Faced with a colossal screw-up of their own making, bureaucrats--and the government organizations they run--behave in predictable ways. There are inevitable attempts to feign ignorance, blame the calamity on someone else, or both.
All of these feckless traits are on display as the Fort Hood tragedy continues to unfold. Normally, we don't refer to acts of terrorism as a tragedy but this time we'll make an exception, because the murderous rampage of Major Nidal Hassan could have been easily prevented, had the bureaucrats done their job.
Let's begin with the FBI. Earlier this year, the bureau learned that Hassan, an Army psychiatrist, was in communication with "several" Al Qaida figures, including one of its spiritual leaders, Anwar al Awlaki. Did we mention that Awlaki was once a cleric at a mosque in Falls Church, Virginia where Hasan attended worship services? Or that two of the 9-11 hijackers attended the mosque at the same time as Hasan?
We also know that Awlaki has been the target of U.S. investigations on at least three different occasions, the first in the months following 9-11. Allowed to leave the U.S. in 2002, Awlaki has become an inspiration for jihadists around the world, including Nidal Hasan, or so it would appear.
The FBI claims the imam never responded to Hasan's e-mails, which (the bureau assures us) was part of a "research project" being conducted by the psychiatrist. So far, the bureau hasn't detailed Hasan's contacts with other Al Qaida figures, or if they responded to his queries. And, there is reason to believe that the FBI stumbled across Hasan as part of a recent probe of Awlaki and his activities.
Yet, the bureau had little interest in e-mail questions from a U.S. Army officer (emphasis ours). Someone ought to ask the FBI how many other military personnel were corresponding with the radical cleric. That alone was a red flag that demanded a detailed inquiry. But the FBI decided to pass the baton to another agency.
That's why the FBI didn't make the final call on investigating Major Hasan. That decision was "out-sourced" to the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), a branch of the Defense Department Inspector General's office. While counter-terrorism is one of the missions of the DCIS, the agency spends most of its time dealing with contractor fraud and illegal transfers of defense technology.
By comparison, the FBI bills itself as the nation's "front line" on terrorism. The bureau has established a huge counter-terrorism division and maintains joint terrorism task forces in more than one hundred U.S. cities. According to its own website, FBI agents have played a leading role in foiling past plots against both civilian and military targets across the country.
Lawyers might argue about jurisdictional issues (afterall, Hasan was a military officer), but if the FBI was so inclined, it could have retained authority over the case, or passed it to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CIC). Like its counterparts in the Navy and Air Force, the CIC is charged with handling counter-terrorism cases within the ranks. But, the service says it was never contacted by the FBI regarding suspicions about Hasan, and the CIC never investigated his activities. Instead, a disinterested bureaucrat at the DCIS took a cursory look, and decided to close the case.
That's rather stunning, when you consider the latest revelations about Major Hasan. According to the Dallas Morning News, there are indications that Hasan may have wired money to individuals in Pakistan in recent months, raising new concerns about his ties to terrorists. Michigan Congressman Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee told the paper that "sources outside the intelligence community" learned about Hasan's ties to Pakistan, which in his words, "raise a whole other level of questions" about the Army psychiatrist and events that led to last week's shooting spree. If these sources can develop that information in a matter of days, we wonder what the FBI and/or DCIS might have uncovered, had they conducted a full investigation of Major Hasan.
Admittedly, we don't know how much information the DCIS had (beyond those e-mails) in reviewing the Hasan case. But the failure of that agency--and the FBI--to share information with the Army is appalling; a textbook example of bureaucracy at its worst. Making matters worse, the refusal of federal agents to pursue an investigation of Hasan was motivated--in part--by career concerns and political correctness. Sources report that federal authorities feared they'd be "crucified" if they pushed the Hasan matter, afraid that the Army officer would accuse them of violating his First Amendment rights.
But if the FBI and DCIS deserve blame for failing to follow up on Hasan's activities, the Army missed the boat as well. The psychiatrist's radical views were well known to fellow residents (and his superiors) at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, where Hasan spent six years in training. Some of those physicians complained to their supervisors, who discussed Major Hasan's behavior on multiple occasions.
As NPR reported yesterday, key officials at Walter Reed held meetings in the spring of 2008. Those sessions dealt with several issues, including Hasan's behavior. One source told correspondent Daniel Zwerdling that officials openly wondered if the Army officer was psychotic.
When a group of key officials gathered in the spring of 2008 for their monthly meeting in a Bethesda, Md., office, one of the leading — and most perplexing — items on their agenda was: What should we do about Hasan?
Hasan had been a trouble spot on officials' radar since he started training at Walter Reed, six years earlier. Several officials confirm that supervisors had repeatedly given him poor evaluations and warned him that he was doing substandard work.
Both fellow students and faculty were deeply troubled by Hasan's behavior — which they variously called disconnected, aloof, paranoid, belligerent, and schizoid. The officials say he antagonized some students and faculty by espousing what they perceived to be extremist Islamic views. His supervisors at Walter Reed had even reprimanded him for telling at least one patient that "Islam can save your soul."
According to NPR, meetings about Hasan continued into the spring of this year, as he completed a fellowship and prepared to depart for Fort Hood. And, despite the aforementioned string of "poor evaluations," Hasan was still promoted to Major, and Army officials made no attempt to block his transfer to the Texas installation. They believed Fort Hood's large mental health staff would be able to "monitor him" and provide support.
It's also worth noting that leaders at Walter Reed had the same concerns as federal agents, fearing charges of "discrimination" if they pursued disciplinary action against Hasan, or tried to discharge him from the Army.
Rubbish. Based on the picture that has now emerged, the service had ample reasons to initiate Hasan's discharge years ago. Each branch of the military has regulations governing the removal of officers for improper conduct or substandard performance. The directives are relatively clear, and provide a step-by-step process for getting rid of bad officers, regardless of their specialty.
The system works, but it takes supervisors who are willing to identify unfit officers, document their problems, and push the matter to conclusion. It's not an easy task, but it is absolutely vital for the integrity and security of our military forces.
Unfortunately, no one at Walter Reed or Fort Hood was willing to build a case against Major Nidal Hasan. Senior officers didn't want the added burden of generating all that paperwork, coordinating with the JAG Corps and filling all of the other squares required to discharge Hasan. Their reluctance was underscored fears of being called racists or bigots, putting them under scrutiny and (possibly) ending their careers. It was a risk no one wanted to take.
The same calculation was made by the FBI and DCIS, who were equally anxious to close the books on Major Hasan. As a result, the bureaucrats dodged potential claims of discrimination, but they allowed a terror plot to fester, and 14 innocent people--including an unborn child--paid with their lives.
Meanwhile, the same bureaucrats have been talking with their favorite reporters, anxiously sharing what they "didn't know" or "weren't told" about Major Hasan. The Army is quick to note that it knew nothing about the FBI's interest in Hasan's e-mails (and his contacts with Al Qaida figures), while the bureau says it was never told about the psychiatrist's long history of jihadist comments.
Truth be told, the FBI, the DCIS and the Army are culpable in this debacle. There's more than enough blame to go around, and no amount of bureaucratic finger-pointing can hide that fact.