WASHINGTON — In the first detailed report on the events leading up to the Nov. 5, 2009, shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Thursday blamed both the Pentagon and the FBI for failing to recognize that Army Maj. Nidal Hasan had links to a key al Qaida operative and had become an Islamic extremist before he allegedly opened fire on fellow soldiers, killing 13 and wounding dozens of others.
The Senate report also warned that neither the FBI nor the Defense Department had taken the steps needed to make certain that the mistakes weren't repeated. It said the FBI was using outdated methods to examine intercepted e-mails, that the post-9/11 system of investigating terrorist threats still discourages the sharing of information, and that the Defense Department hadn't identified radicalization as a potential threat.
In a statement, the FBI said it would study the report and implement changes "as appropriate." It said another study of FBI actions was expected soon from former FBI director William Webster on whether the "corrective actions" the FBI has undertaken are "sufficient."
The Army said it, too, would study the report.
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"Our institution is a learning organization and we will continue to make adjustments to improve it," the Army said in a statement.
It was the second report this week that condemned the U.S. Army for failing to recognize clear warnings signs of a troubled soldier that resulted in a major security breach. An internal Army report completed this week found that Army commanders, despite warnings not to, sent Pfc. Bradley Manning to Iraq, where he allegedly downloaded hundreds of thousands of Army reports and diplomatic cables that found their way to the WikiLeaks website. McClatchy first reported on the details of that report last Thursday.
The Senate committee launched its investigation last year out of frustration that the government wouldn't provide it with details of internal investigations into the Fort Hood shootings. While the Pentagon has released a report detailing 47 changes that it had made in response to its own investigation, it hasn't made the investigation itself public.
In a footnote, the Senate committee also complained that government officials had insisted on deleting information from its report. "We take issue with the extent of these redactions . . . but have consented to them in order to produce this report in a timely fashion," the report said.
The report, which was directed by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., painted a damning portrait of fumbling on the part of both entities.
Hasan's military supervisors allowed him to continue in the Army, and to be promoted just six months before the Fort Hood shootings, even though his fellow doctors at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington felt he was a "ticking time bomb." His extreme views were clear to his colleagues at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, where he held a fellowship. One of Hasan's assigned classroom presentations so outraged other students that the instructor halted it after just two minutes, the report said.
The FBI did no better, the report found. After the FBI intercepted e-mails between Hasan and an unnamed "Suspected Terrorist," the San Diego Joint Terrorism Task Force requested assistance from its counterpart in Washington, where Hasan was then based. That request sat unfulfilled for three months, however, and then was dismissed after just four hours of investigation, the report said.
Additionally, the report said, the Washington investigator didn't have the necessary computer access to allow him to search FBI databases that would have turned up more information about Hasan's e-mail traffic.
The report doesn't identify the "Suspected Terrorist" by name, but other references in the report make it clear that the suspected terrorist is Anwar al Awlaki, a U.S.-born Yemeni cleric who's been under FBI investigation since Sept. 11, 2001, when FBI agents in San Diego learned he was acquainted with two of the 9/11 hijackers.
The report noted that Awlaki had been tied to at least five cases of suspected domestic terrorism in the four years prior to the Fort Hood shooting, with the last one coming just four months before Hasan allegedly opened fire at Fort Hood. That case was investigated by the FBI's Washington office.
The report said that Hasan was so well known among FBI investigators that one agent tasked with investigating him called another investigator as he watched the shootings unfold on television. "You know who that is?" the report quoted the agent as saying. "That's our boy."
Nearly two years before the shooting, the report said, Hasan had told fellow soldiers that his allegiance to the Quran superseded his oath to defend the Constitution. That was enough to have him dismissed from the Army, the report said, but instead his supervisors gave him positive evaluations, in part because supervisors said they feared charges of discrimination.
Those evaluations proved misleading to the FBI, too, when it conducted its initial investigation into Hasan's e-mails with Awlaki, the report said.
Because of the positive evaluations, the FBI assumed any ties between Awlaki and Hasan were "benign" and that Hasan was doing research for the military.
Once the FBI determined that Hasan wasn't a terrorist, the "ensuing inquiry failed to identify the totality of Hasan's communications and to inform Hasan's military chain of command and Army security officials of the fact that he was communicating with a suspected violent Islamist extremist."
Instead, Hasan was promoted to major and assigned to Fort Hood to provide mental health care to the Army's largest military base. Weeks later, the shootings broke out.
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