Did U.S. bungle intelligence on Fort Hood suspect?
As the nation mourned the 13 people shot dead last week at Fort Hood, Texas, finger-pointing in Washington intensified Tuesday about whether officials at several agencies had failed to coordinate as they tracked the suspect's activities or to react to warning signs in the months before the attack.
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — As the nation mourned the 13 people shot dead last week at Fort Hood, Texas, finger-pointing in Washington intensified Tuesday about whether officials at several agencies had failed to coordinate as they tracked the suspect's activities or to react to warning signs in the months before the attack.
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama attended a somber memorial service at the sprawling Army post, where the president spoke about each of those killed.
Near the base, investigators continued searching for clues to the attack, with blue-gloved FBI agents sifting through garbage outside the Islamic Community Center of Greater Killeen, where Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan worshipped before allegedly firing more than 100 rounds from a high-powered weapon last week.
In Washington, lawmakers and counterterrorism experts debated whether officials bungled the intelligence analysis or played down the potential threat that Hasan may have posed.
The concerns resonated in part because of similar accusations that, in the months leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes, officials had missed opportunities and neglected to share information, contributing to failure to detect or prevent the attack. Reforms in the eight years since have focused on improving communication between agencies and making intelligence capabilities more nimble.
Hasan, a psychiatrist who had worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, came to the attention of two Joint Terrorism Task Forces in December, as he corresponded by e-mail as many as 20 times with radical imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who has exhorted followers in the U.S., Great Britain and elsewhere to pursue violent jihad. The task of vetting Hasan fell to a Defense Department analyst on the Washington, D.C.-area task force, who searched the doctor's background, employment records and other paperwork. The analyst concluded the chatter was in keeping with Hasan's research interests and that he did not have ties to terrorism, two government officials said Tuesday.
Other facts that have emerged since did not enter into the analysis, including Hasan's purchase of a weapon Aug. 1, his alleged posting to a Web site six months ago about suicide bombings, or unease among some of his Walter Reed colleagues after a 2007 presentation he delivered on Muslim soldiers with "religious conflicts."
"Why didn't they interview him and run this to ground?" asked a former counterterrorism official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing probe.
"I find it unbelievable the FBI was not worried — regardless of the content of the communications — that an author in the U.S. military outside his job responsibilities was trying to contact somebody who is one of the world's most famous advocates of jihad," said Evan Kohlmann, a terrorism researcher with the NEFA Foundation, a terrorism-research group based in Charleston, S.C. "That alone to me is a red flag."
A senior defense department official countered the impression that the military "knew of Maj. Hasan's contacts with any Muslim extremists before this tragic shooting," saying "it was not until after the shooting that his e-mails were first brought to our attention by federal investigators."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama has directed agencies to evaluate what went wrong and ensure it does not happen again. FBI Director Robert Mueller has ordered a "red team" of investigators to fan out and determine whether the bureau should have handled the information differently.
The FBI and Defense Department continue to assert that Hasan acted on his own, without direction from terrorists or radical elements, but they cautioned that the investigation could take "some time."
Investigators said Hasan emerged last year only because he was in contact with Awlaki, the subject of a sensitive, ongoing probe, but that until last week's shootings they had "no legal authority whatsoever ... to look at his e-mail."
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