By: Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins
February 9, 2012 09:26 PM EST
More than two years ago, Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army-trained psychiatrist, entered the Soldier Readiness Processing Center at Fort Hood, Texas, with two loaded pistols and opened fire. He still faces charges of murder and attempted murder in the shootings that left 13 dead and 32 wounded.
Shock gave way to anger when it was reported that Hasan had shown, long before he was stationed at Fort Hood, that he had been radicalized into a violent Islamist extremist. He was a “ticking time bomb,” according to two colleagues. His Army superiors and some in the FBI knew about it.
As chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, we investigated what had gone wrong — and concluded that both the FBI and Defense Department had had enough evidence to prevent the tragedy. Our final report, issued a year ago this month, offered recommendations to improve our counterterrorism defenses.
Had our recommendations been in place before Nov. 5, 2009, they probably would have led to Hasan’s dismissal from the Army and prodded the FBI, already interested in Hasan, into continuing its investigation, rather than ending it prematurely.
The FBI and Defense Department have made progress in correcting weaknesses highlighted by the attack. But key reforms remain undone — putting our nation at continuing risk of homegrown terrorism.
We found flawed practices and communications, both within and between the FBI and Defense Department, which allowed Hasan to remain in the military — and even be promoted — despite many warning signs that he was becoming radicalized and unfit for military service.
The FBI and Defense Department have now implemented a number of our recommendations, including information-sharing protocols about service members who come under suspicion, and correcting investigative capabilities that hampered the FBI’s ability to react to Hasan’s radicalization.
But two years later, four key recommendations remain unfulfilled:
First, the military needs to better train its leaders in the specific warning signs of violent Islamist radicalization — just as it does with specific signs of white supremacism. This way, a service member who is clearly radicalizing can be dealt with quickly.
In front of colleagues and superiors, Hasan had asserted that suicide bombings were justified; that U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were wars against Islam; that Muslim-American service members might engage in fratricide; and that his loyalty to his religion was greater than his obligation as a military officer to defend the Constitution.
But, astoundingly, Hasan’s colleagues and superiors did nothing — believing he was just communicating tenets of his faith, they felt that he would still perform adequately as a psychiatrist, provided he had oversight. Their failure to act most likely allowed Hasan’s radicalization to fester and then explode.
Better training about the difference between the religion of Islam and the violent political ideology of Islamist extremism also could protect the thousands of Muslim-Americans in our military from unwarranted suspicion as they practice their religion.
Second, the FBI must clarify the responsibilities of its various counterterrorism units, including the way disputes among its 56 local field offices are resolved. Our investigation found that the FBI’s inquiry into Hasan led to a dispute between two field offices concerning how aggressively to investigate him. This dispute was never elevated to FBI headquarters — and never rationally resolved. Clarity of missions is needed for the FBI to be effective in countering the terrorist threat nationally by integrating the efforts of multiple FBI field offices and headquarters.
Third, while Director Robert Mueller has led the FBI forward in transforming the bureau into an excellent intelligence-driven agency, it must continue raising the stature of its intelligence analysts in relation to its traditional agents. We found that analysts were not sufficiently integrated into the FBI’s investigation of Hasan — contributing to the bureau’s misunderstanding of Hasan’s communications with the suspected terrorist.
Fourth, the FBI needs to improve information-sharing with federal agencies that work with its Joint Terrorism Task Forces to ensure pre-emptively that problems similar to those between the FBI and the Defense Department in the Hasan case do not occur with other agencies.
Fort Hood was a tragedy that should never have happened. To fully honor those who died that day, we must learn from mistakes that were made so we can and will detect and disarm the next “ticking time bomb” before it goes off.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) serves as chairman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.