Questions over access follow a bloody rampage; Gun control advocates: are we there yet?; Syrian gas attack: evidence points to regime; Bob Hale’s three budget scenarios; Will the JSF ever fly?; And a bit more.
- By Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.
By Gordon Lubold
A troubled stint in the Navy, a fascination with violent first person video games, and then this. A crude portrait emerged of Aaron Alexis, 34, the suspect in yesterday’s shooting at the Washington Navy Yard who is thought to have gone on the rampage yesterday, killing 11 and wounding scores more before he was himself gunned down. Although the horrific story yesterday always smacked of workplace violence, there was a thought that others were involved until officials ultimately discarded the notion that there were others involved. That left another shooting rampage, not at the hands of a terrorist but another troubled individual; only this time, it had a military bent. Alexis enlisted in the Navy in 2007, became an Aviation Electrician’s Mate 3rd Class/AE3, but was given a general discharge in 20011 after "a series of misconduct issues," a Navy official told Situation Report. Ultimately he found himself in Fort Worth, Texas, where he joined a Buddhist Temple, worked for a Thai restaurant and became known as a "hard core drinker" who also liked to binge on violent first person video games. Yet he obtained a security clearance and got a job as an IT contractor with Hewlett-Packard subsidiary known as The Experts and was working at the Navy Yard. Then he opened fire yesterday morning at about 8:15 a.m.
The victims from the shooting inside Building 197 all appear to be contractors or civilians. Eight victims’ names have been released; none appear to be active-duty military. Michael Arnold, 59; Sylvia Frasier, 53; Kathy Gaarde, 62; John Roger Johnson, 73; Frank Kohler, 50; Vishnu Pandit, 61; Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46; Arthur Daniels, 51. The WaPo’s bit about each one, here.
The shooting naturally begs questions about how Alexis gained access and if security is good enough at secondary and tertiary military installations around the country. The shooting may or may not raise this question substantively. One shooting, as tragic as it is, may not warrant an across-the-board examination of access since security experts acknowledge there are always vulnerabilities, even among military personnel on military bases. But the shooting probably will. FP’s Yochi Dreazen: "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."
Ian Kanski, a former Marine force protection officer, to Dreazen: "The primary element of security is limiting access for people who don’t have the need to be in a given place…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 rest, here.
So there’s an as-yet-unreleased DOD IG report on Navy installation security. Time’s Alex Rogers, with an assist from Mark Thompson: "A soon-to-be-released government audit says the Navy, in an attempt to reduce costs, let down its guard to risks posed by outside contractors at the Washington Navy Yard and other facilities, a federal official with access to the report tells TIME. The Navy ‘did not effectively mitigate access-control risks associated with contractor-installation access’ at Navy Yard and other Navy installations, the report by the Department of Defense Inspector General’s office says. Parts of the audit were read to TIME by a federal official with access to the document. The risks resulted from an attempt by Navy officials ‘to reduce access-control costs,’ the report finds." The rest, here.
"Navy leaders are taking a hard look at security measures at their bases and installations in the wake of Monday’s shootings at the Navy’s headquarters in Washington, D.C." The Hill’s Carlo Munoz reports.
When will "enough be enough?" Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Dem from California who pushed for legislation following the Newtown shootings, in a statement yesterday: "This is one more event to add to the litany of massacres that occur when a deranged person or grievance killer is able to obtain multiple weapons-including a military-style assault rifle-and kill many people in a short amount of time. When will enough be enough? Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life."
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel lays a wreath at the U.S. Navy Memorial this morning at 10 a.m. to honor victims of the Navy Yard shooting.
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The five worst attacks on American bases, as assembled by FP’s own Elias Groll: CIA HQ, 1993; Fort Dix, N.J., 2001; Camp Pennsylvania, Kuwait, 2003; Camp Liberty, Iraq, 2009; Fort Hood, Texas, 2009. Groll’s bit, here.
