Two former US defense secretaries talk to SMU students about Monday’s shootings at the Navy Yard, security clearances and background checks. Robert Gates and Leon Panetta appeared at SMU as part of the Tate Lecture Series.
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the student forum that the shootings at the Navy Yard in Washington DC raise questions about how security clearances are issued.
“You try to ensure that providing the right kind of security clearance that you know what that individual is all about," Panetta said. "And now the media’s going into the shooter’s background and finding all kinds of things that raise questions about whether or not the right issues were thought about in terms of that security clearance.”
The 34 year old Fort Worth man identified as the shooter had a security clearance that gave him access to the Navy Yard. Aaron Alexis brought three guns with him that morning. One, a shotgun was purchased two days before the shooting. An attorney for a gun store in Virginia says Alexis passed a federal background check which did not apparently raise any red flags.
“I do think that we have to do a better job of making sure that people who are unstable and that have problems are not allowed to purchase a weapon,” Panetta told the audience.
Sitting next to Panetta, former defense secretary Robert Gates told students his heart goes out to the families of the 12 Navy Yard workers who were killed while serving their country at home.
“The attack on the Naval Yard was just an incredible reminder about the fact that the folks that are at risk are not just the folks that are in Afghanistan and Iraq and other places around the world," Gates said. "I think we all grapple for an explanation of such madness that prompts whether it’s Fort Hood or the Navy Yard.”
For Gates, the Navy Yard shooting was sadly familiar. Gates was secretary of defense when Major Nadal Hassan opened fire at Fort Hood in 2009, killing 13 people.