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Shooter's Life Full of Contrasts; Questioning Contractors' Access; Russia and U.S. Squabble Over Details of Syria Chemical Weapons Deal; U.N. Says Evidence of Sarin Gas; Zakaria Interviews Clinton; Washington Nationals Resume Baseball After Shooting at Washington Navy Yard

Aired September 17, 2013 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Into such a sensitive military site?

Here's what we know right now. The shooter, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, was involved in eight instances of misconduct while serving in the U.S. Navy. He had been arrested at least three times, two of those incidents involved guns, yet he was, after all, honorably discharged from the Navy Reserves back in 2011 after what the Navy described as, quote, "a pattern of misconduct." Authorities say all 12 of the people killed were civilians or contractors, like the shooter. None was military personnel. Police just released the names of all of the people killed. They ranged in age from 46 to 73 years old. They are all being mourned.

We're piecing together everything we're learning about the gunman and we're also seeing quite a contrast. A man who studied languages and meditated and a cold-blooded killer. Pamela Brown has details on the investigation.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Law enforcement officials say 34-year-old I.T. subcontractor Aaron Alexis entered Navy Yard building 197 legally, with a valid military-issued I.D. and an intent to kill. His motive, unknown.

VALERIE PARLAVE, ASST. DIRECTOR, FBI WASHINGTON FIELD OFFICER: We're looking to learn everything we can about his recent movements, his contacts and his associates.

BROWN: A picture is emerging of a complicated man, at times quiet and polite, who spoke several languages and worshipped at this Buddhist temple.

MICHAEL RITROVATO, GUNMAN'S FRIEND: It's incredible that this is all happening, but -- because he was a very good-natured guy. Like I said, it seemed like he wanted to get more out of life.

BROWN: Other times he could be explosively angry.

NUTPISIT SUTHAMTEWAKUL, GUNMAN'S FORMER ROOMMATE: He might be a little bit angry sometimes, you know, but I don't think - I don't believe that he's going to kill all those - I don't believe it. BROWN: Alexis was born in Queens, New York, joined the Navy as a reservist in May 2007. According to Pentagon officials, he was discharged in January 2011 following a, quote, "pattern of misconduct." What's it's unclear what that misconduct was, he did have several run-ins with the law. He was arrested in Seattle in 2004 for shooting out the tires of another man's vehicle, described in the police report as an anger-fueled "blackout." His father said his son was suffering PTSD after helping post-9/11 rescue efforts at Ground Zero. In 2008, cited and briefly jailed for disturbing the peace in Georgia and arrested again in 2010 for discharging a gun in public in Ft. Worth, Texas, where he lived until recently, never charged in that case.

Alexis had been staying at this hotel not far from the Navy Yard since last week and a law enforcement source tells CNN, Alexis recently purchased one of the guns used in the shooting at a gun store in Lorton, Virginia. He also passed two security clearances last September and this past July before starting work at the Navy Yard. His violent rampage has left his family devastated.

ANTHONY LITTLE, SHOOTER'S BROTHER-IN-LAW: It's very hurtful. And our hearts are going out more to the victims, the people that got hurt, because, as you know, it's more lives lost and we don't need that right now.


BLITZER: Pamela Brown is joining us now live.

Pamela, I understand you have some new information on the weapons that were used?

BROWN: We do, Wolf. We do have some new information. We've learned from law enforcement sources that the gunman in this case brought in a shotgun to the building yesterday before the shooting. There were three weapons recovered from the scene. We believe a shotgun and two pistols, according to law enforcement sources. We know that ATF has traced a firearm in the shooting and, according to law enforcement sources, this gunman tried to buy that shotgun -- bought the shotgun at a gun shop in Lorton, Virginia.

Also we have learned from sources that he rented an AR-15 and then returned it at a gun range in that same place in Lorton, Virginia. But we've also learned from our Susan Candiotti that he actually tried to buy that AR-15 but was turned away. And according to sources, that has to do with the gun laws for why he was able to buy a shotgun there but not that assault rifle.


BLITZER: What else are you learning about the shooter's mental health? Because there's a lot of questions on that part of the story.

BROWN: Now that's a good question and we're still trying to piece together the full picture here, Wolf. But in talking to law enforcement sources, it's clear that this gunman had a history of mental health issues starting years ago in 2004. His father reported that he suffered from PTSD.

