Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Tackling the military's insider threat

By Peter Bergen, CNN National Security Analyst
updated 4:14 PM EDT, Thu September 19, 2013
A police officer runs near the scene of the shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, September 16. Authorities said at least 12 people -- and the suspect -- were killed in the shooting. A police officer runs near the scene of the shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, September 16. Authorities said at least 12 people -- and the suspect -- were killed in the shooting.
HIDE CAPTION
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
Mass shooting at D.C. Navy Yard
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peter Bergen: The Washington Navy Yard shootings not an isolated case
  • There has been a string of cases of veterans and service people attacking military targets
  • Bergen says it's good that Defense Department is reviewing flaws in security
  • Bergen: One issue that slipped through the cracks was status of contractors

Editor's note: Peter Bergen is CNN's national security analyst, a director at the New America Foundation and the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad."

(CNN) -- Aaron Alexis, the troubled civilian contractor and Navy veteran who killed a dozen fellow workers this week at the Washington Navy Yard, is far from the only veteran or active-duty serviceman to plan or carry out mayhem directed at U.S. military targets during the past decade.

It's a deadly combination: men who have military backgrounds -- together with personal grievances, political agendas or mental problems -- and who also have easy access to weapons and are trained to use them.

As a result of Alexis' deadly rampage, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday announced a review of access procedures at all U.S. military facilities and also the procedures for granting security clearances to Department of Defense employees, including civilian contractors such as Alexis.

Peter Bergen
Peter Bergen

Until Alexis' attack Monday, Maj. Nidal Hasan, a Palestinian-American, was the most well-known case illustrating the "insider threat" at U.S. military facilities.

On November 5, 2009, Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, opened fire on soldiers at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, killing 13 and wounding many others.

Hasan had been communicating via e-mail with the militant Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki about the permissibility of killing fellow soldiers. He had specifically cited the case of Sgt. Hasan Akbar, who while he was deployed to Kuwait in 2003, threw grenades at fellow soldiers, killing two officers and wounding more than a dozen others.

Akbar had complained to his father about religious and racial harassment before the attack and had been diagnosed with some kind of mental illness when he was a teenager. Akbar was convicted and sentenced to death. The sentence is under appeal.

More than a year after Hasan's massacre of his fellow soldiers, Army Pvt. Naser Jason Abdo also plotted to kill servicemen at Fort Hood. Abdo had applied for a conscientious objector status discharge because of his Muslim faith and cited Hasan's 2009 attack as an influence on his own murderous plot.

Hagel: We'll fix security gaps
How can lawmakers ensure security?

Abdo's plot was foiled in July 2011 after an employee at a local gun store tipped off authorities that Abdo was behaving suspiciously.

After the Fort Hood attack and a number of reviews examining the lessons learned from it, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued a directive in 2010 ordering the implementation of 47 recommendations to improve "force protection" at military bases in the United States.

These recommendations included giving military personnel better guidance on the behavioral indicators of potentially violent servicemen, establishing a consolidated criminal investigation and law enforcement database for the Department of Defense, and re-evaluating background check policies.

All of these policies might have flagged Alexis as someone to watch given his long history of run-ins with law enforcement and obvious mental health issues.

However, the recommendations by Gates coming out of the Fort Hood shooting specifically did not address policies governing contractors such as Alexis.

This was a missed opportunity because civilian contractors now number around 900,000 at the Defense Department. That's almost double the number of active-duty personnel in the entire Army.

In addition to Monday's attack at the Navy yard, 2013 has seen other deadly incidents involving insiders at U.S. military facilities.

In March, Eusebio Lopez, a Marine sergeant, shot and killed two other Marines at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia, and then committed suicide. The shootings may have been the result of a romantic dispute, according to a senior Pentagon official who spoke on background to The Washington Post.

In July, Tech. Sgt. Matthew Hullman, who worked at the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, confronted security personnel while holding a handgun and was killed. The incident is still under investigation.

There may not be any one answer to the problem of preventing "insider" attacks targeting the military. But there's hope that the review of base access procedures and security clearances just now ordered by Hagel will reduce the number of such violent incidents at U.S. military facilities in the future.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT