WASHINGTON – The Fort Hood massacre, which left 13 dead and 32 wounded, could have been prevented, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., said Thursday, as they unveiled their report on the November 5, 2009, terrorist attack.
Evidence of accused killer Nidal Hasan’s growing drift toward violent Islamist extremism was on full display during his military medical training, although his superiors took no punitive action, according to the report. Two of his associates said he was a “ticking time bomb.” He had defended Osama Bin Laden and suggested Muslim Americans in the U.S. military might be prone to commit fratricide.
But, a slipshod FBI investigation into Hasan, coupled with internal disagreements and structural flaws in the agency’s intelligence operations also contributed to the government’s failure to prevent the attack.
DOD and FBI “collectively had sufficient information necessary to have detected Hasan’s radicalization to violent Islamist extremism but failed both to understand and to act on it,” the report states. “Our investigation found specific and systemic failures in the government’s handling of the Hasan case and raises additional concerns about what may be broader systemic issues.”
The report tracks Hasan’s growing radicalization in the years before the attack and the numerous failures of the military to intervene or take action against him. For example, two officers described Hasan, during his medical residency and fellowship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, as “a ticking time bomb.” At various times while he was at Walter Reed, Hasan suggested revenge might be a defense for the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and expressed sympathy with violent Islamist extremists and bin Laden. He also justified suicide bombers; said U.S. military operations represented a war against Islam; and stated that one of the risks of having Muslims in the U.S. military was the possibility of fratricide of fellow service members.
“The officers who kept Hasan in the military and moved him steadily along knew full well of his problematic behavior,” the report found. “As the officer who assigned Hassan to Fort Hood (and later decided to deploy Hasan to Afghanistan) admitted to an officer at Fort Hood, ‘you’re getting our worst.’”
Astonishingly, one of the reasons Hasan’s commanders claimed for not taking action against Hasan was a belief that the evidence of his growing radicalization actually provided an understanding of violent Islamist extremism and the culture of Islam. His Officer Evaluation Report for July 2007 to June 2008, for example, said Hasan’s work on the role of culture and Islamic faith in the context of terrorism “has extraordinary potential to inform national policy and military strategy.”
The report also examines the all-too-cursory FBI investigation into Hasan’s activities when he came to the agency’s attention in early 2009; and the critical dispute, unresolved by FBI headquarters, between two Joint Terrorist Task Forces (JTTF) – the anti-terrorist intelligence units created in the aftermath of 9/11, comprised of federal, state, and local officials, and meant to facilitate intelligence information sharing and operational coordination.
On January 7, 2009, the San Diego JTTF sent a memo to the Washington JTTF about Hasan’s communications with a known terrorist already under investigation. Despite the red flags this should have raised, the Washington JTTF waited more than six weeks before assigning the investigation to an analyst from the Defense Department who was attached to the Washington JTTF. The analyst then waited until the last day of the customary 90-day deadline for completing inquiries and wrote his report in four hours, without considering the investigation from a counterintelligence perspective. Instead, he relied on Hasan’s sanitized Officer Evaluation Reports. The San Diego JTTF thought the inquiry was superficial but dropped the matter. FBI headquarters was never informed of, and played no role, in the Hasan investigation.
The FBI’s view of intelligence analysts from other agencies assigned to JTTFs compounded the problem. JTTF analysts from non-FBI agencies were not allowed full access to a key FBI database, which likely would have sparked a more in-depth inquiry.
The report found “compelling evidence that Hasan embraced views so extreme that he did not belong in the military.” It also found that FBI organizational problems have impeded the agency’s full use of intelligence analysts, concluding that the FBI’s “transformation into an intelligence driven, domestic counterterrorism organization needs to be accelerated.”
Among the report’s recommendations to strengthen our defenses against homegrown terrorism:
• DOD policies against extremism among service members must explicitly cover violent Islamist extremism. This is too important to be subsumed within policies aimed at “violent extremism” in general or “workplace violence.”
• Military equal employment rules and religious accommodations must clearly differentiate between violent Islamist extremism and protected religious observance. That way, the thousands of Muslim-Americans who serve our country honorably will be protected from suspicion for practicing their religion.
• Military employment evaluations and personnel records must accurately and candidly describe performance and behavior that could pose threats.
• The FBI needs to integrate its 56 field offices more effectively under headquarters leadership.
• The FBI needs to ensure that its JTTFs more convincingly share information and coordinate operations with other federal, state, and local agencies.
• The FBI must systematically update how it conducts its investigative activities. In the Hasan case, the FBI failed to identify all of Hasan’s communications with the suspected terrorist and the extent of the threat contained within them.
• The FBI needs to use intelligence analysts more skillfully. In the Hasan case, analysts were not consulted by the Washington Joint Terrorism Task Force to analyze his communications and help determine the objectives for the FBI’s inquiry.
• The U.S. must develop a national strategy to counter domestic terrorist radicalization. The reality is that even had the military dismissed Hasan before the attacks, our government would not have been well-positioned to counter his growing radicalization.
This report and its recommendations are particularly important given the dramatic increase
in homegrown terrorist plots over the past two years. Thirteen people died needlessly at Fort Hood. Their memory will be served if the recommendations of this report are adopted quickly so the next “ticking time bomb” can be spotted early and defused before another deadly detonation.