Last week, the Pentagon released the results of its investigation into the November 5 Fort Hood shooting (Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood). There is a large, publicly available body of evidence demonstrating that Defense Department personnel missed many warning signs in the years leading up to Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s shooting rampage. But by and large, with some small exceptions, the report’s authors were not interested in how the many warning signs were missed.
The report begins by saying, in essence, that the system worked:
Leaders at Fort Hood had anticipated mass casualty events in their emergency response plans and exercises. Base personnel were prepared and trained to take appropriate and decisive action to secure the situation. The prompt and courageous acts of Soldiers, first responders, local law enforcement personnel, DoD civilians, and healthcare providers prevented greater losses.
While we should be thankful that various individuals at Fort Hood acted in a “prompt and courageous” manner thereby preventing “greater losses,” it should never have gotten to that point. The Defense Department’s system is not working if it is left to first responders to stop a terrorist. A traitor within the military’s ranks, with compromised loyalties that had been known about for years—as was the case with Hasan—should be stopped before his finger is on the trigger.
Therein lies the central problem with the Pentagon’s report. It says nothing of consequence about Hasan or how to stop individuals like him in the future. Hasan is not even named in the report, but instead referred to as the “alleged perpetrator.” The report’s authors contend that the sanctity of the criminal investigation into the shooting needs to be upheld. But this is not an excuse for failing to name the attacker. The whole world knows that Major Nidal Malik Hasan did it.
Nor is the ongoing criminal investigation a valid reason for avoiding a serious discussion of Hasan’s ideological disposition. The report’s authors instead go to lengths to whitewash Hasan’s beliefs.
The report lumps all sorts of deviant and problematic behaviors together as if they have the same relevance to the events of November 5. Thus, we find a discussion of alcohol and drug abuse, sexual violence, elder abuse, and the disgusting methods employed by child molesters. We also learn of the deleterious effects of events “such as divorce, loss of a job, or death of a loved one,” all of which “may trigger suicide in those who are already vulnerable.”
Was Major Nidal Malik Hasan a child molester, a drug addict, or suicidal because of a recent divorce? No. So what does any of this have to do with the attack at Fort Hood? Absolutely nothing.
What is relevant is Hasan’s religious and political beliefs. He is a jihadist, although you would never know it by reading the Pentagon’s report. Instead in the report’s “literature review of risk factors for violence,” one comes across this sentence:
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.
This is a true statement; it is also completely meaningless in respect to the Fort Hood massacre. The brand of religious fundamentalism practiced by Hasan is specifically devoted to violence.
In the days following the November 5 shooting, the details of Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s life spilled out in the press. Within hours, witnesses had told reporters that Hasan shouted “Allah Akhbar!” as he opened fire. Hasan’s business cards were discovered in his apartment, and various publications carried pictures of them. There was no mention of his military service on the cards, but they did include the acronym “SoA,” short for “Soldier of Allah.”
On November 10, Dana Priest of the Washington Post published a copy of a June 2007 presentation Hasan, a psychiatrist, gave to his colleagues at Walter Reed Medical Center, where he served prior to being transferred to Fort Hood. Hasan was supposed to discuss a topic related to his field, psychiatry. Instead, he defended suicide bombings and argued that Muslim soldiers “should not serve in any capacity that renders them at risk to hurting/killing believers unjustly.” Hasan warned that “adverse events” were likely if the Pentagon did not allow Muslim soldiers to become “conscientious objectors” in the war on terror. “We love death more then [sic] you love life!,” Hasan said.
His coworkers began to speak up in the press, too, saying they had been concerned that he was an Islamic extremist with compromised loyalties. On November 11, NPR reported that one of Hasan’s colleagues had worried that Hasan “might leak secret military information to Islamic extremists” if he was deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Another had “reportedly wondered aloud to colleagues whether Hasan might be capable of committing fratricide, like the Muslim U.S. Army sergeant who, in 2003, killed two fellow soldiers and injured 14 others by setting off grenades at a base in Kuwait.”
The quality of Hasan’s psychiatric care had also previously come under scrutiny, it was reported. He used his post to proselytize, telling at least one patient that “Islam can save your soul.” Hasan’s supervisors at Walter Reed reprimanded him for the remark, but nothing more came of it.
Despite all of these warning signs and more, Nidal Malik Hasan was promoted to the rank of major in May 2009. The Defense Department’s vast bureaucracy had failed to synthesize the troubling indicators and consequentially never acted on them. All of this information is in the public domain. Protecting the Force does not discuss any of it.
There is another key detail, widely known, that is missing from the report. In the months leading up to the events of November 5, Hasan repeatedly emailed a well-known al Qaeda cleric, Anwar al Awlaki. (The cleric is currently one of the world’s most hunted men, with counterterrorism forces in Yemen trying to kill or capture him.) Awlaki met Hasan when Hasan’s mother died in early 2001, and Awlaki presided over her funeral. We cannot be sure what transpired between the two in the years that followed, but we know that by December 2008, Hasan was emailing Awlaki regularly.
Counterterrorism officials in the FBI knew about at least some of Hasan’s emails with Awlaki, but dismissed them as consistent with Hasan’s research into the psychological effects of combat on American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was a mistake. Awlaki was the spiritual adviser to at least two of the September 11 hijackers, as well as the underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Awlaki has also inspired untold numbers of recruits to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight American forces. There could be no legitimate reason for Hasan to contact Awlaki.
In recently published interviews, Awlaki has said that Hasan asked “for an edict regarding the [possibility] of a Muslim soldier killing his colleagues who serve with him in the American army.” There was nothing benign about Hasan’s emails back and forth with Awlaki, as the FBI initially suggested, and the mere fact that the two were communicating should have set off alarm bells.
Did anyone within the military know about Hasan’s suspicious contacts with Awlaki? If not, why not? The Pentagon’s report does not say. There is no mention of Awlaki or Hasan’s emails to him. This omission is especially curious since the report notes that the Defense Department “does not have a comprehensive and coordinated policy for counterintelligence activities in cyberspace.” It would seem to have been worth noting that the failures leading up to November 5 involved an especially conspicuous email trail leading to an al Qaeda cleric and that the Defense Department should be made aware of such communications in the future.
There has been much speculation that political correctness played a pronounced role in the events leading up to November 5. The problem is that while many were aware of Hasan’s violent ideological worldview no one within the military acted on this information because no one wanted to be labeled a bigot. But Major Nidal Malik Hasan is not your average Muslim and his jihadist ideology should have set him and others like him apart as threats. This may be the biggest problem with the Defense Department’s “system” as it exists today—no one wants to state the obvious. In that vein, Protecting the Force: Lessons from Fort Hood is symptomatic of the very problem it should be seeking to redress.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.