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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Navy yard shooter’s employer hid his mental health problems

Aaron Alexis in hallway of Navy Yard during killing spree (FBI video image)
Aaron Alexis in hallway of Navy Yard during killing spree (FBI video image)

The company that employed the Washington Navy Yard shooter pulled his access to classified material for two days in August when mental health problems became evident, but restored it quickly and never told Navy officials about the withdrawal, The Associated Press has learned.

An initial Navy review revealed that the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company, The Experts, ordered computer contractor Aaron Alexis back to Washington, D.C., after a police incident in Rhode Island in August, according to senior U.S. officials. The company then withdrew his ability to access secret-level data for two days, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation. It did not disclose why his access was reinstated. Less than six weeks later, the former Navy reservist gunned down 12 civilian workers in a Navy Yard building, and police fatally shot him.

The Experts did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The classified access revelation has raised questions about whether the company’s disclosure of the discipline could have brought Alexis to Navy officials’ attention earlier and perhaps prevented the massacre. The Navy did an initial review into the matter, but it has not yet been released. Officials also have done a full investigation, including what prompted the company’s decision and why the government was never told. Naval leaders now are reviewing that report.

The shooting spree triggered several Navy and Defense Department reviews into base security and contractor requirements, including questions about how thorough the background checks are for security clearances and whether more vigilant monitoring and reassessments should be done.

While the Navy reviews have not been released, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has sent out a notice to the fleet directing all commanders and civilian leaders in the Navy to scrutinize the records of any personnel who are allowed to access classified information.

In the message, Mabus said that this new records review should look at credit card delinquencies, discipline, police or legal reports and urinalysis reports.

Mabus said that if information is discovered that had not been disclosed already, it must be reported, and commanders must determine whether the employee’s access to classified data should be cut off. He ordered commanders to submit full reports to Navy and Marine leaders on what they found and any actions taken by mid-January.

According to officials familiar with the Navy investigation, The Experts removed Alexis’ access to secret information on August 7 and restored access on August 9, but there is nothing in the record explaining the decisions. The timing, however, aligns with the day Alexis called Newport, R.I., police, complaining that voices were harassing him through a wall at his hotel and he worried they might harm him.

Police said they were called to the Marriott around 6 a.m. on Aug. 7, and Alexis told them he was in town as a naval contractor and that he believed people were following him and using a microwave machine to send vibrations into his body so he could not fall asleep. Police alerted the local Navy base that day that Aaron Alexis was hearing voices, but the information went no further.

Under U.S. rules, The Experts was required to report any behavior that could be considered detrimental to security, and that information was supposed to be passed along to the commander at the Washington Navy Yard.

Alexis began working at the Navy Yard this summer refreshing computer systems.

The Experts said it ran two background checks on Alexis that turned up only a traffic violation. It also said the Pentagon confirmed twice that Alexis had a valid security clearance.

Alexis was granted a secret-level security clearance while in the Navy, and it carried over when he went to work as a computer contractor. He was granted access to the Washington Navy Yard and to Building 197 as an employee of The Experts, a Hewlett-Packard subcontractor.

Hewlett-Packard Co. has said it was severing ties with The Experts, saying the company failed to respond appropriately to Alexis’ mental health issues. HP has told U.S. officials that it did not receive any adverse information reports on Alexis before the September 16 shooting.

In a note he left behind and found by investigators after the shooting, Alexis claimed that he was driven to the shooting rampage because he was being bombarded by extremely low-frequency radio waves. The FBI has said that the note, along with peculiar carved notations on his gun, suggested he was in the throes of profound paranoia and delusions.

His shotgun, which he purchased two days before the shooting from a gun shop in Virginia, was etched with messages including “My ELF Weapon!” — an apparent reference to extremely low-frequency waves — and “End to The Torment!”

In response to the shooting, Mabus ordered a series of reviews, including four quick studies on Alexis’ Navy career, contractor obligations, the security clearance process and physical base security. He also ordered two longer reviews — one on physical security and one encompassing a full investigation into exactly how the events of the shooting unfolded. All six reviews have been completed, but they have not yet been released.

Mabus said that investigation into the shooting must determine whether HP and The Experts complied with background investigation requirements; find out who knew about the August police incident and clearance action; figure out what happened and whether it was reported as required; and if government or military officials were notified, find out whether proper procedures were followed.

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