Governor Haslam orders review of safety measures at Tennessee military facilities

Governor Haslam orders review of safety measures at Tennessee military facilities

July 19th, 2015 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

Gov. Bill Haslam

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

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Members of Teen Challenge, gather for a memorial service at River Park Saturday, July 18, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn., for the victims of the Tennessee shootings. Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, of Hixson, Tenn., attacked two military facilities on Thursday, in a shooting rampage that killed four Marines and one U.S. Navy sailor. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

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Photo by The Associated Press/Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE -- A day after he was accused of "dithering" over security issues affecting the Tennessee National Guard's storefront recruiting stations, Gov. Bill Haslam on Sunday ordered a review of security policies and procedures.

Haslam on Sunday also instructed state Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons to assess the process of issuing handgun-carry permits to trained members of the military.

The steps came as governors in at least six states quickly ordered changes in their National Guard operations following last week's slayings of five U.S. servicemen in Chattanooga amid a hail of gunfire at a U.S. military recruiting station and training facility.

Haslam spokesman David Smith told the Times Free Press on Saturday that "the governor has reached out" to Tennessee Adjutant Gen. Max Haston "and we're looking at appropriate next steps."

Haslam's previous lack of action drew criticism on Saturday from Joe Carr, a Tea Party-style former Republican legislator who later ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate and state GOP chairman and is now a radio talk show host.

First on Twitter and later in a column on the conservative Breitbart news website, Carr charged Haslam, a Republican, has "been silent on the issue of acting in pursuant to his oath of office and his responsibilities as Commander and Chief of the Tennessee National Guard."

"Gov. Haslam: The people are waiting for you to step forward and provide the leadership that five other governors have provided to their states," Carr said. "The time for dithering is over."

A sign, signed by supporters, is seen at a Lee Highway memorial for victims of the July, 16 shootings on Saturday, July 18, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. U.S. Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith died Saturday from wounds sustained when gunman Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez shot and killed four U.S. Marines and wounded two others and a Chattanooga police officer at the Naval Operational Support Center on Amnicola Highway shortly after firing into the Armed Forces Career Center on Lee Highway.

A sign, signed by supporters, is seen at...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Haslam's office says the governor has directed Haston to do the following:

* Review current Guard personnel who are authorized to be armed in the performance of their duties, and identify and arm additional Guardsmen where necessary to protect themselves, citizens, and Guard facilities;

* Immediately examine the security of Guard storefront recruiting centers and work with the U.S. Department of Defense to pursue any available opportunities to enhance the safety of those operations within current federal law and regulations.

With all stateside U.S. military bases and stations now at a force protection status of "Bravo," Haston will also review with the U.S. Department of Defense the "confines of current federal laws and regulations to ensure that facilities in Tennessee are secure," Haslam's office said in the statement.

Haslam will also work with the Tennessee congressional delegation on "appropriate solutions at the federal level to secure military buildings," the administration says.

State Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Gibbons will "evaluate the process for obtaining handgun carry permits for members of the military who have received appropriate training. 

"At present," the administration says, "members of the military may forgo taking a state training course with possession of a military ID and documentation of handgun training through their service. However, in light of the shootings in Chattanooga and threats to service members, Governor Haslam has asked that alternatives be considered to make the process quicker and easier for military personnel to obtain permits."

The glass window of the Armed Forces Career Center is riddled with bullet holes after a gunman opened fire on the building Thursday, July 16, 2015, in Chattanooga. Authorities say there were multiple casualties including the gunman.

The glass window of the Armed Forces Career...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Haslam on Sunday also appeared on NBC's Meet the Press news program, telling the nation, where he said one of the challenges is that many of Tennessee's armories are on federal facilities.

"So we don't want to put our adjutant generals in a difficult position of giving them an order that they can't carry out because it's on a federal facility," he said. "So we're doing a complete review to see what we can.  We're concerned, obviously. We don't want to leave our folks out there as targets when we've had such a horrible event happen just three days ago."

Haslam retains limited authority on what he can do on federal ground, so an act of Congress would "help clear things up," he said. "We're going to do everything we can. End of the day, it will be a lot better if we have clarity from the federal side."

Haslam added that it may be more frightening to the public if Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez was a lone wolf, rather than working for a terror organization.

If Abdulazeez was working for ISIS, Haslam explained, it might be easier to comprehend that someone else was pulling the strings behind the attacks. But if he really was on his own, then it's harder to understand and investigate his motive.

"And it makes it really hard, obviously, to think, how do we protect ourselves against that in the future?," Haslam said.

Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said his office is investigating whether or not Abdulazeez was in fact a lone wolf, or part of ISIS, according to an interview broadcast on ABC's This Week. 

The FBI is performing a forensic examination of Abdulazeez's cell phone, computer and trips to Jordan, but McCaul didn't say whether his office has discovered Abdulazeez was influenced by ISIS or not, though he talked about how the terror group operates in the United States.

"We have the threat over the Internet," he said. "Which is a new threat that's out there. A new generation of terrorists."

To attack Americans, ISIS members from Syria are working to "activate people in the United States," he said, targeting military installations and police officers.

In this photo released on June 23, 2015, by a website of Islamic State militants, Islamic State militants patrol Khazer, Iraq, near Mosul.

In this photo released on June 23, 2015,...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

In the last year, Homeland Security has discovered 60 instances of ISIS followers working in America, he said. 

But McCaul said Abdulazeez is the kind of case Homeland Security is most worried about the one that slips through the cracks.

"What keeps us up at night are the ones we don't know about," he said. "And I'm afraid this case falls into that category."

One of the biggest problems in keeping tabs on ISIS doings is the shear volume of activity. There are over 200,000 ISIS tweets per day for Homeland Security to keep track of, McCaul said.

"The chatter is so loud and the volume is so high, that it's a problem that's hard to stop," he said.

McCaul pointed out that Homeland Security thwarted a potential attack during the Fourth of July, and said he thinks the fight needs to go overseas. He wants to find the people who are sending these tweets.

"If it can happen in Chattanooga," he said. "It can happen anywhere, anytime, anyplace."

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