Why did Aaron Alexis get a security clearance?

It turns out that there were a lot of danger signs about Aaron Alexis, but none of them prevented him getting a "secret" security clearance. Reuters:

"He did have a secret clearance. And he did have a CAC (common access card)," said Thomas Hoshko, CEO of The Experts Inc, which was helping service the Navy Marine Corps Intranet as a subcontractor for HP Enterprise Services, part of Hewlett-Packard Co.

AP's Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman report some disturbing background facts:

 U.S. law enforcement officials are telling The Associated Press that the Navy contractor identified as the gunman in the mass shootings at the Washington Navy Yard had been suffering a host of serious mental issues, including paranoia and a sleep disorder. He also had been hearing voices in his head, the officials said.

Aaron Alexis, 34, 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. The Navy had not declared him mentally unfit, which would have rescinded a security clearance that Alexis had from his earlier time in the Navy Reserves.

The New York Post adds:

He was stationed at the Naval Air Station in Forth Worth, Texas, as a petty officer third class before he was given a general discharge after a "pattern of misconduct," military records show. Despite the trouble, he was awarded the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal. Alexis stayed in the Fort Worth area, in the city of White Settlement,and worked as a waiter in a Thai restaurant called the Happy Bowl. He spoke Thai and lived for a short time in a bungalow near a local Buddhist temple.

A temple member said Alexis could chant better than some of the Thai worshippers. But the vet was disgruntled over military dismissal. "He thought he never got a promotion because of the color of his skin," said the fellow congregant, Ty Thairintr.

"He hated his commander."

So why on earth was such a man given a security clearance? Paul Mirengoff of Powerline has a plausible explanation:

According to reports, Alexis was arrested in Seattle in 2004 for shooting out the tires of a parked car. Apparently, he did so in a rage because he felt two construction workers had disrespected him.

The Seattle police said today that it referred Alexis' case to the Seattle Municipal Court for charges of property damage and discharge of a firearm. But there's no indication that Alexis was ever prosecuted. And a spokesperson for the Seattle City Attorney's Office claims that it never received the report from police and so did not review the matter for possible charges.

If Alexis had been prosecuted and convicted, I don't know that he would have gone to jail. But in a healthy, properly functioning society, he would have served time. And he certainly wouldn't have walked due to faulty paperwork.

But let's take Alexis' situation one step further. If Alexis been convicted of discharging a firearm in public, prospective employers who conduct background checks (including, presumably, the Navy) would likely have learned of the conviction. Given the obvious threat posed by someone who shoots guns at cars because he feels disrespected, rational employers would have refused to hire Alexis.

But the civil rights community and the EEOC are inclined to sue employers whose criminal background check policies exclude black applicants in disproportionate numbers, which most such policies do. As an African-American, Alexis could have been a plaintiff in a private suit or a claimant in a government suit.

Keep in mind that in an EEOC suit, the employer must prove that there is a valid work-related reason to screen persons with a history of violence, and as Mirengoff points out, when an incident is years in the past, pressure exists to disregard it.

It's too early to reach any conclusions, but this incident may be related to racial animus, and it may have been enabled by disparate impact theory of civil rights law. We don't even know who all the victims were. But I wonder about the racial composition of the group of his targets.