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Senate probe faults Army, FBI for missing warning signs before Fort Hood attack

By William Wan and Felicia Sonmez
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 3, 2011; 10:16 PM

A Senate investigation of the Fort Hood shootings faults the Army and FBI with missing warning signs and not exchanging information that could have prevented the massacre.

The report, released Thursday, concludes that systemic and cultural problems caused military officials to miss signs that the suspect, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, was becoming increasingly radical before the 2009 attack.

It also concludes that the FBI did not share information with the Army - notably, e-mails that Hasan, an Army psychiatrist and practicing Muslim, exchanged with a "suspected terrorist," a likely reference to Anwar al-Aulaqi, an Islamic cleric known for his extremist views. The report says the agency may have dismissed such clues to avoid "a bureaucratic confrontation."

At a news conference Thursday, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said the probe's "painful conclusion is that the Fort Hood massacre could have and should have been prevented."

In particular, Lieberman said the report, issued by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, indicates that the FBI had compelling evidence of extremism that should have led to Hasan's military discharge and made him the subject of a counterterrorism investigation.

The Army and FBI said in separate statements that they have implemented numerous preventative steps since the shootings. The military, for example, has begun requiring troops to report behavior by fellow service members that might indicate extremism.

In its statement, the FBI said: "We agree that we need to accelerate our transformation, particularly given the growing complexity of the threats, but we are encouraged that the report validates the FBI's vision for being intelligence-led and threat-focused."

The report is the latest in a series of investigations of the Fort Hood shootings, which left 13 people dead.

The new Senate report highlights one contentious issue that has become a running debate throughout the various inquiries - whether the Fort Hood shootings were an act of terrorism and not related to the workplace.

The report said the Defense Department "still has not specifically named the threat represented by the Fort Hood attack as what it is: violent Islamist extremism."

Since the attack, defense officials have been careful not to cast the shootings as fueled only by Hasan's religion. Lieberman, chairman of the homeland security committee, and Sen. Susan M. Collins (Maine), the ranking Republican on the panel, have long pointed to the Fort Hood shootings as evidence of wider systemic problems in the fight against domestic terrorism.

In their report, the senators say the Pentagon's avoidance of the term "Islamist extremist" in the case underlines its failure to train troops to distinguish the peaceful practice of Islam from its extremist branches.

The report cites an instance in which Hasan's higher-ups wrote his officer evaluation reports in a way that "sanitized his obsession with violent Islamist extremism into praiseworthy research on counterterrorism."

The argument reflects a larger political debate over how far authorities can and should go to combat homegrown terrorism.

Reached by phone Thursday in Texas, Rep. John Carter (R), whose district includes the Fort Hood base, said: "Political correctness has clearly become a part of the problem. We've become so careful about saying certain things that might hurt people's feelings that we don't recognize real threats."

Meanwhile, John Galligan, Hasan's attorney, reacted to the latest report with outrage, saying the FBI and the Pentagon continue supplying e-mails and personnel files for such investigations but have withheld them from Hasan's defense in the course of the legal discovery process.

"I'm not the least bit surprised by the remarks being made," Galligan said. "But what concerns me most is that all this stuff you're seeing in all these reports, I haven't seen a shred of it. I'm not properly prepared to defend my client."

wanw@washpost.com sonmezf@washpost.com

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