Almost two years before the deadly Fort Hood shooting by a radicalized Muslim officer, the U.S. Army was explicitly warned that jihadism — Islamic holy war — was a serious problem and threat to personnel in the U.S., according to participants at a major Army-sponsored conference.
The annual Army anti-terrorism conference in Florida in February 2008 included presentations on the threat by counterterrorism specialists Patrick Poole, Army Lt. Col. Joseph Myers and Terri Wonder.
The meeting was organized by the Army’s provost marshal general and included more than 350 force protection and anti-terrorism professionals who came from major Army installations and commands from around the world, according to participants.
Mr. Poole, a counterterrorism specialist and adviser to government and law-enforcement agencies, said his presentation and that of the other two counterterrorism experts “attempted to instruct these anti-terrorism and force protection professionals not just in the indicators of Islamic jihadism, but also the strategic deficiencies in the military comprehension of the overall jihadist threat.”
The shooting at a recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark., in June and the November shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 people have exposed the problem of the Army’s deficiencies in understanding the nature of the domestic Islamic terrorist threat, Mr. Poole said.
The incidents have raised questions about whether the Army made any effort to “operationalize” the threat warnings from the 2008 conference and develop policies to counter the threats. “The answer quite clearly is no,” Mr. Poole said.
Col. Myers said in an interview that he was a key speaker at the annual conference and spoke there based on his role as a force protection instructor-trainer.
He also had conducted an organizational review of the Pentagon’s Anti-Terrorism Operations Intelligence Cell, a group that provides strategic threat warnings to the Army.
“I noted that because of our lack of understanding of Islamic doctrines, Islamic Jihad and my view that our counterintelligence function is broken, outdated and being usurped in some cases by public affairs and equal opportunity officials, we were going to get soldiers killed in America, on our own bases for that professional ignorance,” he said, adding that his comments were his personal views and not those of the service.
Col. Myers said he told the conference that senior military and defense officials were involved in outreach programs to “organizations affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and snapping pictures with its foundational leaders in our country.”
“The Muslim Brotherhood, also known as the Ikhwan al Muslimeen, is a global jihad organization that fundamentally shares the same objectives as the ‘combat jihad’ groups like al Qaeda, but orients on ‘cultural jihad’ — subversion, infiltration and proselytization,” he said. “By its own long-standing strategic documents, … they say they exist in America to destroy our civilization and replace it with an Islamic one.”
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Nathan Banks declined to comment on the specifics of the Army conference.
However, “in light of the Fort Hood tragedy, we are currently reviewing potential vulnerabilities and methods of combating external and internal threats,” Col. Banks said.
The Pentagon-wide review led by former Army Secretary Togo West and retired Adm. Vern Clark, former chief of naval operations, as well as an Army review “have been focused on identifying those vulnerabilities and developing ways to mitigate those threats,” Col. Banks said.
Mr. Poole said the Pentagon’s outreach program to some Muslim groups, including photographs of senior defense officials associating with questionable domestic Muslim leaders and groups, gave “legitimacy” to some of the organizations promoting the ideology embraced by Maj. Nidal Hasan, the suspect in the shooting rampage at Fort Hood that killed 13 people.
“These embarrassing photo-ops occur because the military is not well-schooled on the jihadist threat in America, and because fundamentally the national security establishment does not have a fully elaborated threat model for the global and domestic jihad,” Mr. Poole said. “In many instances, relationships and events with terror-tied Islamic groups and leaders are organized by public affairs flacks and never vetted by counterintelligence agencies.”
Mr. Poole said an example was a lecture on Islam that was given to U.S. troops at Fort Hood by Louay Safi as the troops were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Mr. Poole said Mr. Safi had been captured on FBI communications intercepts talking to a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in the U.S. Additionally, Mr. Safi’s office had been raided by the FBI in 2002 as part of a terrorism finance probe.
“Amazingly, a Fort Hood spokesman later claimed that Safi had been fully vetted,” Mr. Poole said. “If thats true, who was doing the vetting and what standards were they using?”
Ms. Wonder, a third speaker at the conference, also presented several case studies showing indicators and warnings of mosques in the U.S. that were taken over by Islamic radicals, many linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. The mosques are being used as “hubs” and support systems for active terrorist cells, she told the conference.
Col. Myers said his presentation in 2008 represents a failure to strategically understand the full nature of the threat facing the United States in the war on terrorism. “Unfortunately, such strategic failings at senior leader levels cannot help but result in tactical failings, such as the Fort Hood terrorist attack,” he said. “It demonstrates that we don’t get it.”
Mr. Poole noted the case of Army Sgt. Hasan Karim Akbar, who killed two fellow soldiers in Kuwait in 2003. Akbar was sentenced to death for the killing.
“Our conclusion was that ignorance and inaction keeps our troops vulnerable,” Mr. Poole said. “But our warnings were ignored and no policies were changed. And in 2009, 13 soldiers and one civilian employee paid with their lives.”
Col. Myers said the Army’s recent report on the Fort Hood shooting, like much of current military doctrine, focused on capabilities and deficiencies, process and procedures but failed to address the threat.
“We continue to act and talk as though we don’t understand it and that there is a level of ‘uncertainty’ — a word overused today in military parlance — as to who our enemy is and at this point, that can no longer be tolerated,” he said.
“All federal and commissioned officers take an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and that mandates a duty to be clear on who the enemies of our Constitution are, and a failure to know is a failure of duty.”