Prosecutors say these guns and ammunition were recovered from the Maryland apartment of Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Hasson. (U.S. District Court filing)

OIG: Coast Guard Not Properly Reporting Service Members Prohibited from Possessing Firearms

On November 6, 2017, Devin Patrick Kelley, a former Air Force service member, killed 26 people in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He was able to purchase firearms because the Air Force failed to enter him into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database as required, based on a previous conviction.

In light of this event, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Homeland Security reviewed whether the United States Coast Guard properly reported service members to the FBI.

OIG set out to verify whether Coast Guard is properly reporting service members who are prohibited from possessing a firearm (“prohibited individuals”) to the FBI. In its February 27 report however, OIG states that when comparing relevant databases with data in NICS, it identified several issues that questioned the reliability of Coast Guard’s data.

First, the databases do not track whether a violation or outcome of a case falls under one of the prohibited categories or whether investigators actually followed through on reporting prohibited individuals to the FBI.

Second, Coast Guard’s Law Manager database, in part used to track military justice cases, does not contain complete information, including sentence or verdict information, which hindered OIG’s ability to determine whether service members were guilty of a crime that would make them prohibited individuals.

Finally, OIG identified NICS entries that did not have matching information in Law Manager, leading to concerns that other cases were not properly recorded. As a result, OIG could not determine the full scope of prohibited individuals or verify that Coast Guard properly reported prohibited individuals.

Despite concerns about the quality of Coast Guard’s data, OIG identified 210 service members who committed offenses that made them prohibited individuals. Of these 210, Coast Guard did not enter 16 service members (8 percent) into NICS. This underreporting occurred because Coast Guard policy did not include a requirement to inform the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) about all individuals referred for trial by general court martial, and because CGIS’s current reporting process does not allow investigators in field offices to have direct access to NICS.

Coast Guard has since updated its Military Justice Manual in March 2018 so that Coast Guard attorneys must provide information to CGIS investigators at the time an individual is referred for trial by general court martial. Coast Guard is also considering procuring a distributed network of “booking stations” to allow field investigators to access NICS, but had not done so as of October 2018.

OIG has made eight recommendations, calling for the Director of CGIS and the Judge Advocate General, Coast Guard Office of Military Justice (OMJ) to immediately perform a comprehensive review of all criminal investigative and adjudicative databases and files to ensure all qualifying offenses have been reported to the FBI.

Coast Guard concurred and expects to easily identify individuals who have been sentenced to a dismissal or dishonorable discharge since NICS was established in 1998. However, Coast Guard stated that in other prohibited categories, there will be information gaps that Coast Guard cannot overcome. Specifically, for misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, Coast Guard will only be able to access records back to 1998 on special courts martial that resulted in a bad conduct discharge. Those records are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration; Coast Guard would have to retrieve and analyze these records to confirm the individuals were properly reported. Cases involving domestic violence that did not result in a bad conduct discharge are not permanent records and would not be accessible as far back as 1998. Coast Guard anticipates providing an update to this analysis by June 30, 2019. However, it could not estimate a date for completion.

The other recommendations are:

  • To modify the Field Activity Case Tracking System (FACTS) to allow CGIS investigators to confirm they reported prohibited individuals to the FBI and identify the specific category of prohibited individual.

Coast Guard concurred with the recommendation. CGIS will evaluate the potential for modifying FACTS based on the time and expense involved, no later than June 30, 2019. It will report the results, including potential alternative solutions at that time. Coast Guard anticipates completing this action by December 31, 2019.

  • Provide additional training and guidance to attorneys regarding proper and complete data entry into Law Manager.

Coast Guard concurred with this recommendation. OMJ will provide training to Coast Guard attorneys (specifically, trial counsel who prosecute courts-martial) on the proper entry of information regarding prohibited persons in Law Manager. Coast Guard anticipates completing this action by June 30, 2019.

  • Establish routine quality control audits of the Law Manager databases to ensure information is complete and updated.

Coast Guard concurred and stated that OMJ has been conducting monthly reviews and semi-annual leadership reporting of the Law Manager database since June 2018. On review, OIG considers this recommendation closed.

  • Modify Law Manager to allow attorneys to confirm they notified CGIS investigators of prohibited individuals.

Coast Guard concurred with this recommendation. It expects to implement a database update by March 31, 2019.

  • Ensure access to FBI databases for CGIS investigators in the field.

Coast Guard concurred with this recommendation. CGIS will evaluate expanding field office access to FBI databases no later than June 30, 2019. It will report the results, including potential alternative solutions at that time. Coast Guard anticipates completing this action by December 31, 2019.

  • Provide additional training and guidance to CGIS investigators in the field regarding proper data entry into FBI databases.

Coast Guard concurred with this recommendation. It expects to train field investigators regarding proper data entry by June 30, 2019.

  • Establish routine quality control audits of the FACTS database to ensure information is complete and updated.

Coast Guard concurred and expects to establish routine audits of the FACTS database by June 30, 2019.

The same day OIG released its report, the U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant who was accused last week of planning to launch a mass domestic terror attack was indicted.

Christopher Hasson allegedly stockpiled weapons, ammunition and a target list of Democratic politicians and journalists. Hasson, 49, now faces additional federal charges for unlawful possession of silencers, possession of firearms by a drug addict and unlawful user and possession of a controlled substance.

Read the full OIG report here

Kylie Bull has 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. She is an editor and contributor for Jane's by IHS Markit, a columnist for security and counter-terror publications, and a former managing editor for Homeland Security Today.

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