Willful Blindness: Army Unprepared for Another Jihadist Attack
In January, I spoke before an audience of 350 top U.S. Army anti-terrorism and force protection officials from around the world. The seriousness of this event was punctuated by the Ft. Hood killings, committed by one of their own, and the killing six months earlier of an Army recruiter in Little Rock, Arkansas.
My briefing on current jihadist threats and tactics was intended to give this audience -- which included senior Pentagon commanders -- an external perspective on what went wrong, how the threat to the military was evolving, and how to move forward in terms of identifying these threats, countering them, and preparing for the next inevitable attack.
Days before this conference, the Department of Defense had issued the unclassified version of the report on the Ft. Hood massacre, prompting members of Congress and media outlets of all political stripes to note that something was missing -- namely, the killer’s motivation. The report failed to mention the jihadist ideology that inspired the attack by Maj. Nidal Hasan.
The report failed to even mention the killer by name. That was a bad sign.
I was grateful that I had been asked to speak at the conference, but I understood that I was coming in as the lone dissenter. Many in this audience, particularly in the front row, were the architects of and participants in the very system that had failed to address or ignored the obvious threat posed by Maj. Hasan to his fellow soldiers.
But they couldn’t say they hadn’t been warned. In fact, as the Washington Times reported in February, two of my colleagues -- Army Lt. Col. Joseph Myers and Dr. Terri Wonder -- and I had appeared at this very conference in 2008. We specifically warned them that these types of domestic jihadist threats were developing and that people were going to be killed if changes were not made. How did we know of this emerging threat? We had been tracking the evolution of the jihadist ideology, increasing radicalization, and specifically increased rhetoric directed at military personnel and installations at home.
Needless to say, our warnings went unheeded and people were in fact killed.
Throughout my presentation, I inserted various diagnostics, both to see if the audience was tracking and if there were in facts substantive changes being made. At one point I discussed the swarm attack, such as was seen in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. The Little Rock and Ft. Hood shootings had involved lone gunmen -- what if the next attack was by multiple shooters at multiple locations, or by a VBIED followed by follow-on shooters? The experience at Ft. Hood demonstrated that active shooter training and prompt response by base police saved lives. But what if that training was turned around on them next time?
I asked how many were training the first responders for swarm attacks at their military installations and facilities. Not a single hand was raised. For the record, I warned them that some variation of swarm tactics will be more than likely how the next jihadist attack against U.S.-based troops (and even their families) will unfold.
Immediately following the Ft. Hood massacre, I offered some initial thoughts here at Pajamas Media (“Why There Will Be More Military Base Shootings”) on where the problems lie. Chief among those was the long-institutionalized culture of political correctness that allowed Maj. Hasan’s full display of his hostile intentions to his fellow soldiers to be willfully ignored -- his now-infamous PowerPoint presentation. Had any one of those who protested his open hostility and violent ideology pressed the matter beyond their immediate chain of command, they would have seen their military careers come to an abrupt end. That remains true today.
Having been privy to some of the internal discussions since the Ft. Hood massacre, some additional interrelated problems need to be addressed. The first is what I call “classified blindness.” Not just in military circles, but throughout law enforcement there is a widely held belief that if information isn’t classified in some manner, it isn’t worth their attention. And if the information isn’t classified as at least top secret, it certainly isn’t actionable intelligence. Even though ninety-five percent of what they need to know is available through open sources.
Admittedly, there are important snippets of information only available through classified collections. Having seen some of this “classified” material, I have to admit that I’m not impressed. The fact remains, however, that both Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, the Little Rock killer, and Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Ft. Hood killer, were already known to law enforcement before their attacks and still nothing was done to diffuse the threat. So there must be other forces at work.
Another culprit is what I term “analysis blindness.” As I speak with military anti-terrorism and force protection officials, I’m finding that many, if not most, don’t have the subject matter proficiency to even be able to understand what they are reading.
One real world example was a discussion I had with a senior analyst for a top military anti-terrorism group. This well-paid analyst, who is no doubt dedicated to the job and trying to do it to the best of his ability, could not tell the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah. And yet this individual is daily analyzing intelligence required to keep our military forces safe and secure.
As my colleague Lt. Col. Joseph Myers has repeatedly observed, the military’s force protection staff are rarely well-read in the field of Islamic terrorism, though many have graduate degrees in national security studies and the like.
An additional problem I have identified is “bureaucratic blindness,” meaning that the military force protection leadership spends the bulk of their time engaged in paper shuffling, budget requests, and staffing issues. Not to discount the necessity of planning and stewarding scarce resources, but when our force protection leaders are required to be little more than administrators and bureaucrats we shouldn’t be surprised when the focus on protecting the troops falls to the wayside.
Finally, there is a larger systemic problem at work. At its root, our military leaders do not understand the threat they are facing. Officers who have been trained in counterinsurgency tactics and exemplified courage in the face of a lethal enemy in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere seem completely unprepared to deal with the same enemy at home.
Senior Pentagon commanders have labored to define the threat out of existence --see the Department of Defense’s Ft. Hood report. Rather than acknowledge the proliferation of jihadist ideology and the threat it poses to our U.S.-based troops, these officials describe the problem as random, and ultimately unknowable, “violent extremism” (the favored term of the Obama administration).
Pretending that the threat is random and unknowable gives them license to do nothing. The fact is that the jihadist threat can be precisely defined, studied, and identified. It is the ability to understand the ever-evolving problem and the will to do something about it that is sorely lacking.
What my first-hand experience has taught me these past few months speaking with and to our military leadership concerning the domestic jihadist threat confirms that the status quo with respect to force protection has cost soldiers their lives. By doubling-down on those failed policies, our troops are now more vulnerable than ever.
And by ignoring the need to counter the jihadists’ tactics and targeting, many more will die.