Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Washington Navy Shipyard: Death, Security, and Voices

What happened at the Washington Navy Shipyard yesterday morning is starting to look less like a terrorist attack, and more like what the CDC calls workplace violence:
  • "Occupational Violence"
    Workplace Safety & Health Topics;
    The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH);
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
After killing a dozen people, Aaron Alexis was killed in a confrontation with authorities. Families are mourning their dead, law enforcement and national security outfits are working at sorting out what happened and why, and journalists are cranking out copy for news services.1

News and Views

I don't have a boss and a deadline, for which I'm duly grateful. I suspect that many reporters aren't as daft as their work suggests.

When your job depends on submitting a fixed number of words in less than enough time, researching a story could be difficult. Add to that the knowledge that editors expect to see 'proof' that whatever happened supports their preferred reality: I'm glad I'm not a journalist.

Happily, we no longer depend on old-school information gatekeepers. And that's another topic. (August 14, 2009)

I won't pretend to be "unbiased" in the sense of having underlying set of assumptions about reality. I do, however, try to distinguish between facts and assumptions. More topics.

He Heard Voices

It's possible that someone used Aaron Alexis, exploiting his reported mental problems. The Associated Press says he'd been treated for paranoia, had trouble sleeping and heard voices in his head. Someone like that could be encouraged to act against his own best interests.

Someone may be trying to convince others that Aaron Alexis was sent by the CIA, Big Oil, Al Qaeda, or lizard men. I don't think so, but I'm one of those folks who enjoy conspiracy theories in fiction: not as a basis for public policy

Applying Occam's Razor, I think it's much more likely that Aaron Alexis acted alone.

On the other hand, I hope that investigators are looking very carefully at Mr. Alexis' life, particularly the last few years. I don't think lizard men are behind those deaths: but as I said, someone could have used Aaron Alexis as a weapon.


Aaron Alexis almost certainly got into one building using an employee pass, but had to shoot his way into another. The pass he apparently used was either his own, or one he shouldn't have had.

I've seen both possibilities reported as facts. Like I said, I don't have a boss and editors telling me what to write: so I don't know if he had a pass, and if so whose it was.

Either way, he shouldn't have been able to get onto a naval base with those weapons. Apparently employees don't have to go through a metal detector on their way in. That may have saved some money, and kept "privacy advocates" happy: but in this case it was a lethal oversight.

After what happened yesterday, it's obvious that Mr. Alexis shouldn't have been allowed into the Washington Naval Shipyard yesterday. He probably shouldn't have been allowed to get a job with a subcontractor that brought him to the base in the first place.

That's obvious today. How obvious it would have been when he was hired: I don't know.

Mr. Alexis' general discharge from the Navy was upgraded to an honorable discharge because there wasn't enough evidence backing up misconduct charges. Maybe the charges were bogus, and he really is a victim of discrimination: maybe not. I don't know.

However, if half of what's been reported about his background is accurate, Aaron Alexis shouldn't have been given clearance to work on computer upgrades at a major military base. With my background, I probably wouldn't get that sort of clearance: even if I had the necessary skills.

Computers, Guns, and Keeping Up

Since Aaron Alexis was working with The Experts on a computer upgrade, it's possible that he had the skills and access necessary to provide himself with a valid-looking employee pass that he shouldn't have had. If that's the case, The Experts, Hewlett Packard and the Pentagon should take a hard look at their security.

We use technology today that was literally science fiction in my youth. Thanks to my eclectic job history, I've kept up with most of the major developments. Folks my age, whose successful career paths led them to positions of importance? I'm not sure that some of them really understand the Information Age. Still more topics.

Unlike some of my contemporaries, I like tech: and think that people use tools to do things, not the other way around.

Technology and Free Will

I don't think guns made a sleep-deprive paranoiac kill a dozen people. Human beings were quite capable of acting badly for uncounted ages before firearms, and I think we'll continue to be trouble when an assault rifle is displayed alongside a crossbow and a palstave in some museum.

I have no problem with people using dangerous technology like LP gas, guns, or computers. I also think that every society needs to find common-sense ways to control how they're used. (June 27, 2008)

Somewhat-related posts:

1 From the news:

(FBI, via CNN, used w/o permission.)
"The FBI identified Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old military contractor from Texas, as the dead suspect involved in 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."