Yesterday’s attack drew attention away, momentarily, from Syria. But the U.N. released its long-awaited report on the attack outside Damascus Aug. 21. FP’s Colum Lynch and John Hudson: "[It] does not directly blame either the Syrian government or the Syrian opposition, but the scrupulous level of detail in the report provides new evidence pointing to a military-orchestrated assault rather than a rebel-executed chemical weapons attack. In particular, analysts speaking with Foreign Policy latched onto the report’s conclusions regarding the quantities of toxic gas in the attack, the type of rockets used, and the trajectory of the missile vectors. ‘This is consistent with an alleged use by Syrian government troops,’ Ralf Trapp, an independent consultant on chemical and biological weapons, told FP after reviewing the report. The U.N. inspectors’ report, which was presented this morning to the Security Council, found ‘clear and convincing evidence’ that rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. The U.N. team compiled evidence from a broad range of sources, including several surface-to-surface rockets "capable of delivering significant chemical payloads" and statements from more than 50 victims, first responders, and medical specialists. Evidence of sarin was identified in the majority of environmental and biomedical samples, including blood, urine, and hair, collected by the U.N. team." Read the rest here.
Bob Hale sees three budget scenarios for the Pentagon. Defense One’s Stephanie Gaskell sat down with Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale to get a sense of how he sees the world. Gaskell: The way Bob Hale sees it, there are three scenarios on the horizon as the fiscal year comes to an end and another round of sequestration looms. The Pentagon comptroller hasn’t lost hope for the best-case scenario — a grand bargain in Congress that would reduce the deficit and undo sequestration. ‘Entitlement cuts, probably some tax increases, end of sequestration,’ he said. "Seems pretty unlikely in this environment.’ Indeed with things like Syria, Benghazi, Obamacare and gun control on the docket, it’s very unlikely that Congress will come to any major agreements before Sept. 30, when fiscal year 2013 ends. So that leaves two other options, Hale said in a wide-ranging interview with Defense One at his Pentagon office. Hale, to Gaskell: "Maybe some kind of mini-deal that is much scaled down but would restore at least some funding in the discretionary areas, including defense [spending]. I could conceive of it being some fairly modest entitlement cuts, perhaps, maybe some loophole closing and perhaps some further cuts in discretionary spending — but not to the full sequestration, not to the $52-billion level that we would experience." Read it here.
Why Obama’s instincts may have actually served him well on Syria policy, FP’s own David Rothkopf argues. His piece begins: "Barack Obama has been afflicted by the ability to see multiple sides of any issue since he took office. His Afghanistan policy initiative was, until recently, the outstanding example of this characteristic. After a lengthy internal debate, he presented in one speech both the decision to escalate U.S. involvement in that country and the announcement that the United States would be leaving on a certain date. It was the first illustration of what I described at the time as the Groucho Marx approach to foreign policy, referring to the comic icon’s signature song, "Hello, I Must Be Going." But we have since seen other examples of Obama’s ambivalence — opposing the Bush administration’s abuses of international law, yet violating sovereignty countless times with expanded drone attacks; standing up for civil liberties, yet overseeing the greatest expansion of our intrusive surveillance state ever; pivoting to Asia, but still regularly being drawn back to the Middle East; going to Congress to get approval for action in Syria and then reserving the right to take action on his own. Read the rest here.
A Q&A with Ray Mabus. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus sat down with Defense News to talk about littoral combat ship program, continuing resolutions, sequestration and whether the shipyards are getting the work they can. Read it, here.
Will the JSF ever fly? Vanity Fair does a massive piece on the Joint Strike Fighter, "Will it Fly?" Adam Ciralsky: "The Joint Strike Fighter is the most expensive weapons system ever developed. It is plagued by design flaws and cost overruns. It flies only in good weather. The computers that run it lack the software they need for combat. No one can say for certain when the plane will work as advertised. Until recently, the prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, was operating with a free hand-paid handsomely for its own mistakes. Looking back, even the general now in charge of the program can’t believe how we got to this point. In sum: all systems go!" Read that piece here.
Former Marine PAO Phil Klay reviews Andrew Bacevich’s new book. Klay, writing on the Daily Beast: "In 2011, President Obama declared that the U.S. soldiers leaving Iraq were doing so ‘with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops.’ What, precisely, did that mean? Certainly, when I’d left Iraq back in 2008 I’d been proud of my service, but whether we’d been successful or not was still an open question. The war was ongoing, and the definition for ‘success’ seemed to keep shifting. Was it regime change? That’d happened early on in 2003, before I’d even joined the military. Was it the creation of a stable Iraq? That never happened. Defeat of both Shiite extremists and al Qaeda in Iraq? Again, no. So ‘success’ is a tricky term. Even trickier, though, was his invocation of an "American people stand[ing] united in our support for our troops." There’s a general feeling of good will toward the troops, for sure, but what else? Is there a commitment to proper oversight of the wars they carry out on the American people’s behalf? Is there the political will to ensure their lives aren’t expended needlessly?" The rest here.