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Press Briefing by Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter on the recently announced Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel-directed reviews following the Navy Yard incident

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter
September 25, 2013

GEORGE LITTLE: Good afternoon. I'd like to welcome Deputy Secretary Ash Carter to the podium to discuss the reviews ordered by Secretary Hagel following the tragic incident at the Washington Navy Yard. He'll start with some opening statement and then take a few questions.

 Over to you, sir.


 Well, good afternoon. I want to update you on the status of the three -- the three reviews that the Defense Department and the Department of the Navy are conducting under Secretary Hagel's direction in the aftermath of the tragic shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, September 16th.

 Before I do so, though, let me join President Obama and Secretary Hagel in expressing my deepest sympathies to all of those who were personally affected by this deplorable act of violence last week.

The Department of Defense is a family. And when a family member's taken from us, it affects us all. So to those who are grieving, on behalf of the entire department family, please know that our thoughts and our prayers and our strength are with you.

I echo President Obama when I assure you that your loved ones will not be forgotten. They will endure in the hearts of the American people and the hearts of the Navy that helped keep us strong.

And even as we will never forget what happened at the Navy Yard, we're determined to learn from this tragedy and to take decisive action to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. As of this afternoon, I can report that three DOD reviews are now underway, one being led by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, a second headed by an independent panel, and a third led by the Department of the Navy.

The OSD-level review, which I've asked Dr. Mike Vickers, our Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, to spearhead, has two primary objectives. The first is to assess the physical security, access procedures, and emergency response plans at DOD installations and identify vulnerabilities.

And the second is to identify shortcomings in the security clearance and reinvestigation process and what steps we can take to tighten the standards and procedures for granting and renewing security clearances for DOD employees and contract personnel.

To begin this effort, we need to find out exactly what happened last Monday at the Washington Navy Yard. And the bottom line is, we need to know how an employee was able to bring a weapon and ammunition onto a DOD installation and how warning flags were either missed, ignored or not addressed in a timely manner.

Second, parallel to this effort, Secretary Hagel has directed that an independent panel be established to conduct its own assessment of the same two issues. His guidance was clear. The independent panel is to arrive at its own conclusions and make its own recommendations.

And today, on behalf of the secretary, I'm pleased to announce that former assistant secretary of defense for homeland security Dr. Paul Stockton and former Commander of Special Operations, Admiral Eric Olson, have agreed to lead the independent review.

We could not be more fortunate to have these two highly qualified and respected individuals directing this important work. In addition to leading DOD's homeland defense mission for three-and-a-half years, Dr. Stockton led the department's internal review and response to the Fort Hood shooting in 2009. He's uniquely qualified to identify how we can build on actions taken since Fort Hood, as well as what work remains to be done.

Admiral Olson's distinguished 38-year military career was capped by four years as leader of U.S. Special Operations Command. As we look at strengthening our internal defenses, Admiral Olson's deep knowledge of special operations and intelligence communities, his personal experience evaluating and developing physical security plans, will all be invaluable.

These two reviews will be completed by November 15, and the findings from the independent panel will be delivered directly to Secretary Hagel and me. Together, these efforts are intended to be comprehensive, complementary, and mutually reinforcing.

And, finally, the Department of the Navy is leading its own review of physical security at all Navy and Marine Corps installations worldwide to determine if current procedures are appropriate in light of the Washington Navy Yard shooting. These findings are due to the Secretary of the Navy by October 31st, and we expect the final Navy report to be completed in November.

Since these three independent reviews have been completed, under my supervision -- excuse me, once these three independent reviews have been completed, under my supervision, we will synthesize the findings into a comprehensive report to be delivered to Secretary Hagel by December 20th. And at his direction, the department will take appropriate actions after carefully considering all of the recommendations put forward.

Throughout this process, DOD's work will be coordinated with the White House's government-wide review, being led by the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Our findings will complement and support these government-wide efforts.

As Secretary Hagel said last week, where there are gaps, we'll close them. Where there are inadequacies, we will address them. And where there are failures, we will correct them. That process is underway. We owe nothing less to the victims, their families, and every member of the Department of Defense community.

And now I'll take your questions. Lita?

Q: Mr. Secretary, as you know, the Secretary of the Navy has already made a recommendation involving the need to include information about arrest as well as, you know -- in addition to convictions when they do background checks. Is something like that easy enough to put into effect? Or is that something that's gonna take until December to figure out whether or not that's worth merit or not?

DR. CARTER: Well, that -- that -- that kind of connecting the dots is -- is definitely part of the review. The inclusion of law enforcement information is something that in addition to being in our review will be in the government wide review because the law enforcement agencies are obviously not all of them part of the Department of Defense.

And so the inclusion of law enforcement information at various stages of the law enforcement process is part of the review; that is convictions, down to reported incidents, and everything in between -- arrests and so forth. So that's definitely part of the review, an important part.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you talk about warning flags here. And I wonder if based on what you know so far, what jumps out at you when you look at this case here?

