Release
Immediate Release

Naval Air Station Pensacola Investigation Update

May 18, 2020

Today, the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced additional findings about the shooting on Dec. 6, 2019 at Naval Air Station Pensacola. This was a tragic day for our military and our deepest condolences are still with the friends and families of Ensign Joshua Watson, Airman Mohammed Haitham, Airman Cameron Walters, and with the eight others wounded in this terrorist attack.

The new information provided by Director Wray and Attorney General Barr underscores the threats to our nation posed by al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and highlights the necessity of the security measures we take every day to protect the American people, our interests and our friends – as well as those that defend our nation.

''The Department of Defense is incredibly grateful for the diligent work by the FBI team investigating this horrific attack that took the lives of three American patriots,'' said Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark. Esper. ''Based on the FBI findings, and in addition to already executed protective measures, the Department will take further prudent and effective measures to safeguard our people.''  

In response to this terrorist attack, the Department of Defense took immediate action, ordering a stop to all International Military Student operational training at U.S. installations and directing a review of all vetting and security procedures. In January Secretary Esper went to Pensacola and met with Navy leadership, and with flight training students and first responders to hear first-hand the accounts of those on the scene. Within two weeks of the tragedy, the Secretary approved an extensive list of findings and recommendations and directed immediate implementation across all the military Services. These include additional measures for background checks and new physical security procedures, specifically:

  • New restrictions on IMS possession and use of firearms and ammunition.
  • New control measures for limiting IMS access to military installations and U.S. government facilities.
  • New standards for training and education on detecting and reporting insider threats.
  • Establishment of new vetting procedures that include capabilities for continuous monitoring of IMS while enrolled in U.S.-based training programs.
  • Acknowledgement of willingness to abide by these standards, committing to full compliance with all U.S. laws on-and off-duty.

We continue to work with the FBI as they uncover more information pertaining to the terrorist, his links with al-Qa’ida, and the methods he used to conceal this from us. At the same time, we continue to review our procedures to identify any additional vetting and security measures we can adopt.

Despite this tragic event, our military partnerships and the international military student program remain strong and are a vital component of our National Defense. Security cooperation directly contributes to U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives by helping allies and partners improve their defense capabilities and enhance their ability to participate in missions alongside U.S. forces. We will continue to work closely with them to counter the threats of international terrorism and protect our freedom.