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Here's How the Navy Yard Killer Managed to Keep His Security Clearance

Officials probing Aaron Alexis's background and possible motivation for killing 12 Navy Yard employees are facing the very real possibility that the massacre isn't a the result of a troubled man slipping through cracks in the system so much as an example of a flawed system working exactly as designed.

Early reports suggest that Alexis was a heavy drinker with anger issues and a history of run-ins with both the military and the law, including eight instances where Navy superiors cited him for misconduct and three occasions when he was arrested on a variety of charges, including possible gun crimes.

A military official familiar with the case, however, said that none of that would have been enough to raise the types of red flags that would have prevented Alexis from obtaining the badge that allowed him to walk into the secure Navy Yard compound without being searched.

The official's account may be part of the military's early attempts to avoid blame for the shooting, but it nevertheless offers a detailed look into the reasons Alexis may have been able to carry out his rampage.

The official said the Navy did a background check on Alexis when he enlisted in May 2007, but it turned up no irregularities. He received a "secret" clearance in March 2008 after completing an SF-86, the lengthy government-wide form that requires applicants to disclose if they have criminal convictions, financial problems, or ongoing treatment for mental issues unrelated to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Alexis didn't have any of those issues to disclose.

On the surface, that seems hard to square with the fact that Alexis was arrested in 2004 after walking out of his home and using a Glock handgun to fire two bullets into the rear wheels of a car belonging to a construction worker who Alexis claimed had disrespected him. Alexis admitted to shooting out the tires, but told police he had acted while in an anger-induced "blackout." He was arrested, but ultimately did not face charges.

That, the official said, is one of the keys to understanding how Alexis received and maintained his security clearance. The official said a service member would normally need to be convicted of a crime, not simply arrested, to lose his or her clearance. Alexis, for all of his troubles with the law, was never tried or convicted.

Alexis's misconduct during the four years he spent in the Navy also failed to raise red flags. He had one citation for disorderly conduct, but most of the rest were for relatively minor offenses like showing up late to work. Fox News reported that Alexis was demoted in 2008, for instance, as punishment for a daylong "unauthorized absence" from his post. He successfully appealed the move and won back his old rank, however. A Navy official said none of the misconduct rose to the level where superior officers would have tried to court-martial him or take away his clearance.

Alexis kept his security clearance when he left the military in January 2011. In September 2012, he got a new job with The Experts, a Hewlett-Packard subcontractor working on an IT project for the Navy. The company's CEO, Thomas Hoshko, told the Washington Post that he confirmed Alexis' security clearance with the Pentagon when Alexis was first hired and did so again this past June.

Hoshko told the paper that he wouldn't have hired Alexis if he had known about his prior arrests and that he relied on the military to ensure that people like Alexis deserved their clearances. The military official, by contrast, said the firm had the option of requesting and paying for the government to conduct a new background check on Alexis or any other potential employee, but that there was no indication that the company had chosen to do so. Hoshko and others from The Experts didn't respond to repeated emails and calls.

It's unclear if a new check would have uncovered anything that would have prompted military officials to give Alexis additional scrutiny to revoke his security clearance altogether, but that may have been one of the final opportunities to prevent the Navy Yard massacre.

"That's the 'what if,'" the military official said. "That's the big question mark."

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What We Know About the Navy Yard Shooter

On Monday, Aaron Alexis entered the Navy Yard facility in Washington, D.C. and went on a shooting spree, killing 12 and wounding several others.

But who exactly was Alexis, and what drove him to commit such a horrendous act? Reports on Alexis's past have been filtering out over the past 24 hours, and they paint a picture of an unstable man with a history of mental illness and trouble with the law. Here are four key elements of his biography that provide some clues as to why he would carry out the worst attack on an American military base since the 2009 shooting at Ft. Hood, Texas.

