By David Alexander and Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Navy said on Monday it was unaware Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis had shot out a car’s tires in Seattle three years before it let him into the service in 2007 and gave him a security clearance, only that he had “deflated” car tires.
A background investigation conducted in 2007 by the Office of Personnel Management didn’t mention firearms or gunshots in relation to Alexis’ 2004 arrest, only that he had been involved in a dispute over parking with a construction worker, a senior Navy official said.
In fact, information obtained by Reuters from OPM said Seattle police declined to share details of Alexis’ arrest. And a statewide database of court records did not indicate firearms were involved in the incident, which resulted in a malicious mischief charge that was later dropped.
Had Seattle police been willing to provide more of its report on the arrest to OPM investigators, the agency might have discovered that firearms were used in the incident, according to information provided by OPM. But OPM cannot compel local police to cooperate in its personnel investigations.
The disclosures raise new questions about the effectiveness of screening investigations conducted by OPM and the company USIS, which OPM used to carry out checks on both Alexis and former spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is accused of disclosing top secret documents.
Alexis went on a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard in southeast Washington, D.C., last week, killing 12 people. He had been working at the facility as an information technology subcontractor, using access he gained in part because of his 10-year security clearance issued in 2008.
Since the shooting, investigators have been trying to piece together Alexis’ past and any missed warning signs of mental health issues. Rhode Island police told the Navy in August that Alexis had reported “hearing voices,” and the Department of Veterans Affairs said it treated him for insomnia.
A Seattle police report said Alexis was involved in a dispute in 2004 with a construction worker and shot out the tires on the man’s car in an anger-fueled “blackout” triggered by perceived “disrespect.”
“The summary of the Seattle incident (provided to the Navy) … makes no reference to firearms, makes no reference to a gunshot, makes no reference to a blackout, makes no reference to firing into the air,” a senior Navy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Pentagon reporters.
The Navy acknowledged on Monday that a commander drafted a letter requesting Alexis’ discharge over a series of incidents during his time in the service, including firing a gun in his apartment in Texas. But the commander never sent the letter after police decided not to charge Alexis for shooting the gun.
Still, despite past complaints against him like insubordination, disorderly conduct, tardiness and traffic incidents, Alexis’ behavior never seemed to signal he was a threat to others or qualify him for a dishonorable discharge, the official said.
“Looking individually at the events as we knew them at the time, it’s very difficult to see a glaring indicator that there was any kind of potential for the events that took place last week,” the official said.
A Navy timeline said Alexis took advantage of an early release program to leave the service in 2011, just months after the Texas shooting incident, saying he wanted to go to college. He received an honorable discharge with a ranking that would have facilitated his later re-enlistment.
Still, it was unclear whether Alexis could have been viewed an ineligible to join the Navy after apparently lying on his application form.
One of the questions plainly asks whether he had been arrested in the past seven years, to which he answered “no,” a Navy spokesman said.
The screening investigation by USIS turned up the report of his 2004 arrest in Seattle, triggering an interview with Alexis as well as further probes into his traffic offenses and troubled credit history.
A one-page OPM summary of the details surrounding Alexis’ arrest contrasts sharply with the Seattle arrest report disclosed after the shooting incident last week, the Navy said.
“I think if you look at those documents side by side, they depict two very different events,” said the official.
That difference prompted Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to recommend that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ask for relevant police documents to be included in future reports on people being considered for military security clearances.