Editorial: Why did Navy Yard shooter have security clearance?

Aaron Alexis, who slaughtered 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, was a mentally ill man with a grudge against the Navy. Yet he walked right into the guarded facility because he had a government security clearance.

If ever there was a situation in which “profiling” could have saved lives, this was it. Yet the government agency providing mental health treatment for Alexis, the Veterans Administration, apparently did not notify the Navy.

Why? The question is one both the Pentagon and Congress should be asking.

After the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, one might have expected the armed forces to be more vigilant regarding threats inside its ranks. There, Army Major Nidal Hasan, a troubled man who had publicly expressed his enmity toward the U.S. military, was not impeded in any way as he planned his deadly rampage.

Alexis, formerly a Navy reservist, believed the service had discriminated against him. He had a history of violent behavior. He was “hearing voices” and had sought treatment, which began in August. Yet he retained his security clearance while working for a contractor at the Navy Yard.

Would VA officials have tipped off the Navy eventually? Or did no one connect any of the dots?

Simply labeling anyone with a mental health problem as a security risk would not be appropriate. But, again, Alexis’ profile was one of a potentially dangerous man. Thirteen lives, including his own, might have been saved had more decisive action been taken in his case. Learning why that did not happen will have ramifications far beyond keeping military installations safe.