"Vetting military contractors: How did Navy Yard gunman get in?"
Josh Levs, with Drew Griffin, Mariano Castillo; CNN (September 17, 2013)

"The shooter at the Washington Navy Yard had a 'pattern of misconduct' as a Navy reservist, had sporadic run-ins with the law, and had contacted two Veterans Administration hospitals for apparent psychological issues, sources have told CNN.

"Somehow, none of that prevented Aaron Alexis from getting clearance to the Washington Navy Yard as a subcontractor.

"In the wake of the horrific incident that left 12 victims and the gunman dead, lawmakers and military experts are calling out the vetting process for contractors and subcontractors. Did the military even know the things about Alexis that news agencies managed to find out within hours?

"Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican who serves on the Intelligence Committee, said she now questions 'the kind of vetting contractors do.'

" 'Washington needs a lot more answers,' Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-Washington, said in an interview Tuesday with CNN.

"The incidents in Alexis' past 'should have been a red flag that maybe we need to delve a little deeper into this individual,' said retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold.

"The Navy had sought to give him a 'general discharge' due to at least eight incidents of misconduct while on duty, but ultimately had to give him an honorable discharge due to lack of evidence to support the sterner measure, a U.S. defense official said Tuesday.

"But he went on to work for a group called The Experts, which was subcontracting with Hewlett Packard on a large military contract.

"With security clearance, he worked from September 2012 through January in Japan. His clearance was renewed in July, and he worked at facilities in Rhode Island, North Carolina and Virginia for weeks at a time upgrading computer systems, according to Thomas E. Hoshko, CEO of The Experts...."

"DC gunman was suffering host of mental issues prior to shooting, report says"
FoxNews.com (September 17, 2013)

"Navy veteran Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people at a Navy building in Washington Monday morning, had been suffering a host of serious mental issues, including paranoia and a sleep disorder, law enforcement officials told the Associated Press.

"Alexis had been hearing voices in his head and had been treated since August by the Veterans Administration for his mental problems, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the criminal investigation in the case was continuing.

"Alexis, 34, was discharged from the Navy two years ago after serving hitches in Texas and Illinois....

"...He most likely gained entry into the facility with a CAC card, or a common access card. The system does not require workers to pass through a metal detector and usually only requires employees to show the card. Senior military officials tell Fox News that he most likely shot his way into building 197, because that building requires a separate pass he did not have.

"Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said there was still no motive for the shootings and no indication of terrorism 'although we haven't ruled that out.'

"While some neighbors and acquaintances described him as 'nice,' his father once told detectives in Seattle that his son had anger management problems related to post-traumatic stress brought on by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He also complained about the Navy and being a victim of discrimination...."

"Navy Yard: Aaron Alexis 'treated for mental health' "
BBC News (September 17, 2013)

"The ex-US Navy reservist who killed 12 people and wounded eight at a Washington DC Navy installation had received treatment for mental health issues, US media have reported.

"Aaron Alexis, 34, was treated for paranoia, trouble sleeping and hearing voices, the Associated Press reported.

"A contractor for the Navy, he had a valid pass for the secure site at the Washington Navy Yard, authorities said.

"Alexis was shot and killed by police during the attack...."

"Authorities question vetting of Washington gunman who killed 12"
Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson, Reuters (September 17, 2013)

"Washington authorities questioned on Tuesday how a U.S. military veteran with a history of violence and mental problems could have gotten clearance to enter a Navy base where he killed 12 people before police shot him dead.

"The suspect, Aaron Alexis, 34, a Navy contractor from Fort Worth, Texas, entered Washington Navy Yard on Monday morning and opened fire, spreading panic at the base just a mile and a half from the U.S. Capitol and three miles from the White House.

"Investigators are still trying to determine the shooter's motive. Alexis had been given clearance to enter the base on the Anacostia River, despite two gun-related brushes with the law and a discharge from the Navy Reserve in 2011 after a series of misconduct issues.

"A federal law enforcement source told Reuters Alexis had a history of mental problems but gave no details. CNN reported that Alexis had contacted two Veterans Administration hospitals recently and was believed to be seeking psychological help.

" 'It really is hard to believe that someone with a record as checkered as this man could conceivably get, you know, clearance to get ... credentials to be able to get on the base,' Washington Mayor Vincent Gray told CNN.

"He said automatic U.S. budget cuts known as sequestration could have led to skimping on vetting that would have barred Alexis from the heavily guarded base...."

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.