Washington • In emails to a known terrorist, the man charged with killing 13 people in a 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas, expressed his support for suicide bombings and killing civilians — glaring signs that the FBI did not act on but should have, a lawmaker briefed on a new report on the rampage said Wednesday.
Army Maj. Nidal Hasan told a radical Islamic cleric — a man well-known to the U.S. intelligence community — that he advocated using suicide bombers and that he believed it was OK to kill civilians, Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told The Associated Press. And the known terrorist, Anwar al-Awlaki, told Hasan in an email that the Army psychiatrist should keep the terrorist’s contact information handy, McCaul said.
But the agents on the FBI’s Washington anti-terrorism task force thought the issue of a Muslim soldier talking to extremists was too sensitive to bring up with the Defense Department, McCaul said the report found.
“It shows you the length of the political correctness stuff going on,” McCaul said after he was briefed on the findings of the independent review Wednesday.
FBI Director Robert Mueller called for the review in 2009 and asked a former bureau director, William Webster, to lead it. The FBI is expected to release an unclassified version of the report this week, McCaul said.
A Senate report released last year also said the FBI missed warning signs about Hasan, who Senate investigators said had become an Islamic extremist and a “ticking time bomb” before the rampage. But McCaul said some of the emails described in the Webster report were ones he had not previously seen.
Immediate reviews into the government’s handling of the Hasan case revealed that members of two FBI anti-terrorism task forces saw emails between the Army psychiatrist and al-Awlaki beginning in December 2008. Those task forces reviewed the communications and decided they were in keeping with Hasan’s research at the time, and as a result, no formal investigation of Hasan was opened. Hasan was writing a research paper about the effects of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But McCaul said that wasn’t the whole story. The FBI in San Diego had been investigating al-Awlaki, a former San Diego resident, for his possible connections to the 9/11 hijackers. When agents saw emails between Hasan and al-Awlaki, they asked the FBI’s Washington office to talk to Hasan’s bosses, according to a government official briefed on the findings who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the Webster report. But the Washington agents thought that interviewing American Muslims who visit extremist websites was a sensitive issue and did not reach out to Hasan’s bosses at the Defense Department.
FBI agents also misinterpreted an abbreviation the Army used regarding Hasan, McCaul said. The Army identified Hasan as a “Comms. Officer,” and, while the Army meant Hasan was a commissioned officer, the FBI interpreted it to mean that Hasan was a communications officer. The FBI decided not to disseminate an intelligence report on Hasan because the FBI thought that as a communications officer, Hasan would have seen the report, the government official said.
Neither the FBI nor Webster responded to requests for comment. But the FBI and Defense Department have said that they’ve made several policy changes since the Fort Hood assault to help prevent similar attacks.
Hasan is charged with killing 13 people and wounding 32 others in the November 2009 attack at the Texas Army post. He is being tried in a military court. Al-Awlaki, implicated in other terror attacks, was killed in a drone strike in Yemen last year.