Fort Hood Lawmaker Grills FBI Official: At What Point Is It 'Islamic Terrorism'?

Lawmakers expressed concern that a recently released review of the FBI's actions in the Fort Hood shootings showed an agency that let "political sensitivities" temper the aggressiveness of their investigation into Army Major Nidal Hasan.

"An active duty member of the military communicating with a known radicalizer and recruiter should have been taken more seriously than it was," said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies at a hearing to review the findings yesterday.

Former FBI Director William H. Webster led a commission probing the November 2009 shootings that left 13 dead. The commission's report was released two weeks ago, and included 18 specific recommendations for changes at the FBI but not any recommendations of disciplinary action related to the Hasan case.

Hasan visited the website of radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, a recruiter for al-Qaeda in Yemen, in 2008 and later sent the terrorist messages. A “belated, incomplete and rushed” assessment by the FBI of Hasan concluded that the Army psychiatrist was not “involved in terrorist activities.”

However, the FBI didn't interview Hasan about the al-Awlaki connections, didn't dig deeper to find any further contact between Hasan and al-Awlaki, and let too much time lapse before pursing leads on Hasan, the report concluded.

"While the commission found that the decision not to interview Hasan was flawed, I'm concerned that the current FBI guidelines and culture made this the path of least resistance," Wolf said.

Wolf said he was disappointed that FBI Director Robert Mueller, who asked Webster to investigate the agency, didn't come testify; instead, Mark Giuliano, the FBI's executive assistant director for national security, appeared before the panel.

Ranking Member Chaka Fatah (D-Pa.) said that "given the issues related to Fast and Furious and this, I want to make it clear, at least for, in my view, that none of our work should be in terms of criticizing law enforcement."

"As we did looking at the McVeigh case with the Oklahoma bombing or as will be done with the situation in Denver, when there are these horrific incidences, we have to take a look and we have to make sure that we are doing everything we can do but there's very little ability to figure out exactly what an individual is actually up to in all circumstances," Fatah said.

Joining the hearing was Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), who is not a member of the subcommittee but was allowed, as a member of the full Appropriations Committee, to question the witness as Fort Hood is in his district.

Wolf noted to Giuliano the response of Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) to the Webster report: "We are concerned that the report fails to address the specific cause for the Fort Hood attack, which is violent Islamist extremism."

Giuliano said he couldn't comment on Hasan's motivation.

"Clearly, Anwar Awlaki was an individual who was well known in the community; he was a propagandist at that point back in that time," he said. "We know from some e-mails Hasan looked at him, in his own words, as a leader and an activist, but I can't get into Mr. Hasan's head."

When asked by Wolf whether the mass murder had changed the way the FBI approaches and responds to "domestic violent Islam extremist threats," Giuliano said training classes have been added for all levels of agents.

"We believe we know who has been in contact with Awlaki or at least potentially is listening or has listened to Awlaki sermons, et cetera and I believe we do have them well covered," the FBI official added.

Giuliano noted a disconnect between the San Diego field office and the Washington office in how Hasan was investigated. Wolf noted that the final phone call between San Diego and Washington included an exchange about interviewing Muslims who visit extremist Web sites being a "politically sensitive" subject.