Politics

September 18, 2013

Sen. Collins critical of security gaps after D.C. attack

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and other lawmakers raised questions Tuesday about whether military contractors are being vetted adequately for security clearance at federal facilities.

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In this March 2011 file photo, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking Republican Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. After a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, Collins and other lawmakers raised questions Tuesday about whether military contractors are being vetted adequately for security clearance at federal facilities. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

AP

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An armed officer who said he is with the Department of Defense, works near the gate at the Washington Navy Yard, closed to all but essential personnel, in Washington, on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, the day after a gunman launched an attack inside the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, spraying gunfire on office workers in the cafeteria and in the hallways at the heavily secured military installation in the heart of the nation's capital. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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"It is clear from both the Edward Snowden case and for the shooter at the (Washington) Navy Yard that the process is deeply flawed," Collins said. "For the shooter to have received a security clearance despite having an arrest record in apparently three different states defies belief."

The issue arose one day after Aaron Alexis, 34, a federal contractor, killed 12 people at the naval yard. Alexis, a former Navy reservist who reportedly had mental health issues, was killed in a gun battle with police.

On Tuesday, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus ordered an expedited review of security procedures at all Navy and Marine facilities. He set an Oct. 1 deadline and indicated that a longer-term review will follow the initial study.

Officials at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, a high-security facility where an estimated 4,700 civilian employees work on nuclear submarines, would not comment on the review ordered by Mabus.

"Certainly we are vigilant and will continue to be vigilant, but we don't discuss security measures," said Danna Eddy, public affairs officer for the shipyard.

The Pentagon's Office of Inspector General released a draft report Tuesday that said the Navy's cost-cutting attempts have led to riskier "access control" policies for contractors at naval facilities. As a result, 52 convicted felons had routine access to secure facilities that shouldn't have been authorized, the report said.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, said the report revealed "critical flaws" in the Navy's system.

Details of Monday's mass shooting less than two miles from the U.S. Capitol only raised more questions about why Alexis had security clearance enabling him to land a contractor job with access to the Washington Navy Yard.

He had had multiple run-ins with police, and his Navy record showed eight citations for misconduct. Just last month, he told police in Rhode Island that he was hearing voices and accused people of sending "microwave vibrations" into his hotel room to deprive him of sleep, according to The Associated Press.

Alexis apparently was first given a security clearance while in the Navy and was able to keep it after he requested and received an honorable discharge.

On Tuesday afternoon, White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama had directed the Office of Management and Budget to review security clearance policies for contractors and employees throughout the federal government. That review is on top of an earlier, more limited review prompted by Snowden's leaks of information from the National Security Agency.

Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said earlier in the day that she would like to see both the Government Accountability Office -- the independent watchdog agency for Congress -- and the Pentagon Inspector General conduct reviews.

She questioned whether the Office of Personnel Management -- the agency responsible for reviewing applications for security clearances -- has "contracted out too much of the security clearance duties" to firms that are not doing a thorough job.

"That raises questions about the thoroughness of the review and whether we are paying outside firms to do security clearances that are worthless," Collins said in an interview. "Even a cursory review should have pulled up (Alexis') arrest records and the problems that he had in the Navy where he came very close to a general discharge and had a record that was replete with problems."

Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, welcomed news that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is likely to order a security review of all military facilities.

"The reality is that we live in an age when threats confront us in many forms -- both abroad and here at home, as we tragically witnessed yesterday at the Washington Navy Yard -- and I believe it's appropriate for us to try to determine if there is more we can do to better protect our citizens," King said in a prepared statement.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., requested that the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hold a hearing on the issue of security clearances for contractors who work at military facilities.

"We must move quickly to fully understand contracting hiring practices at military installations to ensure that federal contractors are qualified, fit to serve, and don't pose a danger to the workforce, or our national security," Ayotte wrote in a letter to the committee leaders.

 

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

 

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