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Boston and Beyond

November 1, 2013

Changes pursued in US security clearance system

WASHINGTON (AP) — The decision to grant a security clearance to a man who later killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard was made without a review of a critical police report, but background investigators still followed the correct standards, the top federal personnel management official told a Senate panel Thursday.

The Senate committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs is investigating the nation’s security clearance system in the aftermath of the Sept. 16 shooting involving Aaron Alexis, a former Navy reservist and IT contractor.

The 34-year-old man was awarded, and held onto, a secret clearance despite brushes with law enforcement, a series of angry outbursts and concerns about his mental health that led Rhode Island police to his hotel room just one month before the shooting.

Elaine Kaplan, acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, said background investigators who vetted Alexis did “what they were supposed to do” but acknowledged that they lacked a complete portrait of his past.

She said Alexis was approved for the clearance even though investigators never reviewed a 2004 Seattle police report that accused him of shooting out the tires of a parked car in anger, relying instead on court records that didn’t detail the circumstances of the arrest.

Though Kaplan said the contractor that handled the background check followed the investigative standards, she acknowledged that current expectations may not be stringent enough.

“Are the standards up to snuff? Should we be required to get police reports, for example? Should we be required to get mental health information, even from someone who has a secret as opposed to a top secret clearance? All these things need to be looked at,” Kaplan said.

“But it was not, in our view, a case of malfeasance on the part of the contractor. We believe the contractor did what they were supposed to do,” she added.

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