Security gaps: Felons often on military bases, Pentagon report finds

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A Pentagon inspector general report on Tuesday said convicted felons routinely gain access to military facilities like Washington’s Navy Yard, where 12 people were killed Monday by a lone gunman who worked as a government contractor.

The startling findings in the report came as lawmakers called for more scrutiny of contractors and as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a worldwide security review of U.S. bases.

Many of the problems in vetting contractors were related to budget cuts, the report said.

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The IG report specifically found that 52 felons had received unauthorized access to military facilities for 62 to 1,035 days. It said this had placed “military personnel, dependents, civilians, and installations at an increased security risk.”

It said many facilities did not have enough funds to properly check the backgrounds of contractors.

The Navy did not “follow federal credentialing standards and DOD contractor vetting requirements and did not provide 7 of the 10 installations visited the appropriate resources and capabilities to conduct required contractor background checks,” it said.

While some have blamed the sequester spending cuts, a congressional aide said the problems laid out in the inspector general report were due to military budget cuts put in place before the sequester took effect.

While the report redacted the names of the seven installations without appropriate resources, a previous summary of the Pentagon inquiry listed Naval Installations Command as one of the installations.

Problems with vetting contractors has been a hot issue on Capitol Hill ever since Edward Snowden leaked volumes of classified national security materials to the media. But it took on new meaning with the Navy Yard shootings.

Police identified the shooter at the Navy Yard as Aaron Alexis, who also died at the scene. A former Navy petty officer, Alexis had worked at the Navy Yard as a contractor. He had been arrested on weapons charges prior to leaving the service in 2011. 

A Navy official said the security processes used to grant Alexis clearance to the Navy Yard were not the ones scrutinized in the inspector general report. The official said Alexis had a Common Access Card, which is not given to personnel cleared by the vetting process in the report.

Nevertheless, the findings fueled lawmaker attempts to reform how military contractors are vetted. 

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said the report found the Navy had “critical flaws” in controlling access to military installations for nongovernment personnel, including contractors.

“While the timing of the delivery of this report was coincidental, I believe it to be relevant to physical security on military installations,” he said in a statement Tuesday.   

“While there may not be a direct link between the result of this report and the horrific loss of life, I am deeply concerned about the current security situation at Navy facilities,” Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday after the report’s release. 

Turner wrote to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, urging him to immediately put in place the report’s recommendations. He and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), met with officials from the inspector general’s office on Tuesday.

The biggest question on Capitol Hill is how Alexis was able to get a clearance to the Navy Yard.

“It may be time for a [congressional] review to see how well these contractors are doing their jobs” in terms of vetting candidates for sensitive, national security positions, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) told reporters on Capitol Hill. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) openly questioned whether the process government agencies use to vet civilians before allowing them access to highly sensitive national security issues is “fundamentally broken.”

“What are we doing to check who works for the government in a civilian capacity?” asked Graham. “Is it because we do not have the resources, or is the system just fundamentally broken?”

The report found convicted felons received access to bases because Eid Passport, the company that conducted the background checks, did not identify the felony convictions in initial public records checks.

Eid Passport did not respond to a request for comment.

Security and background checks on contractors are continually being “farmed out” to the private sector, which has led to serious gaps in the vetting process, according to Sessions. 

“I think it is a serious question [since] we have seen this in a lot of different areas” within government agencies, he added. 

Clearance mistakes made by private security firms were also blamed for Snowden’s hiring as an NSA contractor.

In June, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Congress would consider changes to the rules for contractors in the wake of the Snowden leaks. 

McKeon vowed to raise the issue during Wednesday’s House defense panel hearing on the impact of Pentagon budget cuts on national security goals.