Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Every tragedy its own government program

Jerry Stratton, March 18, 2014

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Navy Yard remarks

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reports that they need more people and more resources, without exactly saying that.

In the old days, I would have read in the news that Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis’s behavioral warnings are only worthy of investigation in hindsight and in aggregate; after all just thinking that you’re being attacked by microwaves or hearing voices aren’t problematic in and of themselves. And I would have assumed that someone’s being misquoted or someone’s being stupid, but which?

Today, with the miracle of the Internet, I can download the Department of Defense’s Internal Review of the Navy Yard Shooting and see it for myself.

What appears to have happened is that the Department of Defense, tasked with finding out why Alexis still had access to the Navy Yard despite being murderously insane, chose to recommend a new Department of Defense program, a “DoD Insider Threat Management and Analysis Center”, a “multifunctional team composed of law enforcement, mental health, counterintelligence, security, human resources, information assurance, cybersecurity, and legal personnel.”

Besides adding this new program and its new personnel, office space, and responsibilities, the Department of Defense (in the guise of its “Central Adjudicative Facility”) will also “need to be augmented to handle the additional workload”.

This new program mirrors:

  • the “holistic, centralized threat management capability” that the Secretary of Defense already said he wanted on March 26, about seven months before the shooting;
  • the “National Insider Threat Policy” promulgated by the President in November 2012, nearly a year before the shooting, in response to the 2010 WikiLeaks disclosures;
  • the 2012 Defense Science Board recommendation for a “Threat Management Unit”.

On the one hand, you could look at this and say, hey, why weren't these programs already implemented by September 2013? On the other, however, it seems as though what’s really needed is common sense, and if the new Threat Center doesn’t also receive a healthy augmentation of Common Sense, it will just be another government program ignoring obvious warning signs.

The report goes out of its way to absolve almost everyone:

When examining events in Aaron Alexis’ history individually, they yield little in the way of warning. Combined, however, they demonstrate a pattern of misconduct and disturbing behavior that would have prompted investigators, for a position of trust in the Federal workforce, if they had been aware of his history in aggregate.—p. 3

In hindsight, members of the review team and those contacted in the course of the review agreed that Alexis displayed behavior and made statements that indicated psychological problems of security concern. However, neither training that pertains to National Adjudicative Guideline I (Emotional, mental, and personality disorders) nor Question 21 on the SF-86 provides any specificity or guidance regarding those psychological conditions that are associated with the greatest risk that an individual may pose a security or safety concern.—p. 37

I’m sure that there are edge conditions where more specificity and guidance might be necessary in deciding whether an employee’s mental state is worth investigating.

Aaron Alexis was not one of those edge conditions.

He was previously an active duty Sailor, had several arrests—two of which involved firearms—and, in the weeks leading up to the incident, he was observed complaining of being followed, hearing voices, and of being under attack by vibrations and microwaves.—p. 16

Even earlier, in 2007, the Office of Personnel Management interviewed Alexis to “resolve discrepancies” in Alexis’s information. One of these was that Alexis had, in an altercation with someone that resulted in an arrest for “malicious mischief”, punctured someone’s tires.

Alexis did not disclose that he accomplished this by shooting out the tires with his Glock .45 caliber handgun in a residential area.

The OPM did not request, and thus did not see, the Seattle police report disclosing this information. But does it matter that he didn’t use a gun when “deflating the tires”? Whether they thought he’d punctured it with a knife or other sharp object, or taken the time to unscrew the valve stem cap and then depress the valve stem (which sounds more like mischief than malicious mischief, which I’ll bet requires property damage), this strongly indicates emotional instability at a level at least requiring further investigation.

The Department of Defense investigation found what the Department of Defense and its superiors in the management chain wanted to find: they need more people. But if those new people aren’t “tasked with” common sense, they won’t be able to stop these incidents any better than the old people could. Common sense tends to disappear when people are asked to follow a checklist. More checklist is not an answer.

  1. <- Second Chance
  2. Crony criminalism ->