A history of arrests: Prior to Monday's rampage, Alexis had been arrested three times on a range of charges, including gun crimes. Alexis's first run-in with police occurred on the morning of May 6, 2004, when he walked out of his home and fired two bullets into the rear wheels of a car belonging to a construction worker who Alexis claimed had disrespected him, firing a third round into the air. Alexis admitted to discharging the weapon, but told police he had acted while in an anger-induced "blackout." He was arrested, but ultimately did not face charges. Then, during the early-morning hours of Aug. 10, 2008, Alexis once more found himself on the wrong side of the law when he was thrown out of a club for damaging the furnishings. Once outside, he proceeded to cuss up a storm and refused to stop. "Fuck y'all, this is bullshit," he said, according to the police report from the incident. Police held him in jail for two nights. By 2010, Alexis was living in a gated apartment complex in Fort Worth, Texas, where he managed to put a bullet through his roof and his upstairs neighbor's apartment. Alexis claimed that it was an accident and that his greasy hands had slipped while he was cleaning his pistol. His neighbor refused to believe that explanation and maintained that Alexis had intentionally retaliated against her after lodging several complaints about her making too much noise. Police once more arrested Alexis for discharging a firearm, but the district attorney declined to press charges. Despite these arrests, Alexis passed a background check commissioned by his employer, The Experts, three months ago. That check revealed only a traffic violation and turned up no evidence that he had twice been arrested on weapons charges.

A history of mental illness: While Alexis served as a reservist in the Navy from 2007 to 2011 and never saw combat, he may nonetheless have been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the condition that has afflicted thousands of American veterans. Following his 2004 arrest in Seattle, Alexis told police that he had been in New York City for the 9/11 attacks and, according to the police report, described "how those events had disturbed him." Alexis's father further told police that his son had assisted in rescue efforts and "had experienced anger management problems that the family believed was associated with PTSD." While living in Fort Worth, acquaintances say, Alexis drank heavily. "He can start drinking at 9:30 in the morning. He drinks often and for fun, but it was never a problem," Oui Suthamtewakul, who spent most of the past three years living with Alexis, told the Washington Post. More recently, Alexis's mental health problems appeared to have worsened. As of August, he was receiving treatment at a Veterans Administration hospital for a slew of issues, including paranoia and a sleep disorder. Law enforcement officials also told the Associated Press that Alexis had been hearing voices in his head. A month ago, he experienced such severe hallucinations that he called the Newport, Rhode Island police department. Alexis told police that a person he had gotten into an argument with "had sent three people to follow him and to keep him awake by talking to him and sending vibrations to his body."

A checkered Navy career: Over the course of his four-year career in the Navy, Alexis was cited at least eight times for misconduct. Those citations stemmed from a combination of infractions, including his repeated arrests and allegations of insubordination against his superior officers. Alexis was never court marshaled for his behavior but did receive administrative punishments on three occasions. According to a Navy official who spoke with the Post, Alexis was cited for disorderly conduct, insubordination, and unexplained absences from work. In response to his pattern of behavior, the Navy had tried to kick him out of the force on a general discharge, which would have been a blotch on his record and a red flag to future employers. But while those proceedings were moving forward slowly, Alexis informed the Navy that he wished to leave. Seeing an opportunity to get rid of a troubled recruit, the Navy shunted him out the door with an honorable discharge in 2011. According to Thomas Hoshko, the CEO of The Experts, the IT firm that had employed Alexis as part of its sub-contract to carry out IT work for the Navy, Alexis had held a secret security clearance since 2007 -- one that was recently reviewed and reapproved. Hoshko told the Post that he would not have hired Alexis had he known about his troubled background.

A legally purchased firearm: Despite Alexis's history of mental health issues, he appears to have legally obtained at least one of the weapons used in Monday's massacre. Though it was initially reported that Alexis used an AR-15 -- the same type of rifle used in the December shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school -- police now say he used a shotgun and two pistols in his attack on the Navy Yard. Law enforcement officials say that Alexis brought the shotgun with him and picked the two handguns off of his victims. According to a Lorton, Virginia gun-dealer, Alexis purchased the shotgun, a Remington 870, on Sunday, and store employees entered his name into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, receiving approval for the sale.

FBI via Getty Images