And then we've learned that just recently he visited two Veterans Affairs hospitals and it's believed that he visited those hospitals for psychological issues. We don't know any more details right now. But as we speak, investigators are trying to look at the circumstances surrounding that.

They're also processing 13 crime scenes at this hour using expertise bullets trajectory analysis, crime scene mapping, trying to piece together how the shooting unfolded yesterday morning.


BLITZER: Pamela Brown reporting for us just outside the Washington Navy Yard. Thanks very much, Pam, for that update.

The secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, is ordering a full safety review of all Navy and Marine Corps installations in the aftermath of yesterday's shooting. Lawmakers also want answers about security at other military facilities. Some of them are citing a new inspector general's report that shows the Navy in particular had some security lapses, even at the Navy Yard here in Washington, D.C. A top Republican in the House Armed Services Committee says the report pointed out the safety risks for people who work at these sites.


REP. MICHAEL TURNER (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Shortly after this event, this tragedy occurred, an inspector general report was delivered to Congress that cited failure across the Navy security system for access to these type of facilities. It said that in the inspector general report that the people who worked there were at risk and, in fact, cited 52 felons who had been able to get through the system inappropriately. It said that the system that was currently utilized by the Navy did not meet federal or DED standards and it actually made a recommendation that the system that the Navy was deploying immediately cease to be used. This is obviously of great concern. We sent a letter to the inspector general asking for the report to be made public to Congress so that we can begin the process of reviewing, did this contribute and did this have an impact on what occurred yesterday?


BLITZER: The suspect in this case was a military contractor and a lot of people are now asking questions about why private contractors are allowed access to some highly secure facilities. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining us right now.

Barbara, how does a man like this get, a, to be a military contractor, and get this high security clearance despite what we have learned over the past 24 hours, a lot of misconduct allegations and actual arrest suggestions, as well.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf, and, you know, in these cases, it's something obviously went terribly wrong here. The determination has to be made, what happened? Was there some actual failure in the system where it should have been spotted, that there was this background information on him, and it was not. He, by all accounts, he was never convicted of a crime, although he had several run-ins with the law. It will have to be determined by investigators weather any of this might have legally kept him from getting the security clearance.

This is a terrible incident. No one's excusing any of it. But let's remember, there are hundreds of thousands of contractors that have security clearances. Edward Snowden, the man who leaked the NSA information, he had a security clearance. This is becoming a very fundamental issue about how the government functioned. It can't function without contractors. That's a reality. So now the question is, are the -- if you're going to have so many contractors, are the rules tight enough for the people who get these security clearances? Does the government know enough about them?


BLITZER: Do the contractors get their security clearances from government officials or from other contractors?

STARR: Well, look, a security clearance comes essentially from the United States government because it is clearance to be in a classified work space or get access to documents classified, all of it by the U.S. government.

Now, as a contractor, he may have worked in a program that was run by other contractors, but his clearance would have gone through some type of system sanctioned and approved by the Navy, by the U.S. government. The congressman's raising the question, were these government systems sufficient? And a lot of questions being asked about that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, because I've heard reports - I don't know if it's true, maybe you want to check -- that sometimes the government actually contracts out the granting of security clearances to some contractors. I just want to make sure that we have accurate information on that.

And very quickly, he got an honorable discharge, even though he was cited for misconduct eight times while he was in the U.S. Navy. Why didn't he get a general discharge or, for that matter, a dishonorable discharge?

STARR: Well, here's what the Navy is telling us about all of that, Wolf. There were eight cases of misconduct while he served in the military ranging from unauthorized absences to disorderly conduct, that kind of thing. There were the civilian cases of these alleged gun offenses, but he was never convicted of any of that in the civilian world. The Navy could not use that as evidence against him to discharge him from the military service. So basically they had no choice but to result to an honorable discharge.


BLITZER: Yes. Well, that's confusing me because he was cited for eight cases of misconduct while in the Navy. Forget about what he was doing as a civilian.

STARR: But, Wolf, what the Navy is telling us, I just want to clarify for all of us, for our viewers and for you, those eight cases in which he was cited for misconduct did not, the Navy says, the military says, did not rise to the level of discipline that they could have legally given him a dishonorable discharge or even a general discharge. The way the rules were written, it was not as serious as it might sound. They didn't have the evidence to give him anything less.


BLITZER: I suspect they're going to be reviewing all of that right now in the aftermath of what we now know. But, Barbara, there's a lot more to this story I am sure. Thank you very much, Barbara Star, over at the Pentagon.

We're also learning a little more about the victims of the Navy Yard saluting. They were civilians, they were contractors, just starting their day 8:20 a.m. Eastern at the massive military compound here in the nation's capital. Twelve lives cut short. Last night, a candlelight vigil was held in Washington's Freedom Plaza to remember them. Authorities have now released the names of the victims. They ranged in age from 46 to 73. Once again, none were military personnel.

I want to read the names and their ages to you right now. Michael Arnold, 59, Sylvia Frazier, 53, Kathy Gaarde, 62, Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46, John Roger Johnson, 73, Frank Kohler, 50, Vishnu Pandit, 61. And we've just received five additional names. Arthur Daniels 51, Mary Francis Knight, 51, Gerald L. Read, 58, Martin Bodrog, 54, and Richard Michael Ridgell, 52 years old.

Our deepest, deepest condolences to their families and their friends.


BLITZER: We've just been told that the FBI Washington field office will hold a news conference 2:00 p.m. Eastern later today, the latest on the Navy Yard shooting, the FBI the lead agency in this investigation. Of course, we have live coverage here on CNN. Stand by for that. The FBI news conference, 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Much more on the story coming up this hour, as well.

But right now let's get an update on what's happening in Syria only days after Russia and the United States reached a deal on getting the Bashar al Assad regime to give up its chemical weapons. They're squabbling right now, though, over the details. At a news conference today, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, rejected any U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Syria.

The U.S. and France want to keep it out there as an option.

Meanwhile, the United Nations says the evidence is clear and convincing sarin nerve gas was used on August 21st in Syria.

Monday's U.N. report also says the attack was the most significant one using this kind of chemical warfare since Iraq used it against its own citizens, the Kurds, in 1988 and against the Iranians with whom they were fighting a war.

The U.S. says at least 1,400 people were killed last month outside Damascus. The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon says whoever used the poison gas committed what he calls a war crime and must face justice.

The U.N. Security Council, by the way, will meet later today to discuss what's going on.

Meanwhile, the former president, Bill Clinton, is explaining the Obama administration's policy on Syria.

President Clinton sat down with our own Fareed Zakaria for an exclusive interview. They covered a lot of stuff, including politics, the economy, the state of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton's future prospects as far as a presidential candidate is concerned.

President Obama calls the former secretary -- I should say the former president, the "secretary of explaining stuff," as you well remember.

Listen to him talking about President Putin and who gets credit for any Syria deal.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": President Clinton, you've seen the agreement that the United States and Russia have reached on Syria. You've heard some of the criticisms.

What do you think of it?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, I think if it is implemented, big "if," it is a good thing.

And I agree with the president, Secretary Kerry and everybody else that's been involved in this that the United States needs to stand strong against chemical weapons against the proliferation and use of them.

Now, there are some who say, well, you know, this gives the initiative to Putin, and who cares how it came up?


BLITZER: Fareed is joining us now from New York.

Fareed, obviously it's a messy road out there and the devil is always in the details, but what do you make of this deal that the U.S. worked out with Russia?

ZAKARIA: I think that -- and this is something President Clinton emphasized when we talked -- there is a big upside here we're not thinking about.

First of all, it really has mobilized the world's attention on this issue of chemical weapons.

Secondly, remember, we didn't have any prospect of getting anywhere before this deal. Syria had not even acknowledged they had chemical weapons. The Russians were not going to pressure them.

Now Syria is acknowledging them. The Russians are pressuring them. It brings them into, as Clinton said, the world of transparency and inspections.

Of course, they'll play a cat-and-mouse game and this will be very tough. It would have been very tough anyway, and the strikes would never have done anything about the arsenal.

Remember, that's the most important thing. The strikes were really just punishment. This deal has the prospect of actually removing the chemical weapons.

It may not be all of them. It may be a long and complicated game, but I think if you're really concerned about chemical weapons, rather than using a military strike simply as some kind of punishment, far better to get some kind of inspections process going which actually gets us moving forward.

BLITZER: Let's say the Syrians start cheating or trying to hide conceal. They don't live up to their part of this bargain.

Would you think it would be necessary for the president still to go back to Congress to get a formal authorization or do you think he would just go ahead and launch some air strikes?

ZAKARIA: What I think he should do is not go back to Congress. I think that this is the one bad precedent he set. It is a diminution of American presidential power.

I pointed out to the Bill Clinton when he did Desert Fox, which was four days of air strikes on Saddam Hussein, he didn't ask Congress. President Reagan invaded Grenada, and didn't even inform Congress, let alone ask.

Now I'm not suggesting that, but I think that by doing this detour to Congress, particularly to a hostile House of Republican -- House of Representatives who are Republicans, he places himself hostage to very political forces. I don't think that's a good idea.

Now, what he will in fact do, I think it's tough having once said that you need Congress's approval to now say you don't. So it's difficult to tell what will political calculation he'll make.

If I were advising him, I would say still the best thing to do if he feels that Syria is seriously violating an agreement they have come to present the congress and the American public with a fait accompli of limited military strikes.

BLITZER: I suspect that's what he would do because there would be a great possibility, at least in the House of Representatives, he couldn't get the votes, the 217, 218 votes he would need, and that would be hugely, hugely embarrassing to this president of the United States.

Fareed, thanks very much.

ZAKARIA: As always, Wolf.

BLITZER: You can see Fareed's full interview with Bill Clinton on "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS," this Sunday 1:00 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. Don't miss it.

We'll get back to our top story right now, the investigation into the Navy Yard shooting, Major events across the nation's capital were the canceled yesterday, including the Washington Nationals baseball game.

Up next, we're live outside Washington Nationals Park as they prepare for today's doubleheader.


BLITZER: Many parts of Washington, D.C. went on lockdown yesterday, major events were canceled or postponed including the opening game of the highly anticipated Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals series.

Take a look at this map. You'll see that Washington Nationals Park is just a short walking distance, only a few blocks, from the Navy Yard and the shooting scene.

As many as 40,000 people would have been making their way to the stadium for yesterday's game.

Rene Marsh is over at the stadium right now. They're getting ready for a doubleheader beginning at the top of the hour.

I understand, Rene, that the game will have some special moments as a result of what happened yesterday.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, absolutely, Wolf.

I was out here yesterday, and I'll tell you, things look a lot different outside of Nationals' Stadium here. It looks like a baseball stadium.

Yesterday, just 24 hours ago, this was the staging area for all of the people who worked on that Navy Yard campus. They were being shuttled here to reunite with family.

Fast forward to today, that makeup game will be happening in just about a half hour from now. Now there will be a moment of silence, and we know that the players will be wearing special patriotic jerseys.

We also bumped into a couple of fans. They were slated to attend a game yesterday. Of course, that got postponed.

But how do you feel, Tanya French, that you'll be in there and you'll able to be a part of this moment of silence?

TANYA FRENCH, NATIONALS FAN: It's great to be a part of the moment of silence. I mean, we're so close, walking up here. You're staring at all the areas that the news cameras were at yesterday. It's surreal. I'm glad to know that's something we'll do being so close.

MARSH: Thank you so much.

Wolf, you mentioned it at the top. We now know the names of the victims, and we're starting to learn a little bit more about them, like, for example, 62-year-old Kathy Gaarde, pictured here with her 94-year-old grandmother who she cared for before she passed away just last year.

She was a mother, she was a wife, she loved animals, hockey.

As the day goes on, of course, we'll learn a lot about those victims and they'll be remembered here right at nationals stadium when things kick off about a half hour from now.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Rene. Our heart goes out to that family, all the families of the victims.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN tonight, at 8:00 on "ANDERSON COOPER 360," the shooting rampage at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., Anderson Cooper is there, live, with the latest on the investigation.

And at 9:00 on "PIERS MORGAN LIVE," a test of faith for the man known as "America's pastor," Piers talks exclusively with Rick Warren and his wife, their first interview since their son's suicide, and about what he did when he heard about the Navy Yard shootings in Washington.

RICK WARREN, PASTOR: The first thing I did is get down on my knees and pray for those families.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all on CNN tonight, starting with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" at 7:00, "ANDERSON COOPER 360" at 8:00, and "PIERS MORGAN LIVE" at 9:00, tonight on CNN.


BLITZER: We have much more on the Navy Yard shootings coming up this hour here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

There have been, by the way, at least 19 mass shootings in the United States since 2009. Up next, how President Obama has repeatedly assumed the role of "comforter-in-chief" for the nation.