Navy Yard gunman had access pulled for 2 days for mental health problems

By Lolita C. Baldor

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 22 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

This image from video provided by the FBI, shows Aaron Alexis moving through a hallway of Building #197 at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, carrying a Remington 870 shotgun. Senior U.S. officials say the company that employed the Washington Navy Yard shooter withdrew his access to classified material for two days in August when mental health problems became evident, but restored it quickly and never told the Navy about the incident.

FBI, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — 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.

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