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 11:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT