In the aftermath of the devastating Texas church shooting which took the lives of 26 people, authorities are honing in on the missed red flags about the attacker Devin Patrick Kelley, that could have potentially prevented the incident.
Hindsight is indeed 20/20, and following every tragedy there will always be the inevitable flaws and missed opportunities that are identified. In this case, however, alleged errors pointed out are highly reminiscent of negligent trends that we’ve seen within the defense and intelligence spheres before.
It is clear that Kelley had a history of very disturbing behavior. The most alarming thing on the federal government’s radar was the fact that Kelly was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force in 2014 after serving for two years for assaulting his wife and young daughter. As is protocol, the Air Force should have reported Kelley’s conviction to civilian law enforcement. This alone could have prevented Kelley from purchasing the assault weapon he used to carry out the attack.
Other incidents from Kelley’s past include his alleged escape from a mental facility in 2012. El Paso police told news media sources that Kelley ran off from the Peak Behavioral Health Systems in New Mexico which he was admitted to after accusations of violent criminal behavior. During his service, there was an incident with Kelley in which he brought a firearm onto Holloman Air Force Base where he was stationed and threatened his commanders.
With this “colorful” record, it might sound like a surprise that Kelley was not flagged several times over before being able to carry out the recent shooting.
The truth is however, information sharing has been an Achilles heel of the defense and intelligence industries for quite a long time.
It is simple logic that all members of the law enforcement, defense, and intelligence communities need easy access to relevant intelligence to execute their jobs. Often that relevant data is uncovered by one or two member agencies. This can be for a variety of reasons but most often it’s due to the information not being within the sphere of other agencies’ areas of operations. For instance, the CIA, whose mandate is intelligence gathering outside the United States, may not have access to information uncovered by the FBI, a primarily domestic organization, and vice versa. Many new laws and policy changes have been introduced in recent years, especially following 9/11, that were meant to ensure smooth and efficient information sharing amongst federal organizations. Some of the central provisions of the famed PATRIOT Act of 2001, for instance, were designed to accomplish this goal.
Other acts of Congress created whole new organizational infrastructures to help centralize information relevant to national security. Take for example the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 which upon its passing brought into existence the Directorate of National Intelligence, the office that functions as the center of the intelligence community today.
It is for this very need of centralized information sharing that the FBI maintains what is called the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) what the Bureau refers to as the “lifeline of law enforcement.” The NCIC is the center that Kelley’s history should have been made known to.
That said, the problem persists. Why?
Because although new policies had succeeded in creating infrastructure protocol for efficient information sharing, policies are only useful if people comply. And there lies the issue.
The revelations about Kelley’s missing records have led some lawmakers on Capitol Hill to call for a comprehensive review of the compliance in the criminal reporting systems of all military branches. If Kelley’s long history could go unnoticed, what other potentially dangerous ex-military personnel are out there that we don’t know about?
Other federal offices have already begun their reviews of the incident. The Air Force Inspector General is currently conducting an investigation into what happened. The Pentagon has also requested that its own inspector general review the handling of Kelley's records. According to reports, these reviews will investigate the military’s reporting practices more broadly as well.
Hopefully, this series of self-evaluations on the part of government agencies will produce some helpful ideas as to how the already in place system of information sharing can be more useful in preventing future tragedy.