After the fatal NAS Pensacola shooting, Department of Defense reviewed its foreign student vetting process

Elizabeth Howe
January 16, 2020 - 1:14 pm
NAS Pensacola

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The Department of Defense conducted a review of the screening and vetting processes for foreign military students coming to the U.S. for training — after one of them killed three before taking his own life at Naval Air Station Pensacola in December. The results of the DOD's review are due to be released within days. 

On Dec. 6, 2019, Saudi Air Force officer Mohammed Alshamrani killed three U.S. sailors and injured eight other people when he opened fire in a classroom at NAS Pensacola.

Fatal NAS Pensacola shooting occurred in a classroom building

The attack led to the suspension of operational training for foreign military students at NAS Pensacola and other installations as well as a federal investigation and a review of vetting processes.

Just this week, the investigation resulted in the expulsion of 21 additional Saudi foreign military students. The 21 students had jihadist or anti-American sentiments on social media pages or had “contact with child pornography," investigation officials said. A large portion of foreign military students in the U.S. are from Saudi Arabia — over the years, approximately 28,000 Saudis have completed training with the U.S. 

US sends home nearly two dozen Saudi cadets after shooting

The results of the vetting process are expected to be released within days. 

"Obviously, our number one concern is going to be the safety and security of our personnel, other students in the training program, as well as our base family members and communities," said Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Jonathan Hoffman. "The tragedy in Pensacola led us to address the vetting."

Previously, the Department of Homeland Security, State Department, and the student's home country handled the screening and vetting process. Once students are enrolled in programs, International Military Support Offices (IMSOs) assist these students — helping them adjust and informally keeping track of the whereabouts of these students, Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Col. Uriah L. Orland explained.

Now, the DOD has taken a look at how resources they have access to could enhance the screening, vetting, and monitoring of foreign students. 

"We've taken an enhanced look at that on how we can use our resources and information we have to do an enhanced vetting, and that's what we've started to conduct," Hoffman said. "We've also looked at physical security measures...looking at ways to ensure that foreign students who have access to our bases that we're taking all appropriate steps. We owe that to our people, we owe that to the families."

Family recounts heroics of fallen son in Pensacola shooting

However, Hoffman also emphasized that the DOD does not want to end the program. 

"We also want to ensure that this program continues. We believe that the international military student training program is incredibly valuable," Hoffman said. "We've seen over a million students from more than 150 countries over the last 20 years go through this program."

"And just remind people that we've been doing international military training for years," Hoffman added. "Since 2000 we've done over a million students and until the Pensacola shooting we had never had a serious security-related incident."

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