I want you to also talk about -- the background check of Aaron Alexis failed to pick up that he used a gun in that Seattle incident back in 2004. He told a person -- providing the investigator that he just deflated the tires.

DR. CARTER: Well, that jumped out at me. You're asking something that jumped out at me. That certainly jumped out at me.

We have to confirm the truth of these things. But I think that --- what certainly caught my eye and the secretary's eye is exactly that kind of thing: evidence that there was behavior well before the Washington Navy Yard incident, which had it been spotted and understood to be indicative of this possibility might have led to an intervention that would have prevented it. And that's exactly the kind of thing that we need to look at in the review -- exactly.

I'm sorry, you had one question.

Did you?

Q: I didn't.

DR. CARTER: OK. Go ahead.

Q: Are you looking at any kind of penalties, potentially, for contractors who fail to report red flags to -- to DOD? You know, are contracting companies that they'll report. It would be against their interests otherwise to do so.

DR. CARTER: Yeah, let me say something first about contractors. There are many, many cleared contractors. There are many contractors that work on our installations. There're many contractors who are central to the -- to the accomplishment of the mission of this department. And they, like our government employees, both civilian and military, all three of those populations contribute to the defense mission, and they're all part of the review.

You asked whether a -- it -- a contract term is compliant with security regulations, and it is. And we're gonna have to look at, as we consider the types of information that we regard as necessary to be able to evaluate people for their suitability to work at our installations, we're gonna need to ask for the same information from those people, whether they're uniformed, U.S. government civilian, or a contractor.

There you are.

Q: Would you like to see the investigation process come back to the Department of Defense or taken away from contractors entirely?

DR. CARTER: It's a very good question, and I -- I think that's something we need to look at. The -- and that would be something that is considered in the government wide review that the White House is conducting -- and I'll tell you why. You probably know this. But many of the background investigations themselves are handled in a government wide way, under the Office of Personnel Management. That was a measure taken long ago in the interest of efficiency and centralizing information.

And -- so one of the questions for the White House review will be the efficiency, the efficacy, the appropriateness and so forth of that -- that process. That's bigger than our department. It affects our department.

And that's why these reviews, the Navy review, the Department of Defense review and the government wide review are nested within one another, and why the Navy review concludes first so that its findings can be used for Secretary Hagel's departmental review, which in turn concludes before the White House one so it can feed into the overall White House one. Because these -- these things involve law enforcement agencies, homeland security agencies, intelligence agencies, Office of Personnel Management and lots of things that are not strictly DOD things. That's why it all needs to be done in concert.

MR. LITTLE: We have time for one more.

DR. CARTER: One more?

Q: Shortly after this happened, we kept hearing repeatedly that the lower-level security clearances are considered almost, not quite, but almost a rubber-stamp process; that those security clearance procedures are probably not as rigorous as they should be. And then we also read a story about a woman who worked for this private contracting firm that said the workload is impossible to keep up with in terms of the security clearances.

Do you sense that the U.S. government at all levels is simply going to have to provide more people, more money to trying to catch the kinds of red flags that Tom referred to, to try to catch those kind of red flags on a consistent basis?

DR. CARTER: Well, you're right that depending upon the level of clearance granted to the person, the thoroughness of the background investigation differs. And that's appropriate. Those who have access to very, very, very sensitive information receive more scrutiny than those who are -- have access to only routine or lower-level information.

The volume is huge. There are millions of Americans who have security clearances, many millions of Americans. And they are necessary to accomplish the government's security business. There are many more who are -- have access to our DOD installations and facilities.

So you're absolutely right. The volume is very high. And I think one of the issues that we're going to look at, both inside the department and in the government-wide review, is how do you do, for such large numbers of people, a thorough and careful job that -- so that you have a reasonably good chance of surfacing a propensity to violence or to some other kind of behavior before that behavior occurs.

That's really what we'd like to get out of the review overall. What we'd like to do is figure out how to prevent this from happening in the first place. That's the first part. And the second part is if you do have an incident like this, do we respond well to minimize the violence and so forth? And I should say parenthetically that -- that amidst all of the bad news of the Washington Navy Yard tragedy, the -- the first response by people both within the installation and within the District of Columbia, was commendable. It was brave and it was prompt.

But we'd like to improve both dimensions of that, so that the probability of this happening is much lower and so that if it does happen, there's minimum loss of life and the earliest possible restoration of our functions.

Q: You were talking about some things in retrospect that caught your eye. Given your vast experience, do you -- at this point, do you think this was a breakdown in the system or a breakdown in the people within the system?

DR. CARTER: I don't want to say until we've really had a chance to look at it. It happened a week ago. We want to look both at this incident, Jim, in detail; make sure we have the actual facts. And then we have to recognize that -- that we want to look at the whole system and the whole family of incidents that occur. So we're not only looking at one type, but we're looking at the entire family.

And as I said, looking for both the prevention and at remediation and response.

Thank you all very much.

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