- The Washington Times - Monday, January 18, 2010

Fear of offending Muslims or being insensitive to religion was likely a key factor to why Army supervisors missed signs that the suspect in the deadly Fort Hood shooting rampage was a Muslim extremist, according to national security experts.

Senior Pentagon officials last week sought to play down or sidestep questions about why Army supervisors and FBI counterterrorism officials missed warning signs or failed to take action against Army Maj. Nidal Hasan before the Nov. 5 attack, which killed 13 people — all but one them soldiers.

Rep. Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a C-SPAN interview Sunday that committee hearings set for Wednesday will examine the two “disconnects” related to Army personnel reports: that Maj. Hasan was promoted despite signs that he had become radicalized, and that intelligence reports indicating the major had terrorism links apparently were ignored.

Patrick S. Poole, a counterterrorism consultant to government and law enforcement, said the Pentagon report did not address the problem of political correctness in the military “that allowed for Maj. Hasan’s continued rise despite his poor performance.” Mr. Poole said an “atmosphere of intimidation” exists in the military regarding Islamist threats that “prevented any substantive complaints to [Maj. Hasan’s] increasingly extremist statements.”

“Everyone along the way was content to give him a pass,” Mr. Poole said.

Former Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr., who co-led a Pentagon review of the shooting, dismissed concerns that Maj. Hasan’s religion was a factor in performance reviews during his career as an Army medical counselor.

When asked whether the immediate problem at Fort Hood, Texas, was Islamist radicalization, Mr. West declined to single out Islamists. “Our concern is not with the religion,” he told reporters at the Pentagon. “It is with the potential effect on our soldiers’ ability to do their job.”

Mr. West said “radicalization of any sort” is the issue and that “our concern is with actions and effects, not necessarily with motivations.”

Adm. Vernon E. Clark, a former chief of naval operations and the investigation’s other co-leader, declined to answer when asked whether political correctness led to the Army security failures. He suggested that the matter is addressed in a secret annex to the report that he and Mr. West helped produce.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on whether political correctness contributed to the security lapse.

The Pentagon’s review, made public Friday, blamed a series of failures within the military for preventing Maj. Hasan from being identified as a threat despite having sent e-mails to an al Qaeda cleric in Yemen months before the shootings.

The review concluded that the Army is ill-equipped to deal with “insider” threats. Mr. West and Mr. Clark said several Army officers appear to have been negligent in assessing Maj. Hasan in personnel reviews and other incidents during his career and likely will be punished.

The public version of the report, “Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood,” makes no mention of Islamist extremism, and refers to the internal security threat posed by unspecified “external influences” on troops.

An appendix to the report on risk factors appears to play down the Islamist threat by stating that “religious fundamentalism alone is not a risk factor; most fundamentalist groups are not violent, and religious-based violence is not confined to members of fundamentalist groups.”

Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a former military medical doctor, said political correctness is a major problem for the military and the government as a whole in dealing with Islamism.

“The culture in the military and the U.S. government is that you just don’t touch religion,” said Dr. Jasser, president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy. As a result, the military is ill-equipped to deal with the threat posed by radicalized Muslims, he said in an interview.

Steven Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, said the military’s failure to understand the problem of radical Islamism is the reason the Fort Hood shootings were not prevented.

“The military is still mired in this murderous political correctness,” Mr. Emerson said, adding that religion, contrary to what Mr. West said, is “every part of the problem” in the shootings.

“Hassan’s jihadist beliefs were that infidels should be killed in the military,” Mr. Emerson said.

Mr. Emerson said the neglect of Islamist extremism “stands in sharp contrast to the military’s decision to weed out white supremacists a few years back at Fort Bragg by throwing out any serviceman who supported the Ku Klux Klan.”

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters Friday that the review uncovered shortcomings in defending against external influences on the military.

“It is clear that as a department, we have not done enough to adapt to the evolving domestic internal security threat to American troops and military facilities that has emerged over the past decade,” he said.

Dr. Jasser said he fears that the Army will use several officers as Fort Hood “scapegoats” although they were never provided the training and directives needed to identify those prone to conducting terrorist attacks.

“We need to begin a national conversation on what is fueling terrorists and that terrorism is simply a symptom of those who mix religion with a global political goal of creating an Islamic state,” he said. “Until we address that, we’re going to see people who are threats fall through the filter.”