A group of doctors overseeing Nidal Malik Hasan's medical training discussed concerns about his overly zealous religious views and strange behavior months before the Army major was accused of opening fire on soldiers and civilians at Fort Hood, Texas.Fort Hood was the choice to shuffle him off that wouldn't affect unit cohesion and preparedness because others would be able to cover for his deficiencies.
Doctors and staff overseeing Hasan's training viewed him at times as belligerent, defensive and argumentative in his frequent discussions of his Muslim faith, a military official familiar with several group discussions about Hasan said. The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the meetings and spoke on condition of anonymity.
As a psychiatrist in training, Hasan was characterized in meetings as a mediocre student and lazy worker, a matter of concern among the doctors and staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences military medical school, the official said.
The concerns about Hasan's performance and religious views were shared with other military officials considering his assignment after he finished his medical training, and the consensus was to send him to Fort Hood, the official said. Fort Hood was considered the best assignment for Hasan because other doctors could handle the workload if he continued to perform poorly and his superiors could document any continued behavior problems, the official said.
The group saw no evidence that Hasan, 39, was violent or a threat. It was more that he repeatedly referred to his strong religious views in discussions with classmates, his superiors and even in his research work, the official said. His behavior, while at times perceived as intense and combative, was not unlike the zeal of others with strong religious views, and some doctors and staff were concerned that their unfamiliarity with the Muslim faith would lead them to unfairly single out Hasan's behavior, the official said.
Yet, the Army still promoted him from Captain to Major in May. The Pentagon says that it has found no evidence that Hasan ever indicated that he sought separation from the Army. While he may have complained privately to colleagues that he was harassed, no official indication was proffered to his superiors.
Profilers say that Hasan was a loner and that he fits the profile of a mass murderer than a terrorist. That's playing with semantics; Hasan's ideology appears to have played a significant role in his attack on soldiers at Fort Hood. Hasan engaged in mass murder, but he also sought to fulfill what he believed was a religious obligation (the shout of Allahu Akbar immediately prior to opening fire, his statements on Muslim obligations to oppose the US efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, correspondence with the extremist imam Awlaki, etc., all inform as to motive).
At the same time, the NYT is trying to downplay the communications between Hasan and Awlaki, reporting that "[t]he dozen or so messages to the cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, were largely questions about Islam, not expressions of militancy or hints of a plot, government officials familiar with the messages said." The eyebrows should have been raised because of the very communications themselves. There are thousands of imams and spiritual leaders with which to communicate in the US, and yet Hasan chose to seek guidance from an extremist with known ties to three of the 9/11 hijackers?
That's the question that investigators, the White House and members of Congress need to ask. The system put in place after 9/11 provided the groundwork for intercepting those communications, and yet the decisionmaking process to elevate those troubling communications to those in the Army chain of command to seek out Hasan and determine whether he should remain in the Army never occurred.
But a striking fact is that the system set up after Sept. 11, 2001, to make sure clues of a coming attack were not missed actually worked as intended — and still failed to stop the deadly episode. The question for investigators is whether the very fact that Major Hasan sent the e-mail messages to an imam with mysterious connections to the Sept. 11 hijackers and a Web site encouraging extremist violence should have set off greater alarms.What are we going to do differently? It would appear prudent that when someone is sending email communications to a known extremist, that law enforcement take the time to ascertain whether a threat is present, as well as provide those in the military (should the person be in the Armed Forces) with the information they need to make an informed decision. It is on the latter part that the system failed.
“The fact that they got these e-mails and acted on them shows that at least to a point, the system worked,” said Matthew M. Aid, an intelligence historian and author of “The Secret Sentry,” a new history of the National Security Agency. “Quite possibly someone dropped the ball down the line.”
Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, said any contact with Mr. Awlaki should have raised red flags. “There’s no doubt that Awlaki is a vessel for the message of Al Qaeda whose goal is radicalizing others,” he said. “Any contact should generate serious concern.”
Mr. Hoffman, too, said the intelligence network, in catching the messages and passing them on, worked far better than would have been likely before the 2001 attacks. “But 13 people are dead,” he added. “What are we going to do differently next time?”
Hasan will be charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder in connection with the Fort Hood shootings. Meanwhile, investigators are apparently examining Hasan's financial records and they want to know whether Hasan wired money to Pakistan.
Authorities have been examining whether Fort Hood massacre suspect Nidal Malik Hasan wired money to Pakistan in recent months, an action that one senior lawmaker said would raise serious questions about Hasan’s possible connections to militant Islamic groups.One avenue of investigation is what Hasan was doing with his money. He was making $90k a year, and if he was living in quarters for $300 a month, that's quite a sizable amount he was accumulating unless the money was going somewhere else.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., said sources “outside of the [intelligence] community” learned about Hasan’s possible connections to the Asian country, which faces a massive Islamist insurgency and is widely believed to be Osama bin Laden’s hiding place.
That somewhere else might be Pakistan.
This needs further confirmation, and investigation, but it once again raises red flags.