WASHINGTON – In the months before the deadly shootings at Fort Hood, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan intensified his communications with a radical Yemeni-American cleric and began to discuss financial transfers and other steps that could translate his thoughts into action, according to two sources briefed on a collection of secret e-mails between the two.
The e-mails were monitored by an FBI-led task force in San Diego between late last year and June but were not forwarded to the military, according to government and congressional sources. Some were sent to the FBI’s Washington field office, triggering an assessment into whether they raised national security concerns, but those intercepted later were not, the sources said.
Hasan’s contacts with extremist imam Anwar al-Aulaqi began as religious queries but took on a more specific and concrete tone before he moved to Texas, where he allegedly unleashed the Nov. 5 attack that killed 13 people and wounded nearly three dozen more, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is sensitive and unfolding.
One source said the two discussed in “cryptic and coded exchanges” the transfer of money overseas in ways that would not attract law enforcement attention.
“He (Hasan) clearly became more radicalized toward the end, and was having discussions related to the transfer of money and finances …,” the source said in describing the 18 or 19 intercepted e-mails. “It became very clear toward the end of those e-mails he was interested in taking action.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Friday he would investigate the handling of the e-mails and why military officials were not aware of them before the deadly attack. Levin told reporters after a briefing from Pentagon staff members that “there are some who are reluctant to call it terrorism, but there is significant evidence that it is.”
The messages could help investigators determine whether Hasan was motivated by psychological deterioration or inspired by radical religious views.
The sources said that the contacts with Aulaqi, who has been on the law enforcement radar for years, appear most troublesome in hindsight because of the background of the cleric, whom U.S. officials say is an al-Qaida supporter who has inspired terrorism suspects in Britain, Canada and the United States. Lawmakers and counterterrorism experts have questioned why no one in the government interceded earlier given Aulaqi’s history and Hasan’s military position.
The disclosures came as investigators in the FBI and the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division continue to interview witnesses and execute search warrants in and around the Army’s largest base in Killeen, Texas, and elsewhere.
Hasan faces 13 charges of premeditated murder. He is scheduled to have his first formal court hearing today in his hospital room in the intensive care unit at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where he is recovering from gunshot wounds that left him paralyzed.
Hasan’s contacts with Aulaqi were disclosed after the shootings, which the cleric subsequently praised, calling the Army psychiatrist a “hero” in a posting on his Web site.
In the months before the shootings, the two discussed how the Army psychiatrist could make several transactions of less than $10,000, a threshold for reporting to U.S. authorities, the source continued. Hasan did not explicitly vow to fund terrorist activities or evade tax and reporting laws for contributions, the source said.
“I believe they were interested in the money for operational-type aspects, and knowing that he had funds and wouldn’t be around to use them, they were very eager to get those funds,” he said.
Investigators have not unearthed evidence that Hasan sent money to charities with strong or suspicious ties to Islamist militant groups, other sources cautioned.
The FBI obtained the e-mails pursuant to court-ordered wiretaps, according to a former intelligence official. After receiving a wiretap order, Internet providers generally set up accounts that allow cloned copies of e-mails to go to the government agency in real-time. Stored e-mails may also be provided with a search warrant.
In this case, a first batch of Hasan’s e-mails was sent by agents in San Diego to the bureau’s Washington field office, where a terrorism task force began to assess them in December 2008. But months later, additional messages emerged, according to government and congressional sources. Those e-mails were reviewed only in San Diego, where authorities determined they did not pose a national security risk.