15 January 2010

Ft. Hood Fingerpointing

Both the LA Times and NY Times provided previews today of the soon to be released Defense Department review of the events leading up to MAJ Nidal Hasan's shooting spree back on Nov 5. According to both reports, Pentagon officials will discuss the results of the investigation in a press conference sometime today. For more background and analysis on Hasan and his motivations, please see our previous Al Sahwa posts here, here, here, and here.

As I discussed in my post on the "Radicalization of Nidal Hasan," it's critical for us to carefully examine the factors that drove Hasan to action and, maybe more importantly, to identify the indicators and warning signs that were present and ignored or missed. Although the cliche holds true that hindsight is always 20/20, it appears to me that in this particular instance there were failures on the part of many to report what was clearly suspicious and alarming activity. The authors of the Defense Department review seem to agree with me, going so far as to recommend disciplinary action (probably letters of reprimand) be taken against several mid-level officers who supervised Hasan at various points in his career. It will be very interesting to see what policy changes are implemented based on a recognition of this issue. In defense of Hasan's supervisors, the Army does not make it very easy to remove or relieve an officer, even one like Hasan who, "repeatedly failed to meet basic officer standards for physical fitness, appearance and work ethic." Although the report places the blame for not taking action on the supervisors, their knowledge of existing Army policies likely led them to realize there was little they could do to remove Hasan. While this is not an excuse for inaction, it points to the need to change the culture of the Army in regard to maintaining higher standards for officers and soldiers both.

Another important part of the review discusses the failures of the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), which had access to several intelligence reports highlighting communications (up to 20 separate e-mails) between Hasan and Anwar al Awlaki, a radical Yemen-based cleric with ties to AQ and AQAP [for more on these connections, see my previous post here]. Here again, we see similarities to the recent failure of intelligence analysts at multiple levels (within NCTC and at Homeland Security's CBP) leading up to the failed Christmas Day attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In both cases, analysts failed to put together several intelligence threads and make strong recommendations for action. The way to solve this problem is not with more "fusion centers" or another layer of bureaucracy, but with better analysts and with supervisors and leaders who are willing to take risks. Had the analyst within the JTTF realized the severity of the threat and made his/her case effectively, action(s) might have been taken that would have potentially saved 13 lives back in November.

**Update: See this updated article from the LA Times outlining today's speech by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Also, see video of his press conference from Austin, TX-based KXAN here.

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