11:20 p.m. Monday on the USS Mahan, a destroyer docked at Norfolk’s Pier 1. While the Pentagon on Tuesday would not release the identity of the Navy sailor — or the shooter, who was also killed in the incident — defense officials said they are now working through details of the case with the Department of Homeland Security.
Navy spokeswoman Terri Davis said the civilian shooter used his security credentials to obtain access to the pier and then the deck of the USS Mahan, where he was confronted by a Navy petty officer conducting nightly security duty. The two engaged in physical struggle, during which the civilian managed to wrestle a weapon away from the officer.
The civilian then used the weapon to shoot and kill a Navy sailor who, according to Ms. Davis, had run to the scene to provide assistance. Navy security forces then shot and killed the intruder.
Defense officials declined to say whether the sailor was a member of the ship’s security detail. Navy spokeswoman Elizabeth Baker said that information, along with the sailor’s identity — and that of the shooter — was being withheld Tuesday pending notification of next of kin.
Ms. Baker said the shooter was in possession of a Transportation Worker Identification Card, commonly referred to as a TWIC.
The card, according to Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Marsha Catron, allows “individuals to gain unescorted access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime transportation system.”
As of this month, more than 2 million people had been granted TWIC credentials for various functions since 2007, according to a Department of Homeland Security fact sheet.
During that period, 57,386 applicants have been deemed by the department to be “ineligible” for TWIC cards due to disqualifications, although the department has granted roughly 13,600 waivers.
Homeland Security officials did not provide details on Tuesday for why the waivers have been granted.
The Norfolk shooting incident, meanwhile, sits at the tip of a slow-moving policy iceberg that would implement safety reform on Defense Department property.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced earlier this month that the Pentagon was moving toward reducing the number of clearances available. He announced the initiative following official investigations into a mass shooting that took at Washington Navy Yard in September 2013.
During the incident, Aaron Alexis, a contractor employed by The Experts, gained access to the site using government-issued credentials. He ultimately was able to walk into an office building and fatally shot 12 people, wounding numerous others before being killed by police.
The Pentagon says there are presently 2.5 million people with security clearances providing access to the Defense Department’s various bases and other secure locations.
Officials say they are working now toward a goal of creating a threat-management system that will automatically check databases to see whether those who have clearance have had any recent run-ins with the law.
In the Norfolk shooting, one former military official said the civilian shooter would not have been able to penetrate deeper than the ship’s deck with only his Homeland Security-issued credentials.
There are numerous layers of security on Navy ships, Retired Vice Adm. Peter Daly told The Washington Times on Tuesday, adding that a ship’s security protocol is known as “defense in depth.”
The first layer is a petty officer at watch, tasked with standing guard on the deck of the ship, Adm. Daly said. Entry to the ship was prevented, so the protocol worked, even though the Navy sailor was killed, he said.