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Editorials

Security clearance process needs renewed attention

Published:   |   Updated: September 18, 2013 at 09:54 AM

Investigators are trying to determine a motive for the mass shooting at the Navy Yard on Monday that killed 12 people.

Perhaps they will determine what possessed 34-year-old former Navy reservist Aaron Alexis to open fire on naval office employees before police officers managed to kill him.

Whatever factors may be discovered merit attention, but also a recognition there ultimately can be no rational explanation for the acts of a murderous maniac.

Of more interest to us is how an individual with several gun offenses, a hot temper, less than sterling military record and reported bouts with mental illness received a security clearance as a civilian military contractor.

The Washington Post reports that the gunman had been cited at least eight times during his Navy career for misconduct, including insubordination, disorderly conduct and multiple excessive absences from work. The New York Times reports incidents of mental illness over 10 years.

Yet he received an honorable discharge. The Navy had been seeking the less favorable general discharge because of such offenses as being arrested in Texas in 2010 for shooting a gun into a neighbor’s apartment.

But Navy officials said the process was going slowly and it was uncertain the Navy had sufficient reason to execute a general discharge. Instead, the service granted Alexis’ request to voluntarily leave with an honorable discharge.

It is easy to be angered by the decision now, but it likely seemed a reasonable option at the time for officers dealing with a cumbersome system.

Still, the Navy, and all the services, should scrutinize how such decisions are made, particularly given their effects on an individual’s future security status.

The owner of the firm that employed Alexis said he never would have hired him if the military had revealed his troubles with the law. Members of Congress and Defense Department officials Tuesday questioned whether proper checks were being conducted on civilian contractors.

It is troubling that an individual with at least two gun offenses would be given security clearance.

The access given to civilian workers already was an issue, given that Edward Snowden, a private contractor, put American lives and security at risk by revealing top U.S. secrets and fleeing to Russia. Now another civilian worker goes on a rampage at a military facility where he has credentials to work.

Civilians are not the only threat.

The gunman who killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, was a member of the military — and a Muslim extremist.

After that 2009 tragedy, the military took steps to strengthen security. As USA Today reports, a special commission recommended a number of steps, especially being alert for troubled base workers, whether military or civilian, and sharing information of suspicious activities with other law enforcement agencies.

But any reforms adopted after Fort Hood obviously were not sufficient to prevent Monday’s horror.

The military, we trust, will move resolutely to further strengthen security, and Congress should fund whatever capital improvements are necessary.

But particular attention should be paid to a security process that looks to be too easily providing clearance to individuals who do not deserve the country’s trust.

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