January 15, 2010 in Nation/World

Gates: Military fails to spot danger within ranks

Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday an investigation into the Fort Hood shootings found the military isn’t sufficiently prepared to prevent similar attacks in the future.

Commanders must be encouraged to intervene if they think someone within the ranks is a threat, Gates said. He directed Army Secretary John McHugh to make changes and expects new policies to be in place by summer.

As many as eight Army officers could face discipline for failing to do anything when the alleged shooter in the Fort Hood rampage displayed erratic behavior early in his military career, two officials familiar with the case said, speaking on condition of anonymity before the report’s release.

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon Friday, Gates said he could not talk in detail about some elements of the review involving Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, the man charged in the mass shootings at the Texas military base in November.

Gates did say the review shows that “it is clear that as a department we have not done enough to adapt to the evolving internal security threat.” The secretary also said it demonstrates that the Pentagon “is burdened by 20th century processes and attitudes mostly rooted in the Cold War.”

Officials said Thursday that several midlevel officers overlooked or failed to act on red flags in Hasan’s lax work habits and fixation on religion. Hasan was seen by the reviews as a loner who was passed along from office to office and job to job despite professional failings that included missed or failed exams and physical fitness requirements.

Findings about Hasan and those who supervised him are contained in a confidential addendum to a larger report about the Pentagon’s handling of potential extremism in the ranks and readiness to handle the sort of mass casualties Hasan allegedly inflicted.

An official familiar with both documents detailed their findings on condition of anonymity because the larger unclassified report has not yet been released, and the one dealing with Hasan in detail will not be publicly released.

Earlier, another official familiar with the findings said the five- to eight officers who could face discipline were supervisors who knew about Hasan’s shortcomings and looked the other way or who did not fully reflect concerns about Hasan in professional evaluations.

The officers supervised Hasan when he was a medical student and during his early work as an Army psychiatrist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Findings about Hasan are limited to a one-page summary in the main report. The report, called “Protecting the Force,” concludes that the Defense Department had outdated and ineffective means to identify threats from inside as opposed to outside the military. It also says the department’s means of sharing and collating information about a potential troublemaker are inadequate, one official said.

The inquiry also questions whether the Pentagon is fully committed to FBI-run Joint Terrorism Task Forces. The report calls on the Defense Department to fully staff those teams of investigators, analysts, linguists and others so the Pentagon can quickly see information collected across government agencies about potential links between troops and terrorist or extremist groups.

The report found that although emergency response at Fort Hood was generally good, there are gaps elsewhere and sometimes a failure to link emergency response operations on military installations with those in the surrounding communities.

The findings are the result of two months of work by a panel convened by Gates to look for holes in Pentagon policies and procedures revealed by the Hasan case.

The review, which was led by retired Adm. Vernon E. Clark and former Army secretary Togo D. West Jr., did not consider whether the shootings were an act of terrorism and did not delve into allegations that Hasan was in contact with a radical cleric in Yemen. Those questions are part of the separate criminal case against Hasan.

Hasan got passing grades and a promotion in part because disturbing information about his behavior and performance was not recorded by superiors or properly passed to others who might have stepped in, the report found.

As Hasan’s training progressed, his strident views on Islam became more pronounced as did worries about his competence as a medical professional. Yet his superiors continued to give him positive performance evaluations that kept him moving through the ranks and led to his eventual assignment at Fort Hood.

Recent statistics show the Army rarely blocks junior officers from promotion, especially in the medical corps.

The report does not answer whether intervention by one of Hasan’s superiors might have prevented the shootings, one official said. It is possible that full knowledge by some superiors or a more proactive response to disturbing aspects of Hasan’s behavior could have either helped him or gotten him fired, that official said, but there is no clear evidence that anything would have been different.

Hasan was often late or absent, sometimes appeared disheveled and performed to minimum requirements. The pattern was obvious to many around him, yet not fully reflected where it counted in the Army’s bureaucratic system of evaluation and promotion, investigators found.

Hasan nonetheless earned some good reviews from patients and colleagues. His promotion to major was based on an incomplete personnel file, one official said, but also on performance markers that Hasan had met, if barely.

Hasan showed no signs of being violent or a threat. But parallels have been drawn between the missed signals in his case and those preceding the thwarted Christmas attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner. President Barack Obama and his top national security aides have acknowledged they had intelligence about the alleged bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, but failed to connect the dots.

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