Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Congress must probe how the FBI and the Army failed to "connect the dots" to prevent Fort Hood massacre

Fort Hood killer sent emails to this radical jihadist cleric in Yemen

It's time to cut out all the bullshit and launch a thorough, detailed Congressional investigation into how and why the FBI, the Army brass, and anyone else involved failed miserably -- and fatally for 12 soldiers and one civilian at Fort Hood -- to connect the many glaring warning signals about the Fort Hood mass killer -- Malik Nidal Hasan -- and take action that would have prevented his deadly jihadist rampage.

We now know that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted 10-20 emails that Hasan sent to Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born radical jihadist cleric and al Qaeda sympathizer now living in Yemen who served preached at a Virginia mosque where Hasan (and three of the 9/11 hijackers) worshipped.

Reportedly, the FBI decided that these repeated efforts by a serving Army officer to reach out to a well-known radical didn't warrant an investigation -- and dropped it. Meanwhile, the Army knew about Hasan's deeply disturbing and offensive "lecture" and PowerPoint presentation to other military doctors at Walter Reed in which he clearly showed his jihadist sympathies. Some in the audience complained to their superiors but nothing was done. Hasan was promoted to major and sent to Fort Hood where, among other things, he argued about the war with soldiers he was supposed to be counseling.

Forget everything else we have learned or think we have learned about Hasan so far. Forget the sterile and pointless disputes that have emerged in the media and on the blogs about whether we should call his shooting up Fort Hood "terrorism" or "crime" or the actions of a "madman" or someone "stressed" by the nature of his job. If the FBI and the Army had connected these two dots -- Hasan's contact with al-Awlaki and his often bizarre and hostile conduct -- it would have been impossible to allow him to remain as a psychiatrist on a military post.

After 9/11 and after the 9/11 Commission's recommendations were adopted, we were assured that this sort of missing the crucial connections would not happen again. But it did, and 13 people are dead.

We need to know what happened. The FBI is now conducting an "internal review" to see whether its actions were appropriate. There is absolutely no reason to leave it to the FBI to make that judgment. The Army cannot be trusted to investigate itself either. Even without knowledge of Hasan's contacts with al-Awlaki (and we cannot yet be sure the Army was not told about this), the chain of command blundered unbelievably in ignoring the obvious problems with Hasan. If that happened because of any undue timidity in confronting Hasan because he was a Muslim of Arab descent, we need to know about it (or if not, that it was just incompetence). When the Army's Chief of Staff, General George Casey, says a couple of days after a dozen of his troops were murdered at home that he's concerned about a backlash against Muslims serving in the military -- a backlash that has never happened in America despite the 9/11 attacks and all the other acts of terrorism and terrorist plots by jihadists -- we have to wonder whether the Army's leadership has its priorities straight.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, is already launching an inquiry to determine what happened. Other Congressional panels with jurisdiction have also indicated an interest in investigating. While there is always a danger of Congressional inquiries politicizing any subject they handle -- including national security -- it is essential in this case that Congress step up. We must know what happened, why, who did or did not do their jobs well, and what steps we need to take to ensure that nothing like the Fort Hood massacre happens again.

What's your take? Post a comment.

UPDATE: ABC News is reporting that Hasan had "more unexplained connections to people being tracked by the FBI" than just al-Awlaki and that the names and countries of these connections would emerge soon. Meanwhile, the finger pointing has started with the Pentagon claiming (via an unnamed "top defense official," of course) that the FBI never told the Army about the intercepted communications with al-Awlaki.

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