Let’s get the review right this time
Editors Baltimore Times | 9/20/2013, 5:21 a.m.
The Washington Navy Yard shooting has prompted a global review of security at U.S. military bases. The attack in Benghazi prompted a global review of security at U.S. diplomatic posts. All well and good, but at some point doesn’t the federal government need to switch from defense to offense in these matters?
Announcing such reviews is a default response in the immediate aftermath of a crisis that costs American lives. It’s understandable and of course there should be a review of security— it’s something over which we have some control. But are we “reviewing” the right things?
Some argue that gun laws need to be the subject of any post-incident review. OK, fine. But in the case of the Navy Yard shooting it appears the immediate focus ought to be on security clearances. Who qualifies? And why, when a military contractor has multiple arrests on his record, a sketchy disciplinary history in the military and seeks mental health treatment because he is being guided by voices coming from the walls of his hotel room, isn’t his secure access card immediately taken away?
There is also the question of how Aaron Alexis passed background checks by his employer, a technology firm called The Experts. The screening questions are even more pressing in the wake of the abuse by former NSA employee Edward Snowden of his security clearance, which he used to scoop up thousands of pages of classified documents that he helped make public. One expert told The Wall Street Journal that to be denied clearance one would have to have committed a crime, been hospitalized for mental health problems or be tied to a foreign power. In the wake of the Navy Yard shooting, those standards seem too low.
Then there is the issue of screening for mental health. Most mass shootings are perpetrated by individuals whose mental health may have been questioned or even treated but treatment may have failed or a patient stops taking prescribed medication. In Alexis’ case, the record of mental health problems is sketchy— but his superiors were apparently made aware almost immediately of his most recent paranoid delusions. And yet he was able to buy a shotgun in Virginia last week— and pass smoothly through the gates of a secure Navy facility Monday. The proper “review” is not the one that smoothes our nerves but the one that leads to solutions.