- By Yochi Dreazen
Yochi Dreazen is a Managing Editor for News at Foreign Policy. He is also writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security. His book about military suicide was published by Random House's Crown division in 2014.
Prior to joining Foreign Policy, Dreazen was a contributing editor at the Atlantic and the senior national security correspondent for National Journal. He began his career at the Wall Street Journal and spent 11 years at the newspaper, most recently as its military correspondent. He was born in Chicago, and later attended the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, he edited the award-winning daily campus newspaper and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1999 with degrees in History and English. He was hired by the Wall Street Journal immediately after graduation. Dreazen arrived in Iraq in April 2003 with the Fourth Infantry Division, and spent the next two years living in Baghdad as the Wall Street Journal's main Iraq correspondent.
Dreazen has made more than 12 lengthy trips to Iraq and Afghanistan and has spent a total of nearly four years on the ground in the two countries, mostly doing front-line combat embeds. He has reported from more than 20 countries, including Pakistan, Russia, China, Israel, Japan, Turkey, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.
In 2010, Dreazen received the Military Reporters & Editors association’s top award for domestic military reporting in a large publication for a series of articles about military suicide and the psychological traumas impacting veterans of the two long wars. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Smithsonian, Tablet and the New Republic and he appears regularly on TV and radio programs such as NPR's Diane Rehm Show and PBS' Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Dreazen gives frequent lectures about journalism, the wars and current events to both civilian and military audiences.
Dreazen lives in Washington with his wife, Annie Rosenzweig Dreazen, and their beloved Golden Retriever, Charlie.
Key details of the massacre at Washington’s Navy Yard are just beginning to emerge, but the attack offers an unsettling reminder that many military facilities have soft underbellies when it comes to security.
Visitors to the Pentagon walk past guards armed with assault rifles and then pass through an outside building equipped with state-of-the-art metal detectors. Once they enter the Pentagon itself, the first thing they see is another booth manned by heavily armed security personnel.
The Pentagon is very much the exception, however. Washington, Maryland, and Virginia are dotted with dozens of military bases and Defense Department office buildings, and both types of facilities have significant potential security gaps, according to experts in the field.
At military posts like the sprawling Marine base in Quantico, Virginia, for instance, virtually anyone with one of the Common Access Cards (CAC) issued to troops, civilian Defense Department employees, and government contractors can enter the facility without being patted down or made to go through a metal detector.
Aaron Alexis, the primary suspect in the Navy Yard shootings, was a Navy information technology contractor, but it’s not yet clear whether he had a CAC card of his own or made his way onto the Navy Yard by stealing one from a colleague. Figuring out how Alexis managed to enter the compound with at least one semiautomatic weapon is a top priority for the FBI agents leading the investigation into the shootings.
"The primary element of security is limiting access for people who don’t have the need to be in a given place," said Ian Kanski, a former Marine Corps force protection officer who also worked as a private security contractor overseas. "We have an overabundance of universal access in the military. I’ve been out of the Marines since 2006. Should I still have a card that allows me to get onto almost any base?"
The hundreds of thousands of people with CAC cards aren’t the only ones who have a relatively easy time making their way onto military posts. Many bases also allow veterans with valid military retiree ID cards to enter the posts so they can receive medical care at the facilities’ hospitals and medical clinics, or shop at subsidized supermarkets.
Some bases search the veterans’ cars, but the retired troops themselves are almost never patted down or asked to go through metal detectors. That would theoretically make it easy for a potential assailant to smuggle a firearm onto the base.
The Defense Department’s office buildings in and around Washington present a different kind of risk. Unlike military posts, the buildings are generally protected by private security guards who are either unarmed or equipped solely with a sidearm. The entrances have metal detectors, but government employees or contractors with ID cards for the buildings are often allowed to bypass them, according to personnel who work at three of the DoD facilities.
Fred Burton, the vice president for intelligence at Stratfor and a former State Department counterterrorism agent, said human nature made it even harder to guard against insider attacks like the one that appears to have taken place at the Navy Yard. Alexis was a subcontractor for Hewlett-Packard, but it wasn’t clear Monday if he had been working at the Navy Yard full-time or was simply an occasional visitor.
"Guards, even good ones, can have familiarity fatigue where they see the same guy every day and decide to just wave him through," he said.
Kanski said that preventing that type of complacency is the biggest challenge facing the security personnel charged with preventing people like Alexis from taking the lives of their friends and colleagues.
"Security is only as good as the human element implementing it," he said. "If that falls short, all the security measures in the world won’t be enough to keep something like this from happening again."