The Obama administration on Tuesday had the president’s National Security Council take control of congressional briefings on the Fort Hood killings and asked Democratic leaders to delay a probe, as top Republicans said intelligence shortcomings blamed for failing to prevent the 9/11 attacks are re-emerging.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said that the NSC had taken over the briefings “due to the high visibility of the issues surrounding the tragic event at Fort Hood,” and that Democratic leaders agreed to postpone any congressional action on the shootings.
“This is a somewhat complicated case,” the Texas Democrat said of the Nov. 6 rampage, attributed to Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, that left 13 dead and 29 wounded on the country’s largest Army post.
He said Congress should give “the guys who are charged with protecting this country, protecting our national security” time to do their work and “wait until all the facts are in.”
But Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the intelligence committee, said the country cannot afford to wait to find out if failures in the intelligence community and the Pentagon are allowing other potential attackers to fester within the military.
“The prosecutor in this case is not assigned the responsibility to take a look into the process of how to keep America safe. That is the responsibility of Congress,” he said. “It has to happen now. This is not something we should take weeks or months to wait on.”
Mr. Hoekstra and the other eight Republicans on the committee outlined their concerns in a letter Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, that called for an immediate investigation.
“The future security of over 300 million Americans is far more pressing than after-the-fact investigation of one man,” the letter said.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the intelligence committee will continue its oversight work of the Fort Hood tragedy.
“Chairman Reyes remains committed to ensuring that the committee receives pertinent and timely information from the Executive Branch,” he said.
Earlier in the day, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said that a congressional probe would be appropriate, though he did not discuss the timing and warned against politicizing the Fort Hood tragedy.
“I don’t see any partisan flavor to this other than if somebody tries to make it a partisan flavor,” the Maryland Democrat said.
Mr. Hoekstra also challenged President Obama’s decision to try the purported Sept. 11, 2001, attack plotters in federal court in New York City, undertaking a discharge petition to force a vote on a bill to block those trials. If a majority of House members sign the petition, the bill automatically would be brought to the floor for a vote, despite objections of Democratic leaders.
The petition and the calls for an investigation of the Fort Hood shootings, which the White House and Democratic leaders have avoided calling an act of terrorism, highlight what Republicans view as their strong position on terrorism and national security.
(Corrected paragraph:) House Minority Leader John A. Boehner said Mr. Obama’s decision to move confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other suspected plotters shows Democrats are “out of touch.”
“It really begs the question of what is the administration’s overarching strategy to fight the terrorists and keep Americans safe. We haven’t seen that overarching strategy yet,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
Rep. Peter T. King of New York, a member of the intelligence committee and ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, said a congressional probe is warranted, because the same type of “stovepiping” of information that precipitated the 9/11 attacks also appeared to help Maj. Hasan avoid detection despite several warning signs, including contact with Islamic extremists overseas.
“Our concern is: Are there any other Maj. Hasans in the armed forces today?” Mr. King said. “Our concern is that it appears that even eight years after Sept. 11, we still have silos and stovepipes, and information is not being shared throughout the intelligence community or the military.”
The 9/11 Commission determined that “stovepiping,” or preventing the sharing of information among agencies, was a key factor leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.
In one of the more dramatic moments at the commission’s hearings, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft said the No. 2 officer at the Justice Department under President Clinton had built a wall between law enforcement and intelligence gathering, and he said that had agencies been permitted to talk to each other, the terrorist attacks might not have happened. Clinton officials argued, and the 9/11 Commission concluded, that the wall had been in place for years and was the result of a series of decisions.