August 29 2013
In the history of the Inkwell, I don’t think we’ve ever touted as a must-read an article from the far left magazine Mother Jones. But today is the day.
Here’s the Mother Jones headline:
Internal Documents Reveal How FBI Blew Fort Hood
A Mother Jones reporter named Mariah Blake has done a magnificent job of combing through FBI documents to present a chilling portrait of how the agency had plenty of information to stop Nidal Hasan—who was given the death penalty earlier this week for the Fort Hood shooting that took the lives of fourteen people--but didn’t. A year before Hasan became a mass murderer, the bureau deemed his intercepted emails with Yeman-based radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki “fairly benign.”
Awlaki, who was killed in a 2011 drone attack by the U.S., was a leading Al Qaeda propagandist. The idea that a Muslim member of the U.S. Army’s email relationship with such a man could be deemed “fairly benign” is stunning. Hasan wanted to know all sorts of things such as whether a Muslim legitimately could serve in the U.S. military. He was also curious as to whether one could be considered a martyr if one died attacking one’s fellow soldiers—just harmless stuff like that.
The bureau began to see Hasan’s emails to Awlaki in 2008, when there was plenty of time to prevent the 2009 shooting. But there didn’t seem to be any urgency about contacting the major and getting to the bottom of what was going on. Nobody went to Fort Hood to check out the situation. And there were bureaucratic snafus:
The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force in San Diego, which was tracking Awlaki, intercepted Hasan's December email, along with another sent in January. A search of the Pentagon's personnel database turned up a man named Nidal Hasan who was on active military duty and was listed as a "Comm Officer" at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.
Normally, when the FBI unearths this kind of raw intelligence, it issues an Intelligence Information Report (IIR), which is shared with law enforcement agencies and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. (This system was designed to prevent the kind of information bottlenecks that allowed the 9/11 plot to go undetected.) But the San Diego agents misinterpreted the "Comm Officer" label in Hasan's file to mean "communications officer" (in fact, it meant "commissioned officer") and believed that a person in this role might have access to IIRs. To avoid tipping him off, they skipped the report and sent a detailed memo requesting an investigation directly to the Washington, DC, Joint Terrorism Task Force, a multiagency team overseen by the FBI that investigates terrorism cases in the capital. The message noted that Hasan's "contact with [Awlaki] would be of concern if the writer is actually the individual identified above."
After two months in limbo, Hasan’s file was assigned to an agent from the Defense Criminal Investigative Services, which investigates fraud and cybercrime rather than terrorism. The agent put off the investigation for 90 days, the maximum delay allowable.
Hasan continued to correspond with Awlaki. The FBI’s San Diego office intercepted several emails but, since the database didn’t link emails by sender, didn’t recognize that these emails were from a man who has emailed Awlaki in 2009. Still, a man who asked a Muslim cleric if indiscriminate killing of civilians is moral might have raised alarms.
Meanwhile, the DCIS officer did some research on Nidal Hasan and concluded that he wasn’t the kind of guy to cause problems. There were glowing officer evaluations and a report that he was working on a project about Islam that could have profound implications. Mother Jones reports:
The Senate investigation later found these reports "bore no resemblance to the real Hasan, a barely competent psychiatrist whose radicalization toward violent Islamist extremism alarmed his colleagues and his superiors." Nevertheless, the DCIS investigator concluded, based on Hasan's file, that the Army psychiatrist had contacted Awlaki in connection with his academic research and "was not involved in terrorist activity." The DCIS investigator and a supervisory agent in the Washington field office debated interviewing Hasan or his superiors. They ultimately decided doing so could jeopardize the Awlaki investigation or harm Hasan's career.
So a combination of inertia and political correctness, as reflected in those glowing reports Hasan received and the pretense that the kooky shrink was involved in important research on Islam, killed fourteen people.
If you are puzzled as to how the FBI let the Boston Marathon Bombing happen, this will perhaps give you a hint.