Agencies reporting to White House on Fort Hood shootings
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
A preliminary review of the federal government's handling of intelligence before the shooting at Fort Hood is on its way to the White House, and sources said they expect the final result to address the limits of the Pentagon's ability to monitor potential threats within the armed forces and information sharing by the FBI.
The deadline for various agencies involved in the case to submit reports to Obama homeland security and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan fell Monday, but administration officials said it would be a week or more before they offer recommendations for changes in the wake of the attack, which killed 13 people and wounded more than three dozen at the Texas Army post.
While the scope of the review is broad, sources in contact with lawmakers and senior U.S. law enforcement officials said that the sharing of data between FBI-led terrorism task forces and with the military as well as the aggressiveness of investigators operating under Justice Department guidelines have been identified as concerns.
The Pentagon is also reviewing whether military procedures hinder the identification of internal threats and the communication of potentially negative information about service members.
The alleged gunman, Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, had been the focus of complaints by colleagues at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and warned fellow Army physicians in 2007 that to prevent "adverse events," the military should allow Muslim soldiers to be released as conscientious objectors instead of fighting in wars against other Muslims, according to reports that have emerged since the shooting.
He had also drawn the attention of terrorism investigators in San Diego and Washington, who tracked his e-mail correspondence from December 2008 to May 2009 with radical cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen and Islamic spiritual leader residing in Yemen who has exhorted followers to pursue violent jihad, or holy war.
Authorities did not take action before the deadly attacks, and President Obama last month ordered the FBI, the Defense Department and other agencies to inventory intelligence records and recommend improvements by Nov. 30. Investigators have said they believe that Hasan acted alone but acknowledge that Hasan's superiors were not told beforehand of the FBI-led review of the contacts with Aulaqi. Likewise, concerns among military officials about his religious and political views were not in the files Defense officials provided to the FBI.
"The consensus among the American people is going to be that they should have done more," said a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official in contact with U.S. officials. "That was a tragedy that could have been avoided."
But the former official acknowledged that the question of how to prevent similar incidents was a topic of contention, as are discussions about whether to expand investigators' authority to share intelligence about non-criminal activities by U.S. citizens.
"In this case, it appears you have the most difficult of scenarios to prevent and predict -- allegedly a lone wolf not conspiring with anybody, and an insider who to an extent has privileged status as a doctor and an officer in the military," said Juan Zarate, a senior adviser to the Center for Strategic and International Studies and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism from 2005 to 2009. "We need to find ways of dealing with the long-term implications of violent ideologies. That's how were going to prevent these things long term."
Several sources said military personnel records provided to FBI investigators contained no relevant "derogatory information" about Hasan. Instead, performance evaluations endorsed him as patriotic, leading to his elevation to major in May.
It is unclear from such records whether concerns about Hasan's views about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were reported to counterintelligence or law enforcement authorities.
The Defense Department "needs the structure, resources and training to investigate and communicate threats among its personnel" if it hopes to prevent shootings, spying and the deployment of unsuitable personnel, another former senior counterterrorism official said.
Members of Congress also questioned the performance of some FBI officials. An FBI-led task force in San Diego sent most of Hasan's suspect e-mails to counterparts in Washington early this year, who conducted an assessment but did not open a preliminary investigation or discuss the case with Hasan's superiors, sources said. These sources and others in this story spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing review.
But lawmakers have identified at least two troubling e-mails that were intercepted later and that the San Diego FBI office did not forward after learning that a Defense analyst in the FBI's Washington field office assessed that the chatter was innocent and in keeping with Hasan's research interests. Agents in San Diego judged that they were in line with earlier correspondence.
"Everybody has an obligation on a task force, if they see evidence of a crime or a security concern, to act on it," the former senior official said. "The FBI or somebody else should have said no, this is a concern, and directed someone [in the military] . . . to follow up."
Staff writer Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.