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.
"Was political correctness a reason why this lead was not aggressively pursued?" Wolf asked. "…I periodically have a number of FBI agents come up to me, as you know, my district is in Northern Virginia, will tell me that they believe there is a political correctness that is encroaching into the Department of Justice and the FBI."
"The report did not find political correctness was in any way, shape, or form responsible for his lack of going forward with the interview," Giuliano said.
Wolf responded that during the congressional recess he'd like to speak alone with the Washington FBI officials about the political correctness question.
"I don't very much buy into the notion of political correctness," Fattah said. "I think that we have an issue around constitutional correctness when you have an American citizen, the question of whether they can listen to or read something or to associate themselves in some grouping, it's pretty clear in the Constitution that those things are protected."
Carter said he was going to steer the FBI official to a line of questioning in line with the concerns posed to him by his constituents.
"We're talking about people who were killed, many of whom had been deployed two, three, four times fighting in the war against terror, which until recently was the subject matter of why we went to war. It seems to have changed in this administration but in the previous administration, it was the war on terror," the Texas congressman said. "They went to fight the war on terror that involved people of the Islamic community."
"Now we've got them coming to me and saying, my husband went in harm's way for this country three times or my son went in harm's way for this country four times and he gets killed where he's stationed by a member of his own military who begins his shooting career as a murderer by shouting 'Allahu Akbar,'" Carter continued. "And it gets investigated by the Department of Defense and they find it was a workforce violence incident."
The victims' families, he said, are just having to listen to excuses about why "procedure" didn't work.
"I am not here to make excuses," Giuliano said. "We have to be right every time, 100 percent of the time and when we're not, the consequences are dire."
Carter asked if those "dire consequences" meant that some heads will roll at the FBI. Giuliano said that the bureau is reviewing the report and any disciplinary action would be decided within 60 to 90 days.
"To the public, oh that's a different statement. You said when we fail, there are dire consequences," Carter said. "Of course, we know there are dire consequences, there's a bunch of dead people stacked up over at Fort Hood right now that are dire consequences."
Fort Hood's representative on the Hill said he couldn't understand why "two of the most important agencies of this government still haven't defined what happened at Fort Hood by even mentioning that Islamic terrorism had anything to do with it."
"If he yelled out 'Jesus Christ is God,' would they have said Christians were involved? I mean, at what point does it get to be Islamic terrorism? That's the simple question. Answer that one," Carter said.
Giuliano said there's a difference between someone tied to a terrorist group, "which we could not tie Hasan to during our investigation, and somebody who appears to have been radicalized by that."
As Wolf noted, Carter said, there's nothing in the report to indicate that the killing spree of which Hasan stands accused "had anything to do with what we spent 10 years fighting a war about."
"It dumbfounds me," Carter said. "And you cannot explain it to people who lost their families and now are being treated with this, they were just casualties of the workforce?"