WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Thursday opened their investigation into the circumstances surrounding the murder of 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, with testimony from witnesses expert in the military, Islamist extremism and self-radicalization, and federal intelligence collection and information sharing.

 “We will look at the Fort Hood murders not as an isolated event, but as part of a larger pattern of homegrown terrorism that has emerged over the past several years,” Lieberman said.  “Our purpose is to determine  whether that attack could have been prevented, whether the federal agencies and employees involved missed signals or failed to connect the dots in a way that enabled Hasan to carry out his deadly plan.  If we find such errors or negligence we will make recommendations to guarantee, as best we can, that they never occur again. ”

After acknowledging the intelligence information-sharing improvements made in the wake of 9/11, Collins said, “the shootings at Fort Hood may indicate that communication failures and poor judgment calls can defeat systems intended to ensure that vital information is shared to protect our country and its citizens. The case also raises questions about whether or not restrictive rules have a chilling effect on the legitimate dissemination of information, making it too difficult to connect the dots that would have allowed a clear picture of the threat to emerge.

U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan is charged with killing 12 of his fellow soldiers and one civilian on November 5. When asked, four of the five panel witnesses agreed that, based on available evidence, the incident was a terrorist attack.  The fifth witness, a member of the New York City Police Department, declined comment because of  the ongoing federal criminal investigations.

In addition, Retired Army Vice Chief of Staff General John Keane testified that he was not aware of any U.S. Army guidelines to help commanders, officers, and soldiers identify behavior that could be categorized as Islamist extremism. Keane, who commanded the Fort Bragg, N.C., army base shortly after the murder of two African American civilians in 1995 by white supremacist soldiers, said the Army subsequently developed guidelines to identify white supremacist behavior.

Lieberman began the hearing by recognizing the thousands of Muslim-Americans who serve in our military with honor and stressed that the Committee investigation would respect them, and every other Muslim resident of our country. But he said, “we do no favor to all of our fellow Americans who are Muslim by ignoring real evidence that a small number of their community have become violent Islamist extremists and terrorists.”

Lieberman also said he had had discussions with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder about the Administration’s cooperation with the Committee investigation with regard to document and witness production. Both said they respected the Committee’s authority to conduct an investigation as long as it did not interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation.

“We are off to a good cooperative start,” Lieberman said. “I am optimistic that we will work out a way for both investigations to proceed without compromising either.”

Collins added: “Our ongoing investigation will also seek answers to questions specific to the Fort Hood case.  For example, how did our intelligence community and law enforcement agencies handle intercepted communications between Major Hasan and a radical cleric and known al Qaeda associate?  Did they contact anyone in Major Hasan’s chain of command to relay concerns?  Did they seek to interview Major Hasan himself? When Major Hasan reportedly began to openly question the oath that he had taken to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, did anyone in his military chain of command intervene? When Major Hasan, in his presentation at Walter Reed in 2007, recommended that the Department of Defense allow “Muslim soldiers the option of being released as ‘conscientious objectors’ to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events,” did his colleagues and superior officers view this statement as a red flag?

“Were numerous warning signs ignored because the Army faces a shortage of psychiatrists and was concerned, as the Army Chief of Staff has subsequently put it, about a ‘backlash against Muslim soldiers?’  These are all questions that we will seek to answer.”

In addition to General Keane, witnesses were Frances Fragos Townsend, former Assistant to President Bush for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism;

Mitchell D. Silber, Director of Intelligence Analysis at the New York City Police Department; 

Juan Carlos Zarate, Senior Advisor, Center for Strategic and International Studies and

Former Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism; and Brian Michael Jenkins,

Senior Advisor at the RAND Corporation.

            Since 2006, the Committee has held 10 hearings and issued a report on the phenomenon of violent Islamist extremism and self radicalization in the U.S., and the role the internet plays in both.