Pentagon, State Department Creating New Standards to Vet Foreign Military Students

December 13, 2019 6:15 PM
U.S. and international flags representing countries at U.S. Naval War College (NWC) fly during graduation day at NWC in Newport, R.I.

In the wake of last week’s deadly shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola, the Pentagon and State Department are developing new vetting procedures for foreign military members seeking to attend U.S. -based training, officials said on Friday.

On Dec. 6, Royal Saudi Air Force 2nd Lt. Ahmed Mohammed Alshamrani, killed three sailors and shot others at NAS Pensacola. Alshamrani, who was attending flight school at the time of the incident, was also killed.

Currently, all Saudi Arabian students are restricted to classroom training. During a Friday conference call with members of the media, a senior Defense Department official declined to detail additional options being considered to anticipate potential risks posed by prospective foreign military students.

“The training and education of foreign military personnel in the United States is one of our most effective security cooperation tools,” Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, the director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said during the media conference call.

The Saudi gunman was one of more than 5,100 members of foreign militaries, representing 153 countries, currently attending flight training, combat weapons systems training, infantry training, professional development courses for officers, or are students at the U.S. military’s undergraduate and graduate-level colleges, according to the State Department.

To attend U.S.-based training, foreign military members first undergo three screenings. After an individual is identified by his or her military leadership to be a candidate for U.S.-based training, an embassy-level assessment occurs. The assessment includes running each candidate’s name through various law enforcement and security databases, the senior Defense Department official said during the call.

The candidate also undergoes both physical and psychological assessments by a U.S.-approved medical professional. Finally, the candidate applies for a visa through a U.S. embassy, which includes the standard background investigations associated with all visa applications, according to the Defense Department official.

“What makes the U.S. approach to security cooperation different form our near-peer competitors is that the basis of our approach isn’t the sale of goods and services but the enduring relationship that comes along with it,” Hooper said. “At the heart of any defense relationship is a human relationship that is built and fostered through opportunism for U.S. and foreign military students to train alongside one another.”

The Pensacola incident was the second shooting and third deadly incident on a Navy base since Dec. 3. Just days before the Pensacola shooting, a shooting occurred at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, killing three near Dry Dock 2 before turning his gun on himself. On Dec. 3, a gate-runner at Joint Expeditionary Base Fort Story crashed his vehicle into a Navy vehicle, killing a master-at-arms.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly addressed the three incidents and work to each facility is doing to evaluate their security procedures in his weekly message to the department.

“From these incidents, we must take renewed purpose, learning where we can to ensure-greater protection of our assets, information, infrastructure, and most importantly, Our precious people. It is my expectation that each of our facilities will review physical security and emergency response procedures to minimize the risk of a recurrence,” Modly wrote in his message to the force. “And it is my expectation that all of our people — military, civilian, and contractor — be provided with the training, information, and motivation to maintain the vigilance we must all have to spot the warning signs that are often precursors to tragedies such as these.”

Ben Werner

Ben Werner

Ben Werner is a staff writer for USNI News. He has worked as a freelance writer in Busan, South Korea, and as a staff writer covering education and publicly traded companies for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Ga., and Baltimore Business Journal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from New York University.

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox