Think of it as “do ask, must tell.” A new Army regulation requires soldiers to report behavior by their comrades that might be a sign of terrorist or extremist sympathies — a response to the failure to identify accused Fort Hood jihadist shooter Maj. Nidal M. Hasan.
Titled Threat Awareness and Reporting Program, the regulation directs the head of Army counterintelligence to set up a centralized database of such reports. It also requires soldiers to be trained about the dangers of accidentally revealing too much information online, on blogs or on social networking sites and specifies media leaks of secret data as one of the kinds of unauthorized disclosure soldiers must report.
The regulation, published Monday, updates a 1993 version titled Subversion and Espionage Directed Against the U.S. Army. It is the fifth rewrite of the rules since they were first issued in the mid-1960s.
All Army personnel “should report … information regarding [Army] personnel who exhibit any of the behaviors that may be associated with a potential espionage or international terrorist threat and those associated with extremist activity,” the new rules state. They add that anyone failing to report such behavior could be subject to administrative sanction or even court martial.
A chart of reportable behaviors includes “Expressing support for persons or organizations that promote or threaten the unlawful use of force or violence … to achieve political, ideological, or religious objectives.” And “Soliciting advice, encouragement, finances, training, or other resources from a person who advocates the use of unlawful violence to undermine or disrupt U.S. military operations or foreign policy.”
It might seem obvious that soldiers in a war against terrorism should report evidence of terrorist sympathies among their comrades, but the case of Maj. Hasan, who shouted “God is great” in Arabic before reportedly opening fire at a personnel center in Fort Hood, Texas, in November and killing 13 people, suggests otherwise.
In the months before the shootings, some colleagues became increasingly concerned about his vocal opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but were unsure whether or how to report their worries, congressional and other investigators have found.
In June 2007, while a psychiatrist at Walter Reed Army hospital, Maj. Hasan produced a PowerPoint presentation for colleagues that warned of “adverse events” if Muslim soldiers like himself were required to serve in wars against Islamic countries. One slide read, in part, “If Muslim groups can convince Muslims that they are fighting for God … then Muslims can become a potent adversary ie: suicide bombing, etc.”
“We love death more than [sic] you love life!” concludes the slide.
From at least late 2008, Maj. Hasan was in e-mail communication with Anwar Awlaki, an extremist cleric now in hiding in Yemen, and asked his advice about the morality of an American Muslim soldier killing his comrades in arms. The emails were intercepted by U.S. intelligence and passed to an FBI joint task force that included Department of Defense analysts, but the information was never shared with Maj. Hasan’s commanders.
Maj. Hasan faces the death penalty in an ongoing military prosecution of the shootings. Pretrial hearings in the case are slated to resume next week.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. David Patterson said that although work to update the regulation predated the Fort Hood shootings, the new regulation “does incorporate findings from DoD and Army reviews” of the incident.
“The previous document was primarily concerned with Cold War espionage [and] sedition prevention,” he told The Washington Times. “The new version has a contemporary focus.”
Regan Smith, a retired Army counterintelligence agent who worked on the revised rules, told The Times that work to update them had been ongoing since 2004.
“It is very, very difficult to update these polices,” she said. “There is always someone who’s got something they are sure is so important you have to include it. Then there are the lawyers, who have to put their mark on every semicolon … There are days when you want to shoot someone.”
Jokingly expressing a desire to engage in violence against Army personnel is not a reportable behavior. But joking about being a member of an international terror group is. So is “expressing a duty to engage in violence against DoD or the United States in support of an international terrorist cause.”
In part because of such ambiguities, Ms. Smith said an important element of the new rules is that all reporting goes through a single channel: Army counterintelligence.
“We have 90 years of experience in routing these issues to the right place,” she said, adding that counterintelligence agents are “trained to recognize behaviors” that might be signs of a threat.
“It’s a very squishy area,” she said, noting that after every awareness briefing “we would see an uptick in reports.”
A single database also means it would be possible to check “to see if this person has come up before,” she said.
She added that a single reporting channel is “a matter of convenience and simplicity,” too. “If there is just one place to report all this … [soldiers] are more likely to do it.”
Lt. Col. Patterson said the consequences of failing to report suspicious behavior “would be dependent on the circumstances … and on the commander” who has discretion to enforce the rules.
Ms. Smith said every counterintelligence investigation looked closely at whether threat or warning indicators were missed, and why. “Sometimes people are just oblivious,” she said.
The new rules also state that training for Army personnel must include the “need to be cautious in the use of online social networking sites … and the ways in which foreign intelligence has exploited these sites,” and “Cautions against posting blogs with information about a person’s military duties, military plans and intentions, or any other information which may be exploited by a foreign intelligence service or international terrorist organization.”
“The need for discretion has always been there,” said Ms. Smith, “But nowadays, the younger generation doesn’t seem to mind letting it all hang out there … They need to be reminded that the wrong information in the wrong hands can have horrendous consequences.”