Senators Question Security Clearance Process In Wake Of Navy Yard Shooting

US Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, walks to the weekly policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 15, 2013.  Wash
US Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, walks to the weekly policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 15, 2013. Washington's risky game of political brinkmanship neared crisis point Tuesday, with no deal yet nailed down to avoid a catastrophic US debt default, just 36 hours before a crucial deadline. Despite global fears that the US government could run out of money to pay its bills on Thursday, the rift cleaving US politics and a fight for the soul of the Republican Party thwarted compromise. Hopes a nascent deal between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate would open the way to resolve a fight over raising the US borrowing limit and reopening government proved over optimistic. AFP PHOTO / Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

By Deborah Charles

WASHINGTON, Oct 31 (Reuters) - U.S. senators on Thursday questioned the government's security clearance process, calling it "shocking" that investigators doing a security check on accused Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis did not consult police records before giving him clearance.

In a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, senators peppered administration officials to explain how "secret-level" clearances could be given without having to check police records even if the applicant for clearance had an arrest history.

They asked Elaine Kaplan, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management for an explanation regarding Alexis, who went on a shooting rampage and killed 12 people plus himself at Washington's Navy Yard last month.

Alexis was a contract employee for the Defense Department and received a "secret" clearance in 2008 despite violent incidents in the past, including a 2004 arrest in Seattle for shooting out a car's tires.

A "secret" clearance is a mid-level security classification that allows the holder access to information considered secret and that could be damaging to national security if released. It falls below the "top-secret" clearance, which requires more frequent background examinations.

Kaplan said when the background check of Alexis was done in 2007, investigators discovered that Alexis had been arrested. But they did not check directly with Seattle police to obtain the arrest warrant, looking only into a Washington state database of court records to discover that the charges for "malicious mischief" had been dropped.

As a result, investigators did not learn that Alexis had shot out a car's tires in anger.

"I find it actually incredibly shocking that we wouldn't pursue a police report in any of these arrest situations, because the nature of the charge, looking at the underlying police report, having been a prosecutor, can tell us very different information," said Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte.

Kaplan said the OPM had followed all required protocols and had met investigative standards.

"Now, what we're looking at right now in the context of the review .. is, well, are the standards up to snuff? Should we be required to get police reports, for example?" Kaplan asked. "Should we be required to get mental health information even from someone who has a secret as opposed to a top-secret clearance? All these things need to be looked at."

Committee Chairman Tom Carper said while the committee had long urged the administration to cut its backlog of security clearance applications, investigators must not sacrifice quality for speed.

"Many national security experts have long argued the security clearance process is antiquated and in need of modernization," Carper said. "And given recent events, I think we have to ask whether the system is fundamentally flawed." (Reporting by Deborah Charles; Editing by Peter Cooney)



Navy Yard Shooting