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Another view: Military must improve background checks

12:34 AM, Sep. 22, 2013  |  Comments
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The Navy was busy closing the barn door Tuesday after the horse had already run amok.

Too little, too late.

Twelve innocent people are dead along with the alleged shooter who apparently managed to get a shotgun into the "highly secure" Washington Navy Yard and went on a rampage Monday.

In a post-9/11 world this wasn't supposed to happen.

The alleged shooter, Navy veteran Aaron Alexis, 34, was killed by police bullets but not before 12 people - civilian employees, contractors and military personnel - were dead and several other people, including a Washington, D.C., police officer, were wounded.

The rampage came even though Alexis' history was rife with red flags that should have kept him outside the Navy Yard perimeter.

Newspapers and other media were quickly able to find out that Alexis had a pattern of misconduct as a Navy reservist. He reportedly shot out a construction worker's tire in 2004 and fired through the ceiling of his Fort Worth, Texas, apartment in 2010, barely missing his upstairs neighbor.

Other news reports said that Alexis had contacted two Veterans Administration hospitals for apparent psychological issues.

Red flags all over.

Even with his history of eight instances of misconduct, the Navy was unable to give him a "general discharge" and settled for an honorable discharge because it reportedly lacked enough evidence.

That opened a path for him to get a security clearance with a group called The Experts that was working under a subcontract with Hewlett-Packard Co. on upgrading computer systems.

Again, according to news reports, Alexis had a "secret clearance" - a mid-grade level of clearance that allowed him to work at military facilities in Japan, Rhode Island, North Carolina and Virginia for the past year.

A background check, even a cursory one, would have turned up the red flags in his history.

But apparently that process relies on self-reporting at the onset, a long application form that asks about contact with police, charges and convictions. Then it's up to the Defense Department to verify that application.

"The way it happens is a poor background check," Tim Clemente, a former FBI counter-terrorism expert told CNN. Many contracts are initially given secret level clearance, which "means that the background check really hasn't been done yet, but it's in the process of being done," he told the news network.

That's a flawed process that shouldn't be considered security at all, judging by the events on Monday.

The Navy, and all branches of the military, need to tighten their ships - and yards and all military installations to vet contractors and their workers more thoroughly before they set foot on government installations to do any work.

And they need to check workers at least as well as airlines check all civilians at airports when they get to the base, yard or any other installation.

Anything less just invites more mayhem from an unbalanced intruder.

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