FBI Conducts Damage Control On Fort Hood Shooting
By Mary Jacoby | November 10, 2009 2:02 am

The Federal Bureau of Investigation didn’t open a criminal investigation into accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan’s communications with a prominent al Qaeda-linked cleric in Yemen because investigators concluded they were protected “free speech,” Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff reports.

Instead, investigators concluded the communications “were consistent with a research project the psychiatrist was then conducting at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington on post-traumatic stress disorder,” the  New York Times reported.

The new information comes from a background briefing that three unnamed senior government investigators held for reporters Monday evening, according to Isikoff.

Radical cleric Anwar al-Awalki (left) was in communication with Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan before the shooting spree.

Radical cleric Anwar al-Awalki (left) was in communication with Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan before the shootings.

As calls in Congress for an investigation grew Monday, the investigators offered an explanation for how Hasan was allowed to remain in his military post, despite evidence the Army psychiatrist was in contact with an American-born cleric who has provided inspiration for jihad against the West.

Yet the briefing also shows how the government, eight years after the intelligence failures that led to the 9/11 attacks, still wrestles with how to coordinate and assess information vital to national security.

For example, information about Hasan’s recent purchase of a semi-automatic handgun with a magazine allowing him to fire many rounds without reloading wasn’t given to the FBI, the investigators said, according to Isikoff.

Hasan is accused of going on a shooting spree last week at the military base in Fort Hood, Tex., killing 13 people.

On Monday, Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote the FBI, CIA, NSA and Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair to direct them to keep relevant documents for congressional review. And Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said his panel would investigate.

Communications believed to be emails between Hasan and the cleric, Anwar al-Awalki, were intercepted last year and this year. But “[t]here was no indication that Major Hasan was planning an imminent attack at all, or that he was directed to do anything,” a senior investigator told the Times.

The U.S. intercepted 10 to 20 emails from Hasan to Awalki. The cleric answered at least twice, The Washington Post reported. The correspondence was ”not a smoking gun, but communications that in hindsight raise some concern,” a terrorism expert with knowledge of the case told the Post.

Isikoff reported that the FBI wasn’t made aware that Hasan had purchased hand guns in August at a Killeen, Tex., gun shop named “Guns Galore.” Tight restrictions imposed by Congress on how information about weapons purchases can be shared with law enforcement authorities helped keep that crucial information from the FBI, the investigators said at the background briefing.

Still, it appears the FBI had already decided to close its inquiry into Hasan by the time of his gun purchase. And it’s clear that Hasan’s communications with Awalki didn’t elevate the matter sufficiently to remove him from military duty, despite abundant evidence in government files that the cleric promoted jihad.

Law enforcement authorities also suspected that Awalki was assisting al-Qaeda in plotting attacks from Yemen.

Transcripts and audiotapes about Awalki’s lectures about waging attacks on the West were found in the password protected computer files of suspects arrested in bombing plots in Europe and North America.

As former Washington Post reporter Susan Schmidt wrote Monday in an article for the International Assessment and Strategy Center:

The 9/11 Commission and congressional investigators reported that Aulaqi was visited in early 2000 by a close associate of Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheikh jailed for conspiracy [connected to] the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Soon after, however, in March 2000, the FBI shut down its counterterrorism investigation of Aulaqi, saying later it did not have sufficient evidence to bring a case. A month before it did so, hijackers Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, fresh from an al Qaeda planning meeting in Malaysia, arrived in the United States and turned up at Aulaqi’s mosque in San Diego.

Awalki was a spiritual leader to 9/11 hijakers Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who slipped into the country after the CIA failed to alert the FBI, the congressional 9/11 commission report found. The cleric befriended them at a San Diego mosque in 2000, and he later counseled the future hijakers when he moved east to Falls Church, Va., where he was imam at the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center.

Hasan and his family also worshiped at Dar al-Hijrah.

Awalki moved to Yemen after the 9/11 attacks. He was arrested in 2006 and released in 2007 under still unexplained circumstances. The cleric said in a taped interview posted on a British Web site after his release that he was interrogated by the FBI several times.

Awalki now runs his own English-language Web site. On Monday, he posted a blog item praising Hasan’s alleged shooting spree.  ”How can there be any dispute about the virtue of what he has done? In fact the only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the US army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal,” Awalki wrote.

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3 Comments

  1. TMS says:

    The toughest part of any investigation is the threat assesment call after all investigatve leads are exhausted. The final decision on whether a individual will pose a threat. Only the most experienced supervisory investigtors can make this call and sometimes they even get it wrong. It’s a tough job which most people only hear about when the call goes wrong. I’am sure their are going to be many restless nights for the investigators involved in the Hassan case but in the end their is only so much that can be done which is why it’s called a risk assesment.

  2. winoceros says:

    Dar al-Hijrah is also the mosque where that shining beacon of Muslim young manhood and accomplishment, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, valedictorian of the Islamic Saudi Academy (ISA), who is serving time for planning to assassinate President Bush, attended.

    There’s a lovely video on YouTube of him singing the Qur’an. They must be so proud.

    This couldn’t be a mosque where strict adherence to Qur’an and its tenets is taught, could it?

  3. [...] This article at Main Justice notes that the FBI task force investigation was already shut down by the time the gun purchase [...]

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