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2013-09-17

How Did D.C. Navy Yard Gunman Get Security Clearance While Being Treated by VA for Mental Illness?

Guests

Matt Apuzzo, a reporter for the Associated Press.

Adam Goldman, a reporter for the Associated Press.

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A gunman opened fire at a naval base in Washington, D.C., on Monday, killing 12 people and wounding several others before dying in a shootout with police. The shooter has been identified as Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old former Navy reservist who had been arrested at least twice in the past for shooting-related incidents, but who got security clearance to enter the Washington Navy Yard. Alexis was discharged from the Navy Reserve in 2011 following what officials termed a "pattern of misbehavior." We speak to AP reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, who reveal Alexis was treated by doctors within the Veterans Administration for serious mental illness, including "hearing voices."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: Thirteen people died when a former Navy reservist opened fire at a naval base in Washington, D.C., on Monday, killing 12 people and wounding several others before dying in a shootout with police. The gunman has been identified as Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old who had been arrested at least twice in the past for shooting-related incidents, but who got security clearance to enter the Washington Navy Yard. Alexis was discharged from the Navy Reserve in 2011 following what officials termed a "pattern of misbehavior." The Associated Press has just reported Alexis was treated by the VA for serious mental illness, including "hearing voices."

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the shooting, we’re joined by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting team from the Associated Press. They co-wrote the new book, Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America. We’ll talk about the book in a minute, but first to the shooting.

Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, welcome. Matt, start with what do you know, the report that you’re putting out today?

MATT APUZZO: Well, the AP news alert just moved a few minutes ago that said that Alexis had actually been treated relatively recently, in recent months, for a host of mental issues at the VA. "Hearing voices" was the—was kind of the catch-all. You know, I think that the question, obviously, is going to be is, you know, how far along was he in the treatment? What were they seeing in the medical record? What were they seeing in his file? And, you know, could that have—could that have pulled clearances to get in the building? At this stage, I don’t think we know the answers to those questions, and I think that’s what investigators are going to be trying to look for, too. I mean, were there missed opportunities like we saw at Virginia Tech with Seung-Hui Cho, where, you know, he shouldn’t have been able to do the things to get a hold of the guns given his mental treatment? I don’t know if that was the case here, but it’s certainly something the federal government is looking at, the city government is looking at, and reporters like us are looking at.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s something, both having the clearance and having the guns.

MATT APUZZO: Right, and our reporter—you know, the guns aren’t something that Adam and I have focused a ton on, but our reporter in Washington, Eric Tucker, has really been trying to piece together exactly how they got the guns. We know there was a shotgun that he used. We know that there was a handgun. Unclear whether he maybe got the handgun from a police officer or security guard on the scene. And they’re still trying to link up that AR-15, as well, as to, you know, was that his. We know it was near him. Where did he get it? You know, all those things. So I think that’s what the federal government is trying to piece together. That’s what we’re trying to still piece together.

AMY GOODMAN: Also quite astounding, but while being treated at the VA, as AP is reporting, for, among other things, hearing voices, that he had other incidents in the past, and his father saying to authorities that he perhaps suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from helping people at 9/11. I mean, he had gun violence incidents that he was arrested for.

MATT APUZZO: Sure, and I just think, you know, we’re 24 hours into this investigation, and we still haven’t figured out—the gun trace issue is always a difficult one. So, until—I think until we know how he got these guns and how the clearances went, you know, I just don’t want to jump to conclusions about what should have happened or what shouldn’t have happened. You know, we’re only 24 hours in.

AMY GOODMAN: Right, and finally, Adam, that issue of mental illness and being able to have guns legally?

ADAM GOLDMAN: Yeah, that’s a—I mean, that’s a big issue in this country, and we see people repeatedly with mental illness obtain firearms: Newtown, Virginia Tech, and of course the horrific shooting in the suburb of Denver.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, we will continue to follow this issue. But now we’re going to talk about an issue you have followed for years.

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