How Did D.C. Navy Yard Gunman Get Security Clearance While Being Treated by VA for Mental Illness?

Wednesday, 18 September 2013 11:51 By Amy Goodman and Aaron Mate, Democracy Now! | Video Interview
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A gunman opened fire at a naval base in Washington, D.C., on Monday, killing 12 people and wounding several others before dying in a shootout with police. The shooter has been identified as Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old former Navy Reservist who had been arrested at least twice in the past for shooting-related incidents, but who got security clearance to enter the Washington Navy Yard. Alexis was discharged from the Navy Reserve in 2011 following what officials termed a "pattern of misbehavior." We speak to AP reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman who reveal Alexis was treated by doctors within the Veterans Administration for serious mental illness, including "hearing voices."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

Aaron Maté: Well, thirteen people died when a former Navy reservist opened fire on a naval base and Washington, D.C. on Monday, killing twelve people and wounding several others before dying in a shootout with police. The gunman had been identified as Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old who have been arrested at least twice in the past for shooting related incidents, but, who got security clearance to enter the Washington Navy Yard. Alexis was discharged from the Navy reserve in 2011, following what officials termed a pattern of misbehavior. The Associated Press has just reported Alexis was treated by the VA for serious mental illness including hearing voices.

Amy Goodman : To talk more about the shooting, we are joined by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting team from the Associated Press. They cowrote the new book, "Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America." We will talk about the book in a minute. But first, to the shooting. Matt Appuzo, Adam Goldman, welcome. Matt, start with what do you know, the report you’re putting out today?

Matt Appuzo: Well, the AP newsletter just moved a few minutes ago that said that Alexis had been treated relatively recently, in recent months, for a host of mental issues at the VA, hearing voices was kind of the catchall. I think the question obviously is going to be, how far along was he in the treatment? What were they seeing in the medical record? What were they seeing in his file? And could that have pulled clearances to get in the building? At this stage, I don’t think we know the answers to those questions and I think that is what investigators are going to be trying to look for too. Were their missed opportunities like we saw at Virginia Tech with Seung Hui Cho where he shouldn’t have been able to do the things to get a hold of the guns given his mental treatment? I don’t know if that was the case here, but it is certainly something the federal government is looking at, the city government is looking at, and reporters like us are looking at.

Amy Goodman: I mean, it’s something, both having the clearance and having the guns.

Matt Appuzo: Right, and our reporter — the guns aren’t something that Adam and I focused a ton on, but our reporter in Washington, Eric Tucker, has really been trying to piece together exactly how they got the guns. We know that there was a shotgun that he used, we know that there was a handgun. Unclear whether he got the handgun from a police officer or security guard on the scene. And they are still trying to link up that AR-15 as well, as to, you know, was that his. We know it was near him. Where did he get it? You know, all those things. So I think that is what the federal government is trying to piece together. That’s what we’re still trying to piece together.

Amy Goodman: Also quite astounding, while being treated at the VA as AP is reporting for among other things, hearing voices, that he had other incidents in the past and his father saying to authorities that he perhaps suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from helping people at 9/11. I mean, he had gun violence incidents that he was arrested for.

Matt Appuzo : Sure, and I just think, you know, we’re 24 hours into this investigation and we still haven’t figured out — the gun trace issue is always a difficult one. So, until — I think until we know how he got these guns and how the clearances went, I just don’t want to jump to conclusions about what should have happened or shouldn’t have happened. We are only 24 hours into it.

Amy Goodman: Right, and finally, Adam, that issue of mental illness and being able to have guns legally?

Adam Goldman: Yeah, that is a big issue in this country, and we see people repeatedly with mental illness obtained firearms. Newtown, Virginia Tech, and the horrific shooting in the suburb of Denver.

Amy Goodman: Well, of course we will continue to follow this issue. But now we’re going to talk about an issue you have followed for years.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Amy Goodman and Aaron Mate

Amy Goodman is the host and executive producer of Democracy Now!, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on over 1,100 public television and radio stations worldwide. Time Magazine named Democracy Now! its “Pick of the Podcasts,” along with NBC’s Meet the Press.

Aaron Mate comes to Democracy Now! after a two-year stint as an independent journalist and as a researcher for the author and journalist Naomi Klein. Through his work as a journalist and activist, he has had the opportunity to visit the Occupied Territories, Haiti, and South Africa. His writings have appeared in publications including the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and the Guardian of London. Aaron received his B.A. in Communication Studies from Concordia University in Montreal. He is a regular contributor to the Montreal/San Francisco-based magazine Warrior.

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