Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel pledged to fix flaws in security procedures at military installations after a Monday shooting at Washington’s Navy Yard left 12 dead.
“Where there are gaps, we will close them. Where there are inadequacies, we will address them. And where there are failures, we will correct them,” Hagel said at a Wednesday press briefing at the Pentagon. “We owe the victims and their families nothing less.”
Aaron Alexis, a Navy reservist working as a civilian contractor, flashed his ID card to enter the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters Monday, past armed guards. Authorities said no evidence of a weapon was visible. He then ducked into a men’s restroom and pulled a shotgun purchased over the weekend from his backpack. He engaged in a shooting rampage, firing bullets from a balcony into the atrium below, through hallways and into to the lobby of a building which hosts 3,000 civilian and uniform employees. Alexis was shot dead by police.
Law enforcement officials say Alexis had two phrases scratched into the shotgun he used in the killings, NBC News’s Pete Williams reported: “Better off this way,” and “My ELF weapon.” Authorities don’t know what the second phrase means or refers to.
Monday’s shooting is the worst on a U.S. military installation since a gunman killed 13 at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.
The Pentagon ordered a scrutiny of security procedures after the Fort Hood massacre, resulting in a recommendation by a special commission to alert authorities about troubled individuals, like Maj. Nadal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter who killed 13 and wounded 32.
Hagel answered questions Monday about why those reforms failed to stop Alexis, who despite a history of firearms violations and a history of misconduct during his time at the Navy, had been granted a security clearance. Officials said that Alexis had “legitimate access” to enter the building as civilian contractor and used a valid pass.
“Obviously something went wrong,” Hagel said. ”That’s the point of the directives that I’ve made in the reviews that will go forward.”
“We don’t live in a risk-free society. And every day all the millions of DOD employees come to work, help this country, contribute to the safety and security of this country, whether they’re uniform or civilian.”
“There’s always some risk to that,” Hagel said. “That isn’t a good answer. That’s not good enough. They deserve a safe environment.”
Hagel ordered a review of physical and security access procedures at Defense Department installations worldwide, along with a review of the process by which employees and government contractors are granted and renewed security clearances.
“The highest responsibility leaders have is to take care of their people and our people deserve safe and secure workplaces, wherever they are,” Hagel said.
He also directed an independent panel to investigate Monday’s shooting.
President Obama ordered the Office of Management and Budget to review security clearance procedures for employees and contractors “across federal agencies,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday.
An Inspector General report drafted prior to the shooting and released publicly Tuesday pointed to known security failures at Naval installations, including contractor access.
The report concluded that the Navy failed to “follow federal credentialing standards and DOD contractor vetting requirements and did not provide seven of the 10 installations visited the appropriate resources and capabilities to conduct required contractor background checks,” resulting in 52 convicted felons being granted access to Pentagon facilities. Congressional aids told The Hill that one of the seven facilities, redacted in the public report, was the Navy Yard.