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FBI Chief: Gunman Was 'Wandering Around Looking For People To Shoot'

FBI Director James Comey is pictured earlier this month during his swearing-in ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.
Susan Walsh
FBI Director James Comey is pictured earlier this month during his swearing-in ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.

New FBI Director Jim Comey said the man who went on a rampage at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday was "wandering around looking for people to shoot" and had no apparent rhyme or reason for killing 12 people.

In his first remarks to reporters since taking office this month, Comey said the gunman, Aaron Alexis, ran out of ammunition for his legally purchased, sawed-off shotgun, exhausting a supply in his cargo pants pocket, and then began using a Beretta wrestled from a guard he had shot.

A little more than half an hour after the shooting began, the FBI director said, law enforcement tactical teams pinned down Alexis before he died in a "sustained exchange" of gunfire. Alexis had been working on a "server refresh project" as a contractor that gave him access throughout Building 197 on the Navy Yard complex in southeast D.C.

Comey declined to address what if anything federal agents and profilers had learned to date about Alexis through his writings and electronic presence. The gunman apparently said nothing of use to investigators during his rampage, but authorities continue to try to "understand his life up to the moment of that shooting."

The FBI director declined to address whether the incident signaled a need for changes in gun laws or security-clearance procedures, saying Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had launched a security review.

Comey said his biggest challenge is figuring out how to cut nearly $800 million from his budget because of sequestration — a big task given that the bureau spends 60 percent of its money on personnel. Furloughs of up to 10 days starting Oct. 1 are under review, and the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., stopped training new classes of agents and analysts six weeks ago, he said.

"The couch has been turned upside down" and there is no more change left in the cushions, Comey said. "I'm just not sure people understand the impact of that on an institution like the FBI."

Responding to reports in NPR and elsewhere that agents don't have enough money to gas their cars, he said, "My reaction to that is ... I don't want to tell you what my reaction to that is."

The director said he's broadly comfortable with "useful" but controversial surveillance that authorities used to gather bulk phone records, noting that in his view, there are sufficient checks and balances but that he welcomes the ongoing privacy debate.

Leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that revealed details of the government programs, Comey said, are "a very big deal."

He added that finding and bringing to justice the culprits for last year's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens, remains a high priority for him and the FBI.

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Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.