The Air Force failed to provide the FBI information on domestic abuse charges and 2012 court martial that could have prevented the Texas church shooter from obtaining guns, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson acknowledged Thursday.
“The offenses for which the shooter in Texas was court-martialed should have been reported, and that’s why we launched a full-scale review of this case, and all others like it,” Wilson said in a briefing to reporters at the Pentagon.
As the Air Force conducts its investigation, Military Times has learned that one of the auditing agencies now tasked to look — again — at whether the military fails to report service member convictions to the FBI had cleared the Air Force in 2014. The clearance came after the service reported it had corrected “flaws” that had let previous records slip through the cracks.
The Department of Defense Inspector General found in 2014 that the Air Force — and all the other services — were not reporting criminal incident data in all cases to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as required by law.
The inspector general made recommendations for each service.
First, it recommended each service report accurate and complete information to the Defense Incident‑Based Reporting System, or DIBRS, which feeds into the FBI’s crime information databases, within 15 working days after the end of each month. It also recommended that any DIBRS errors be corrected within 30 days.
The Air Force, in response to the IG, reported back that it had taken corrective action. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations said it had “corrected the internal process flaw which allowed a lapse in reporting to occur.” It also said that the Air Force now had procedures in place to have staff “track the monthly data submissions to ensure [Office of Special Investigations] DIBRS data will be accurate and complete.”
The inspector general closed those recommendations for the Air Force, meaning it had verified that the service had completed the corrective actions.
Then, convicted former airman Devin Kelley killed 26 people in a Texas church Sunday with rifles he never should have been able to buy.
Now, the DoD IG is preparing to review all of the services’ procedures again in the wake of the shooting, said Master Sgt. Dwrena Allen, a spokeswoman for the agency. Allen said the agency is still determining the scope of the review.
Since Sunday, as the full scope of the tragedy has become known and the Air Force realized that Kelley’s criminal record had slipped through the reporting system, “the Air Force inspector general has talked to about 100 people involved in this case. We are looking at all of our databases, and if we have problems that we find, we’ll fix them,” Wilson said.
The Air Force inspector general is separate from the DoD inspector general.
The Air Force’s internal review includes a report, a draft of which is expected next week, detailing what procedural failures led to Kelley’s criminal record not being added to the appropriate federal criminal databases. Correct reporting might have prevented him from obtaining a firearm because it would have surfaced during a background check.
Wilson did not say why Kelley’s offenses were not reported, but she said it’s the objective of an Air Force investigation to find out.
“We do think that there was a problem,” she said, but the extent of it has yet to be determined.
Separate from detailing how Kelley obtained his firearms, the Air Force is scrubbing its criminal reporting system databases, which Wilson said is “the harder issue.”
“We’re working, actually, 24/7 operations to go through that entire database. Initially, back to 2002, and then once that database is complete, we have another one that goes back to 1996, and that will take longer time,” Wilson said.
The service began recording the files electronically in 2002, which is why the Air Force is starting there, she said. It will then go through all the paper records dating back to 1996.
Wilson said there are a couple of different databases that house the information, including one maintained by the Office of Special Investigations and one by the Judge Advocate General Corps, which has all court-martial and command investigation outcomes.
“Our first look is going back electronically to those databases, looking at every case, and determine, were we in compliance with the regulatory guidance at the time?” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein. “That will give us an indication of the, sort of, the numbers we’re dealing with. And then, we’ll determine, ‘OK, how far back, then, do we need to go?’ Because once we go back beyond that, now we’re in a manual review of these cases because they weren’t electronic.”
Goldfein added that 12 of the 26 people killed in the attack had direct connections to the Air Force, "either members or with family ties." He said he plans to visit the area next week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Tara Copp is the Pentagon Bureau Chief for Military Times and author of the award-winning military nonfiction "The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story."