Detecting Military Radicalism in the Wake of Fort Hood
November 19, 2009
The first congressional hearing in the aftermath of the Fort Hood massacre took place Thursday morning, with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing from security experts, including a retired general and a former top White House advisor.
Lieberman wanted to hear from FBI officials about missed signals that Nidal Malik Hasan exhibited radical viewpoints and created concern among his colleagues. But the administration didn't allow any current government witnesses, in deference to the ongoing criminal investigation.
According to the Washington Post, Lieberman said conversations with Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates left him optimistic that the committee would gain access to some of the information it is seeking soon.
Thursday, the committee heard testimony on how to better identify potential radicals in the armed forces and how to empower people to report their concerns up the chain of command, even when the concerns involved an officer like Hasan. Among the witnesses were retired Gen. John Keane, a former Army vice chief of staff; Frances Fragos Townsend, President George W. Bush's homeland security adviser, and terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Corp.
The New York Times reported that the Pentagon was initiating a review of the Hasan case that would have a similar focus. The Investigative Project on Terrorism covered the hearing and prepared a video summary below.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: (Sounds gavel.) The hearing will come to order. This morning, our committee begins an investigation as serious and consequential as any it has ever undertaken. An American soldier, Nidal Hasan, has been charged with killing 12 of his fellow soldiers and one civilian on an American military base in Texas in what I believe, based on available evidence, was a terrorist attack.
The purpose of this committee's investigation is to determine whether that attack could have been prevented, whether the federal agencies and employees involved missed signals or failed to connect dots in a way that enabled Nidal Hasan to carry out his deadly attack.
If we find such errors or negligence, we will make recommendations to guarantee as best we can that they never occur again. That's our purpose here.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Our staffs will be meeting with representatives of the Department of Justice and Defense very soon to try to work out ground rules for both investigations without interfering with each other.
But I can say that I'm encouraged and appreciative that Senator Collins and I and our staff -- our top staff -- have received one classified briefing on the Hasan case and will soon receive another and have been given access to some very relevant classified documents relating to this matter. So we're off to a good cooperative start.
GEN. KEANE: I suspect strongly that after we conduct these investigations, we will find that our policies will need revision again to account for the specific behavior and attitudes as expressed by radical Islamists or Jihadist extremists. It should not be an active of moral courage for a soldier to identify a fellow soldier who is displaying extremist behavior. It should be an obligation. And as such, the commanders needs specific guidelines as to what Jihadist extremists behavior is and re-emphasize how to use the many tools and options they have at their disposal to curb the behavior, to rehabilitate soldiers if possible, or to take legal or separation action.
Because Jihadist extremists are potentially linked to terrorist organizations that directly threaten the security of the United States, it is essential that our government agencies are sharing information about such individuals.
GEN. KEANE: Radical Islam and Jihadist extremism is the most transformational issue I have dealt with in my military service and continues to be so today. In my judgment, it is the most significant threat to the security of the American people that I have faced in my lifetime. We are a society that espouses tolerance and values diversity and our military reflects those values. But at the same time, we must know what a threat looks like and we must know what to do about it.
MS. TOWNSEND: To the extent that there would have been concern of infringing on Major Hasan's either right to free speech or his freedom to practice his religion, there were other factors to which you could point beyond that, having nothing to do with his religion or his speech, that could have caused concern.
The repeated -- while it's not public, the content of those communications, certainly those communications, and now what we're hearing from his other colleagues up at Walter Reed, any combination of those factors, as long as it was not based solely on his exercise of his constitutional freedom, could have formed the basis of further inquiry and investigation by the FBI.
SEN. COLLINS: So if we're being told that one reason this was not aggressively pursued was concerns that it would violate the FISA restrictions or the attorney general's guidelines, you would disagree with that decision, based on what you know?
MS. TOWNSEND: Based on what I know now, yes, I would disagree with that. And frankly, this is, Senator, why I mentioned my concern about political correctness. I think we have to ensure that our investigators feel sufficiently backed up, if you will, to follow the facts wherever they lead them. And if the facts lead them to an investigation of a senior member of the uniformed military, who happens to be a Muslim doctor, then that's where they lead them. But they have to feel confident that they can pursue the facts wherever they take them, against whoever the target may be.
MR. JENKINS: Now, at a glance, Major Hasan's rampage at Fort Hood looks a lot like what used to be called "going postal," a deepening sense of person grievance culminating in a homicidal rampage directed against co-workers, in this case, fellow soldiers. For Hasan, "going jihad" reflects the channeling of obvious personality problems into a deadly fanaticism.
We must wait, really, for a full inquiry to thoroughly understand Hasan's motives, his preparations, his objectives. But on the basis of what has been reported in the news media, we clearly have a troubled man who engaged himself with extremist ideologies via the Internet that resonated with and reinforced his own anger leading him, at some point, to a decision to kill.
GEN. KEANE: [So what we are dealing with here now, in my view, dealing with jihadist extremist, potentially, certainly the preliminary evidence would suggest that,] [SEN. LIEBERMAN: Right…] -- that those kind of guidelines, in terms of defining that and how to deal with that, as a specific case, and that behavior and that attitude and that rhetoric, are not in the hands of our commanders.
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Yeah. Okay, that's a real -- if our investigation finds that that's true, and I suspect it is, that's a real omission and an area for correction, particularly in light of the record that other witnesses have testified to of the way in which jihadists, or people who are actually being self-radicalized or radicalized over the Internet, are being exhorted to attack the American military on bases, not just abroad but here at home.
My time is up. Thank you, General.
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