Navy officers knew that Aaron Alexis had been arrested in 2004 for shooting out the tires of a car -- in a blackout fueled by anger -- and yet they admitted him into the Navy and granted him security clearance anyway, a senior Naval officer told CNN.
"It appears as if investigators were aware of the incident, interviewed him and were satisfied that it did not preclude granting the clearance," the officer said.
Alexis, who killed 12 people Monday at the Washington Navy Yard, was a military contractor who used a valid identification to gain access to the secured facility, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.
But experts, lawmakers and many in the media are now asking how Alexis was able to obtain that clearance, given his previous run-ins with the law -- some involving guns -- as well his checkered past in the Navy and a history of mental illness.
Did government background investigations dig up the things about Alexis that news agencies managed to find out within hours?
Experts weigh in
Alexis "should have been screened out early on in his enlistment," said one expert on Navy processes, who asked not to be identified. "The Navy and the various entities responsible for his adjudication were either unwilling or worse unable to determine he was unfit for service in the United States Navy."
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.
And private experts told CNN Alexis shouldn't have kept his clearance.
"In all of my experience with this, he absolutely should not have gotten a clearance. Anybody that I've encountered with any kind -- even half of this record -- does not get a clearance," said private attorney Sheldon Cohen, who specializes in clearance cases.
The gun arrests alone should have disqualified him, Cohen said.
A checkered past
The shooter at the Washington Navy Yard had a "pattern of misconduct" as a Navy reservist and sporadic run-ins with the law, and had contacted two Veterans Affairs hospitals for apparent psychological issues, sources have told CNN.
At around 8 in the morning on May 6, 2004, Alexis used his Glock to shoot out two of the tires of a 1986 Honda Accord near a Seattle, Washington, home where Alexis was residing. He was ultimately arrested and charged with "malicious mischief." Alexis said that the owners of the car "had disrespected him" and that, he claimed, led "to what Alexis described as a 'black-out' fueled by anger," according to the police report.
Alexis also was arrested on a gun-related offense in 2010 as well as on a disorderly charge in 2008, but he was never prosecuted. Also, although he was honorably discharged as a Navy reservist, he had at least eight instances of misconduct while on duty, according to a US defense official.
So why was he given clearance?
"The way it happens is a poor background check," says Tim Clemente, a former FBI counterterrorism agent.
Navy officials are going back to see if his clearance should have been pulled.
"We're looking at his entire service record," Navy spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told CNN's The Situation Room. "See what red flags, if any, were missed, and if there's an accounting to be done."
How clearance works
Contractors can receive three levels of clearance: confidential, secret and top secret. Alexis had secret clearance, the middle category.
A Defense Department office oversees clearance. Applicants fill out a very long form, which asks about any contact with police, charges and convictions. The form also asks about mental instability. Interviews with applicants follow.
Before obtaining clearance as a contractor, Alexis would have theoretically been investigated by the Office of Personnel Management and ultimately granted clearance by "DONCAF" -- the Department of the Navy's Central Adjudication Facility, in Fort Meade, Maryland.
An official at DONCAF refused to comment, referring CNN to the Pentagon.
Kirby told CNN he couldn't speak for DONCAF or its process, but Alexis "passed a routine security clearance back in 2007 when he enlisted. It was good for 10 years."