Navy Investigation of Pensacola Shooting Points to ‘Toxic’ Command Climate as Factor


A U. S. Navy investigation has determined that the Saudi pilot who killed three people when he opened fire on Florida's Naval Air Station Pensacola last year was self-radicalized.

However, it also found that Navy leaders could have picked up on a pattern of negative behaviors exacerbated by the "toxic" command climate at the base.

In a 260-page investigation released Friday, investigators concluded that, while 2nd Lt. Mohammed Alshamrani, a 21-year-old Royal Saudi Air Force member, was motivated by anti-American and “jihadist” sentiment, the aviation training climate "likely increased" his chances of successfully carrying out the Dec. 6, 2019 attack that killed three sailors and injured eight others.

The three who died were Ensign Joshua Watson and Naval Aircrewmen (Mechanical) 3rd Class Mohammed Haitham and Cameron S. Walters.

"The self-radicalization of 2nd Lt. Alshamrani was the primary cause of this fatal attack," according to the incident summary of the report, which was signed off by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday in July. "However, his actions and behaviors, along with the organizational environment inherent in the aviation pipeline, likely increased his probability of committing an insider attack. Military leaders, government employees, contracted employees, peers and civilians knew of isolated events and indicators, but all remained unaware of a complete picture of 2nd Lt. Alshamrani's potential threat indicators."

On Friday, the Navy Office of Information, or CHINFO, said that these contributing factors "will be addressed by a special working group, organized by the Navy's Security Coordination Board," but added that the Defense Department and Navy have already taken steps to improve safety, security and vetting processes for all military students.

"The Secretary of the Navy directed a Fleet-wide security stand down, and the Chief of Naval Operations directed the immediate completion of Insider Threat and Active Shooter Training," CHINFO said in an accompanying release. "Naval Forces Northern Command mandated the completion of active shooter table-top training for all Navy personnel in the U. S. Northern Command area of responsibility; additional Random Antiterrorism Measures (RAMs) were also implemented at naval installations."

Immediately following the attack, the Pentagon directed "enhanced screening, vetting and continuous review and monitoring processes for international military students; prohibited international military students from purchasing, owning or handling firearms while training in the United States; and limited access to installations where they have an official duty," according to the CHINFO release.

Prior to flight school in Pensacola, Alshamrani began his pre-flight training in August 2017 at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas. While he was there, officials with the Defense Language Institute English Language Center placed him on "academic probation for ‘lack of growth,'” between December 2017 and May 2018, the report states.

In May 2018, he moved to NAS Pensacola, where he began basic aviation fundamentals training. In April 2019, trouble began between him and one of his instructors.

A key factor was the unprofessional behavior and harassment from a contracted instructor -- and a group of instructors who stood idly by -- at the base within Training Wing Six, or TW-6, the host training wing at the Florida base, the report says. The individual's name and formal title were redacted in the report, but the instructor is later described as a contractor under the Delaware Resource Group (DRG), an aerospace defense contracting company based in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Three students reported that "[the instructor] made homophobic comments regarding their hairstyles and personal grooming," according to the report.

Multiple complaints were filed against the contractor. Alshamrani was among them, after the instructor referred to him as "Pornstache," the report states. Another student also submitted a inspector general complaint about the comment on Alshamrani's behalf.

For months, "unprofessional behavior toward [students] persisted and went uncorrected," investigators said.

"One student reported that [the instructor] referred to him as 'the a--hole' in front of other [students] and colleagues," the report adds. "Multiple [students] reported overhearing [the instructor] tell Saudi students they 'stink,' including one occasion where [the instructor] publicly humiliated a student and sent him home to shower. [The instructor] told Saudi students, 'As long as you don't respect women in your country, I won't respect you either.'"

When the complaint reached leaders within the Chief of Naval Air Training, TW-6 and managers from DRG were tasked with resolving the "incident" with Alshamrani, and concluded the instructor should meet with him to apologize. When Alshamrani was unsatisfied with the apology, the ground training officer in charge asked him what it would take to correct the misstep.

"Alshamrani replied, 'I want his hea … I want something to happen to him!'" according to the officer recounting their conversation. "Although 2nd Lt Alshamrani didn't finish his sentence, witnesses believed he intended to say, "I want his head!'" the report states.

Instead, the ground training officer pressed Alshamrani to "consider the issue over," according to the investigation. The Navy was made aware of the conversation following the attack on the base.

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Submitted 13 days ago

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