The rampage Monday at the Navy Yard, which authorities say was carried out by a former Navy reservist who worked as a defense contractor, is certain to renew a decades-old debate over whether the Defense Department is doing enough to protect its personnel from attacks at home, particularly those carried out by lone-wolf assailants.
Suspected gunman Aaron Alexis appears to have entered the base heavily armed but drawing little scrutiny. He was in possession of a valid military identification card, known as a common access card, which allows unfettered access into most facilities, according to his employer, the Experts, a Florida-based IT consulting firm.
Alexis was working as an hourly technical employee on a large subcontract with Hewlett-Packard to refresh computer systems worldwide at Navy and Marine Corps installations, said Thomas Hoshko, chief executive of the Experts.
Discharge from the military does not automatically disqualify a person from getting a job as a defense contractor or a security clearance. “It depends on what the circumstances are,” Hoshko said, adding that he and his co-workers are reeling from the news of the rampage. “Obviously he was well-qualified.”
But Alexis received a general discharge, in part for misconduct after he was arrested on a firearms charge in Texas.
That a gunman could have entered the base so heavily armed without drawing suspicion appeared to bewilder employees at the compound and other witnesses. But if he presented credible identification at a security control point, the suspect could probably have walked in with the weapons hidden on his person or in a bag without raising alarm.
The building where the shooting occurred is among the most secure in the compound, according to people who work at the Navy Yard.
A Navy official said that establishing whether the suspect was eligible for a military card will be a key question for investigators.
“The Navy Yard is very tight. You can’t get anywhere” without a common access card, said J.S. Fordham, 43, a Navy historian who works at the compound.
The Defense Department’s inspector general this year conducted an assessment of the Navy’s procedures for granting access to bases, according to a summary of the audit, which is slated for release in coming days. The summary, posted in the agency’s August newsletter, did not provide details about the findings, but inspector general probes are typically launched in response to a credible report of lapses or wrongdoing. Draft copies of the audit were shared with some congressional offices on Monday just hours after the shooting. A congressional aide who has seen a copy said the audit mentions that at least 52 convicted felons had access to military installations in recent years.