‘String of failures’ cited in Fort Hood attack

Report: Warning signs unheeded

An extensive investigation by a Senate committee says the massacre at the U.S. Army Base at Fort Hood, Texas, in which 13 people were killed and 32 others were wounded should have been prevented, but a “string of failures” by the FBI and the Army allowed a “ticking time bomb” to open fire at a crowded deployment center in the worst domestic terrorism ambush since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee investigation, released Thursday by Chairman Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and the ranking Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, says the FBI and the Army failed to act on evidence “in plain sight” that the suspected shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, had become an increasingly radicalized Muslim and was in communication with radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.

The committee’s report says that though the FBI and the Defense Department did not have specific information concerning the time, place or nature of the attack, “they collectively had sufficient information to have detected Hasan’s radicalization to violent Islamist extremism but failed both to understand and to act on it.

“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 says. “DOD possessed compelling evidence that Hasan embraced views so extreme that it should have disciplined him or discharged him from the military, but DOD failed to take action against him.”

The report says evidence of Mr. Hasan’s radicalization to violent Islamist extremism was on “full display to his superiors and colleagues during his military medical training” and that an instructor and a colleague each referred to him as a “ticking time bomb.” Not only was no action taken to discipline or discharge him, the report says, but also his officer evaluation reports sanitized his obsession with violent Islamist extremism into praiseworthy research on counterterrorism.

“The Department of Defense and the FBI had ample evidence of alleged killer Nidal Hasan’s growing sympathies toward violent Islamist extremism in the years before the attack,” said Mr. Lieberman, who along with Ms. Collins conducted the investigation into the Nov. 5, 2009, shooting. “He was not just a ticking time bomb but a traitor. Thirteen people died needlessly at Fort Hood.”

In response, the FBI said Thursday that it recognizes the value of congressional oversight and agrees with much in the report and many of its recommendations.

“During the internal FBI review undertaken immediately after the attack at Fort Hood, we identified several of the areas of concern outlined in the report, and, as noted in the report, have implemented changes to our systems and processes to address them,” the FBI said. “We will review each of the report’s recommendations and adopt them, as appropriate.”

While concluding that the FBI’s transformation into an intelligence-driven organization remains a work in progress, the FBI said the committee’s report recognizes the bureau’s “substantial progress and many successes, led by Joint Terrorism Task Forces, in disrupting terrorist plots by homegrown extremists.”

The FBI also said it is looking forward to the recommendations of Judge William H. Webster, who is conducting an independent review of the FBI’s actions with respect to Fort Hood. It said Judge Webster is “evaluating the corrective actions taken to determine whether they are sufficient and whether there are other policy or procedural steps the FBI should consider to improve its ability to detect and prevent such threats in the future.”

The committee’s 89-page report says there was evidence the Hasan case needed a “more comprehensive and coordinated approach to counterradicalization and homegrown terrorism across all agencies, including federal, state and local entities, which are critical to keeping our country safe.”

And while the FBI flagged Mr. Hasan from amid the chaff of intelligence collection for additional scrutiny, the report says, the bureau and the Defense Department failed to recognize he was a military officer whose behavior during his military medical training violated the strict officership and security standards and that he had contact with a suspected terrorist involved in anti-American activities and the subject of an unrelated FBI terrorism investigation.

The report also says the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) learned that Mr. Hasan was communicating with a suspected terrorist, flagged his initial communications for further review and passed them to a second task force for an inquiry. However, it says, the ensuing inquiry failed to identify the totality of Mr. Hasan’s communications and to inform Mr. Hasan’s military chain of command and Army security officials of the fact that he was communicating with a suspected violent Islamist extremist.

It says the JTTF that reviewed the initial communications dismissed the second JTTF’s work as “slim” but eventually dropped the matter rather than cause a bureaucratic confrontation. The JTTFs never raised the dispute to FBI headquarters for resolution, and entities at FBI headquarters responsible for coordination among field offices never acted. As a result, the report says, the FBI’s inquiry into Mr. Hasan ended prematurely.

Officials say Mr. Hasan walked into the deployment center at Fort Hood and fatally shot 13 Defense Department employees and wounded another 32. The committee’s investigation was called to assess the information the U.S. government had before the attack and the actions it took or failed to take in response to that information, and to identify steps necessary to protect the United States against future acts of terrorism by homegrown violent Islamist extremists.

The report says the FBI did not effectively use intelligence analysts who could have provided a different perspective given the evidence it had. It also says the FBI’s inquiry focused narrowly on whether Mr. Hasan was engaged in terrorist activity — as opposed to whether he was radicalizing to violent Islamist extremism and whether this radicalization might pose counterintelligence or other threats.

“This critical mistake may have been avoided if intelligence analysts were appropriately engaged in the inquiry,” the report says.

Mr. Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the shooting rampage. He remains in custody pending a recommendation next month on whether he should stand trial and face the death penalty.

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