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January 14, 2010

Greater Vigilance Urged In Wake Of Fort Hood Attack

by Jim Malone

An internal Defense Department probe of last November's deadly shooting spree at Ford Hood, Texas, urges military commanders to do a better job of looking for potential threats within their own ranks.  Thirteen people died and more than 30 were wounded last November when U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan allegedly opened fire on a group of fellow soldiers. 

Major Hasan is currently awaiting trial in the military justice system and faces 13 specifications or counts of premeditated murder.

The Defense Department report released Friday outlines a number of shortcomings in how the Defense Department is able to identify and deal with external influences on members of the military that could lead to them becoming internal threats.

The report also noted that several officers failed to use what it called appropriate judgment and standards in monitoring Hasan during his military career, and it recommends their actions be investigated.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters at the Pentagon that the new report raises serious questions about the department's ability to handle similar incidents in the future.

Gates said commanders have a particular responsibility to monitor the men and women serving under them and that they should be on the lookout for any behavioral signs that someone may become a threat. "I would ask all commanders and leaders at every level to make an effort to look beyond their day to day tasks and be attuned to personnel who may be at risk or pose a danger.  One of the core functions of leadership is assessing the performance and fitness of people honestly and openly.  Failure to do so or kicking the problem to the next unit or the next installation may lead to damaging, if not devastating, consequences," he said.

The report says there were discrepancies between Major Hasan's actual job performance and his personnel records, and Secretary Gates said it was important that commanders do a better job in the future of noting behavioral characteristics that could signify a problem.

The review did not consider whether the Fort Hood attack was an act of terrorism.  Nor did it cover allegations that Hasan was in contact with a radical Islamic cleric in Yemen.  Those issues are part of the criminal case now pending against Hasan in the military justice system.

However, Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did tell reporters that he has been increasingly concerned about soldiers falling prey to radical religious influences. "I think the issue of self-radicalization is one that we have really got to focus on because there is clearly more and more of that going on, and how much of it we have in the military is something that we ought to really understand," he said.

The investigation was led by former Army Secretary Togo West and retired Admiral Vernon Clark.

West said the report's findings suggest the Defense Department needs to adapt to the changing nature of threats in the 21st Century. "Yes, it is the role of our forces to protect the nation from external threats.  But our emerging concern is to protect the force against the internal threat.  We need to make sure we understand the forces that cause an individual to radicalize, to commit acts of violence and thereby to cause an internal vulnerability within our forces," he said.

The report found that the emergency response on base to the Fort Hood shootings was generally impressive, but that there was still room for improvement.

Togo West said the entire incident lasted about seven to eight minutes, from the first shot to the last, and he credited the quick response of military police in helping to prevent more bloodshed.

Secretary Gates expects a number of changes recommended by the report to be implemented in the next few months.