September 18th, 2013
10:04 AM ET
8 years ago

Sen. Collins: 'Truly inexplicable' that shooter had clearance

(CNN) – Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, pressed for more answers Wednesday on why the Navy Yard shooter, who worked for a company contracted by the Navy, had been given security clearance despite his troubled past.

"We absolutely have to be asking tough questions. It appears that there was insufficient vetting by the contractor, that if it had been done would have revealed many of the red flags," Collins said on CNN's "New Day."

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Aaron Alexis, who was killed Monday, certainly didn't have a clean past. He was arrested in 2004 for shooting out the tires of a car, and his Navy record included eight instances of misconduct. He was arrested in 2008 on a disorderly charge and was again taken in two years later for allegedly firing a gun through the ceiling of his apartment.

Read more: Vetting military contractors: How did Navy Yard gunman get in?

Navy spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told CNN Alexis "passed a routine security clearance back in 2007 when he enlisted. It was good for 10 years." Alexis was given a "secret" security clearance in March 2008, shortly after he joined the Navy in 2007.

He carried that clearance with him when he was honorably discharged in 2011, Kirby said, and could use it in another position so long as he is hired within two years. He was hired in 2012 by The Experts, the contracting company that led to his work at the Navy Yard.

Collins questioned the process that allowed Alexis to keep his clearance, asking whether contractors were "taking shortcuts that have led to people with criminal records, with serious mental illness, or who are otherwise unsuited for security clearances."

As a reservist Alexis was exempted from the periodic reinvestigation of clearance that active duty officers go through every 4½ years, or the polygraphs they go through every 2½ years.

Retired Navy officials and private experts have told CNN Alexis should not have been able to keep his clearance, given his troubled history.

Collins argued it was "truly inexplicable" that someone with his past could have clearance. She said she hopes the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which she is a member, will expand its investigation on NSA leaker Edward Snowden, also a contractor, to include a probe on Alexis. She said she's also in talks with the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Office of Personnel Management, to look at contracting policies.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, on Tuesday called for a hearing to examine federal contractor hiring practices at military installations.

"One step that can be taken immediately is ensuring that criminal data bases and the terrorist watch lists are always consulted," she added. "And that there's some sort of continuous monitoring that would pick up problems rather than waiting as long as five or ten years to review security clearances."

- CNN's Ashley Killough, Jake Tapper, Kevin Bohn, Gloria Borger, Brian Todd and Josh Levs contributed to this report.

Filed under: Navy • Susan Collins
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Sniffit

    Security background check fails and gives him clearance = ERMAHGERD!!!! LOOK OVER THERE...SQUIRREL!!!!!!

    September 18, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  2. Data Driven

    The relevant question? Did this "Experts" company submit Alexis' name to Homeland Security or the Pentagon before hiring him, or did "Experts" just make a unilateral decision about Alexis' fitness? The answer should be easily obtainable, but I didn't see it addressed in this report.

    September 18, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  3. Malory Archer

    Why did the Navy not pull his clearance when he got booted for misconduct? Time to start looking at the chain of command during that timeframe. That being said, the Navy's negligence in no way absolves the civilian contractor for whom the gunman worked of their negligence in not conducting a full background check. Even civilian employers with no government ties want to know whose working for them, regardless of the security clearances they were granted from prior employers.

    September 18, 2013 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  4. Tampa Tim

    It's Obama's fault that the republicans cut the funding for security, even tho Susan knows better. While taking credit for furloughs of government workers, the Baggers need to know why their sequester is actually creating chaos everywhere.

    September 18, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  5. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    but gun sellers would be liable for all natural and foreseeable consequences of selling guns to people who should not get them. In other words, gun sellers sell guns at their own risk if they choose not to do background checks.
    Great idea Anthony and here's why it would not work:
    1. It is a great idea that would actually help the people, the average Joe not the gun manufacturers or retailers.
    2. The NRA.
    3. The NRA.

    You are solutions driven, the NRA is profit driven.

    September 18, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  6. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    It appears that there was insufficient vetting by the contractor, that if it had been done would have revealed many of the red flags," Collins said on CNN's "New Day."
    I think your statement answers your own question.
    It appears that it wasn't "truly inexplicable" after all was it?
    If they had done the vetting and followed up on the resulting red flags perhaps none of this would've happened.
    Additionally if those in the Navy Yard had heeded the "he's hearing voices" part of the segment and taken away hi s security clearance, none of this would've happened.
    Nothing inexplicable about half-assed follow-through.

    September 18, 2013 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  7. S.B. Stein

    Security clearances need to include a seperate psych evaluation in addition to flags for criminal activity. These clearances should be shorter; 3 years at most.

    September 18, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  8. Rudy NYC

    It is amazing that someone with such a history could get security clearance, particularly after his Navy discharge. What's even more troubling is that someone like this can go out and buy guns. The background check never looks at the real stuff.

    September 18, 2013 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  9. Moderate Sean

    Are you serious Senator? Since you want to pass blame already...and it seems none of it with the U.S. Gov't. Let's first explore that the Contracting Company does not issue nor approve a security clearance, that comes from the U.S. Government, and in this case, a 10-year Secret security clearance that the shooter possesed and was allowed to keep from when he departed from the military. Maybe, you should be looking into why he was issued a 10-year clearance, why no notifications were received by the investigating clearance agency, or his contracting company's corporate security officer, when he had run-ins with various law enforcements agencies and seemed to having serious mental health challenges!! How about investigating where the facts take you, versus trying to solely blame the contracting company for "insufficient vetting" procedures. It is bewildering that some of these folks can be elected and given the title of "Senator"!! Stop playing politics ma'am....

    September 18, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  10. steve:

    What do you expect. He was a temp employed by a contractor. All they are looking for is a pencil that can do the job. You want screening, then give them the money to pay for it.

    September 18, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  11. e

    how many more are there

    September 18, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    What part of "He's hearing voices" did they find inexplicable?
    What part of "He's hearing voices" did they think it fine to ignore?
    THAT's what I find inexplicable.
    People willfully choosing to ignore intel.

    September 18, 2013 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  13. Sniffit

    "how many more are there"

    Who knows? Let's just hope they all have a pleasant, uncomplicated and "unintrusive" time buying their guns though.

    September 18, 2013 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  14. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    Who the hell is "Heavens Gate", and why would anyone think that this cult may fit into the Alexis equation? Who are the Illuminati, and what might thier association be with Heavens Gate and this mass murder? America wants to know....

    September 18, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  15. Vince

    How about the question of why he was allowed to buy the weapon with such issues in his past?

    September 18, 2013 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  16. Cephus

    ERMAHGERD!! the guy was suffering from 302.0 didnt know who he was.

    September 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  17. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Let me help you understand Senator Collins. Your party, who controls congress, like petulant children have not produced a budget that any sane president can sign. Therefore, the sequester happened and the US Navy is broke. They have to cut corners and one of those corners is security at yards and bases. If you had any morals, or leadership qualities, you would raise holy hell with your conservative colleagues and insist that they stop playing games with national security and the lives of innocent Americans who weren't born with silver spoons in their mouths.

    September 18, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  18. w l jones

    If some of our electoral officer were vetted our Government would be better for we the TAX payer of America, Bless.

    September 18, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |