Obama to feds, Army: What did you know about Fort Hood killer and when did you know it?By James Gordon Meek
November 11, 2009
WASHINGTON - The heat turned up on the Pentagon Tuesday over revelations that the Fort Hood killer's contacts with an Al Qaeda associate were blown off by a military investigator.
The agent was part of an FBI-run Joint Terrorism Task Force. But the bureau didn't have a legal reason to investigate Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's communications with radical Imam Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen because there was no threat of violence.
The unnamed investigator for the Pentagon's Defense Criminal Investigative Service did review the contacts along with Hasan's personnel and academic records - and decided Hasan was no threat and took no action, officials said.
The Awlaki communications related to Hasan's job as a stress counselor and his academic research, officials said.
But insiders charge a review should have been ordered of Hasan's secret-level security clearance, which might have turned up clues he was dangerous.
Communicating with Awlaki, who befriended several 9/11 hijackers in California and Virginia, was "inexcusable" for an Army officer and an obvious "red flag," said Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee. "They should definitely have reviewed his security clearance and placed Hasan under intense scrutiny," King said.
"I think that's fair," a counterterror official told the Daily News.
Defense Criminal Investigative Service spokesman Gary Comerford declined to comment on the agent's handling of the case. It's unclear whether the agent - who represented the Defense Department as a whole on the task force - informed Army officials about Hasan's contacts with Awlaki.
A defense official told The Associated Press the Army was unaware of the 10 to 20 messages.
Awlaki's replies - all monitored by U.S. spy agencies - were reserved and cautious, as if he were suspicious of the Army officer.
But despite calling the messages to Awlaki innocuous, the government has not released them publicly.
Army brass have explained little about the case, including why the disgruntled doc was being deployed toAfghanistan given his increasingly hard-line views on the wars there and in Iraq.
It's also unclear if Army commanders were ever told about Hasan's anti-U.S. diatribes to co-workers, or a speech the Virginia-born psychiatrist gave to Walter Reed Army Medical Center officials in 2007. Hasan argued that Muslims had grown conflicted over serving the U.S. military, The Washington Post reported yesterday.
Still, a former official involved in Army criminal investigations said "the Army shouldn't take the whole hit" for missing warning signs. "The system failed," the ex-official said.
President Obama has "asked every agency involved ... to investigate why this happened, how this happened, and to ensure that they can tell him that it won't happen again," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.