Navy Yard Shootings Bring Scrutiny to Federal Security Clearance System


A few months ago, Obama administration officials stressed how accommodating the security clearance system is to people who've experienced mental health concerns. After this week’s killings at Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard, the federal clearance process faces a new wave of scrutiny that could push officials to move faster to cut off or deny clearances when individuals exhibit signs of mental trouble, Politico reports. Looming questions about how the Navy Yard shooter held a security clearance while exhibiting mental problems such as hallucinations could upend an ongoing administration effort to revamp the clearance process to encourage people to seek treatment for mental health issues, experts said.

“Anytime somebody with a history of mental illness commits an act of violence, you worry about blowback,” said Dr. Elspeth Ritchie, a former Army psychiatrist now with D.C.'s Department of Mental Health. “Will the pendulum swing on the level of the clearances? I don't yet know…but yes, I worry about it.” Dr. Philip Resnick, psychiatry professor at Case Western Reserve University, said, “There's likely to be an overreaction.” Aaron Alexis, the Navy computer contractor who police say shot 12 people dead at the Navy Yard, reportedly had a history of mental illness but maintained a “secret”-level clearance after leaving the Navy in 2011.

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