Vetting Military Contractors: How Did Mentally Ill Navy Yard Gunman Get Access?

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    (CNN) — The shooter at the Washington Navy Yard had a “pattern of misconduct” as a Navy reservist, had sporadic run-ins with the law, and had contacted two Veterans Administration hospitals for apparent psychological issues, sources have told CNN.

    Somehow, none of that prevented Aaron Alexis from getting clearance to the Washington Navy Yard as a subcontractor.

    In the wake of the horrific incident that left 12 victims and the gunman dead, lawmakers and military experts are calling out the vetting process for contractors and subcontractors. Did the military even know the things about Alexis that news agencies managed to find out within hours?

    Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who serves on the Intelligence Committee, said she now questions “the kind of vetting contractors do.”

    “Washington needs a lot more answers,” Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Washington, said in an interview Tuesday with CNN.

    The incidents in Alexis’ past “should have been a red flag that maybe we need to delve a little deeper into this individual,” said retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold.

    Alexis worked for a group called The Experts, which was subcontracting with Hewlett Packard on a large military contract.

    With security clearance, he worked from September 2012 through January in Japan. His clearance was renewed in July, and he worked at facilities in Rhode Island, North Carolina and Virginia for weeks at a time upgrading computer systems, according to Thomas E. Hoshko, CEO of The Experts.

    No one reported having any problems with him, Hoshko said.

    Alexis began working at the Navy Yard last week, though it was unclear whether he had actually begun doing work or was still securing his base clearance, Hoshko said.

    Contractors can receive three levels of clearance: confidential, secret and top secret. Alexis had secret clearance, the middle category.

    A Defense Department office oversees clearance. Applicants fill out a very long form, which asks about any contact with police, charges, and convictions. The form also asks about mental instability.

    Interviews with applicants follow.

    If the department did a background check on Alexis, information about his Navy experience and run-ins with the law would have turned up.

    So why was he given clearance?

    “The way it happens is a poor background check,” says Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent.

    Many contractors 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 said.

    A background check, which includes searching records and running fingerprints, would have discovered if Alexis left anything off the form he filled out.

    “And if it had left anything substantial out, it would be an immediate denial of the clearance,” Clemente said on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”

    But problems aren’t limited to just contractors, Clemente added. “Look at Hasan at Fort Hood.”

    A military court recently convicted Maj. Nidal Hasan of killing 13 people in 2009.

    “We didn’t look at his background very well,” nor his personality, Clemente said. “I think we have a problem. It’s not just on the surface. We need to dig deeper.”

    In the 12 years since the September 11 attacks, the United States has ramped up contracting to support new defense and intelligence efforts.

    The government awarded about $517 billion in outsourcing contracts in the most recent fiscal year — not including many contracts awarded by the NSA and other intelligence agencies, which keep their spending classified.

    Questions about vetting of contractors who may access NSA documents arose after Edward Snowden, worked for consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, leaked classified information.

    CNN’s Drew Griffin and Mariano Castillo contributed to this report.

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