In the hours after a Defense contractor opened fire on a Navy office complex and killed 12 workers, Defense auditors released a report concluding that the Navy was relying on lax security standards for its contractors in order to save a few dollars.
That report — released publicly Tuesday — has enraged Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, who quickly sent a letter to the Secretary of the Navy urging them to adopt the recommendations of the 38-page Defense Inspector General report.
The report found that in 2009, the Navy began the process of allowing supplemental credentialing systems for contractors attempting to access Navy installations.
But that new system — called Rapidgate — improperly vetted those trying to gain access to Navy installations, often allowing people through without running them through databases such as the National Crime Information Center and the Terrorist Screening Database. Because of that, 52 convicted felons, including a convicted cocaine dealer and someone convicted of “indecent liberties with a child,” were able to routinely gain access to Navy installations, the report found.
“These are such obvious failures,” said Turner, who was briefed by Defense auditors Tuesday about the report.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has ordered a review of security and access at all Department of Defense facilities worldwide in the aftermath of the Washington Navy Yard shooting.
Defense investigators plan to extend their audits to other branches of the military, including the Air Force. Turner, whose district includes Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said he plans to talk to commanders at Wright Patterson about “whether or not some of the defects cited in this report might affect our own community.”
Wright-Patterson screens prospective employees using an Air Force background check system linked to state and national databases, according to base spokesman Daryl Mayer. Depending on a person’s security clearance level, a background check may reach back a decade or more. The base has 2,800 contractors, 16,500 civilians and nearly 9,400 military personnel.
Employees must disclose any criminal activity to their supervisors that could affect their security clearance, according to Mayer.
Wright-Patterson has dismissed four civilian employees for “criminal-like conduct” during the past three years. Those cases included theft, menacing or a threat of workplace violence, a theft/false statement allegation, and harassment or physical altercation, according to Mayer.
The Air Force prohibits employees from bringing privately owned weapons on base, even if they possess a concealed weapons permit, he said in an email. However, exemptions are granted “under special circumstances.” The base did not immediately elaborate on those circumstances late Tuesday.
A review this summer showed defense inspectors rated the base as satisfactory in surviving and handling operations, Mayer said.
Navy officials, replying in the IG report, initially rejected auditors’ recommendations that the Navy immediately discontinue the use of Rapidgate, saying doing so “would require hiring additional civil servants to work in base pass offices.”
But, Turner said, “I cannot imagine the Navy ignoring this report now.”
He said he is worried a cost-cutting climate contributed to the lax requirements. “Security is not something you have the luxury of reducing based on cost,” Turner said. “You have to keep people safe…. These systems are in place in order to keep people safe. When you cut them short or sidestep them you take risks that put people in peril.”
Some 13 people – including alleged attacker Aaron Alexis – died in Monday’s attacks. Alexis was on base working as an IT contractor. The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Alexis used a “valid pass” to gain access to the site, despite the fact that he had had been arrested at least twice in gun-related incidents.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said it was “hard to believe” that someone with a record like Alexis’ was allowed to have access to the base.
“Obviously 12 people have paid the ultimate price for whatever — you know, whatever was done to have this man on the base,” he said.
However, Chris Grollinek, founder of the Countermeasures Consultant Group in Frisco, Texas, said mass shooters don’t always exhibit warning signs.
“There is not profile for an active-shooter,” he said.
Carolyn Roecker Phelps, a University of Dayton clinical psychologist, said active shooters may have a long history of dealing poorly with anger, impulse control and stress. “They might even be known as somebody who was always kind of angry and inter-personally kind of hostile,” she said.
Supervisors and co-workers should be alert to significant changes in employees, such as isolating themselves from others, said Roecker Phelps, chairwoman of the university’s psychology department. “There are a lot of people who experience that kind of stress that don’t go to this extreme behavior,” she added.
Dr. Kathy Platoni, a Centerville psychologist and an Army Reserve colonel who survived the Fort Hood, Texas, massacre in 2009, questioned how “red flags” were missed in the case of shooters at the Washington Navy Yard and Fort Hood.
“It’s a very unhealthy loop that we’ve gotten ourselves involved with no quick fixes or good answers,” she said.