Gates orders changes after Fort Hood review

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered senior officials to improve information-sharing and take other steps to prevent violence similar to the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas.

The Defense Department on Friday released the results of its final review of recommendations an independent panel made following the shooting. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, the psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people and maiming 43 others, remains in custody and is awaiting military court martial. He is charged with 13 counts of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder.

In an Aug. 18 memorandum, Gates ordered Defense leaders to make changes aimed at ensuring commanders and supervisors have access to appropriate information in personnel records; improving the way information is shared among installations and with other agencies, such as the FBI; responding more effectively to emergencies; and clarifying roles and responsibilities for providing security.

"These initiatives will significantly improve the department's ability to mitigate internal threats, ensure force protection, enable emergency response, and provide care for victims and their families," Gates wrote.

Last November, Gates ordered an independent panel, led by former Army Secretary Togo West and retired Navy Adm. Vern Clark, to review the personnel policies, programs and procedural weaknesses that jeopardized "the health and safety of our employees and their families" in the attack, according to the terms of reference guiding the review.

That review, released in January, made a number of recommendations for strengthening policies to identify and respond to radicalized service members.

The independent panel also recommended the Army take personnel action against an unnamed number of officers in Hasan's chain of command who failed to hold him to professional standards of conduct. Press reports following the shooting identified a number of red flags in Hasan's behavior that raised serious questions about his motives and competence, but were not included in his personnel records.

Due to the ongoing investigation and future prosecution of Hasan, as well as privacy concerns, Defense leaders have declined to address specific issues relating to his service.

Gates addressed the issue obliquely in his memo, however. The force protection measures ordered are not a substitute for leadership, he said. "Leading forces is both a duty and a privilege, and it carries with it the clear responsibility to ensure good order and discipline," he wrote.

"The department will continue to enable military leaders with the tools and discretion they need to take appropriate action to prevent and respond to potential problems, whatever their cause," Gates continued. "As the department takes steps to strengthen its approach to force protection, I ask leaders and commanders across the force to remain mindful of the unique requirements of the profession of arms -- that military service is grounded in an oath to support and defend our Constitution, but also may necessitate the sacrifice of some of the very rights we defend."

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was optimistic the changes Gates ordered would improve the safety of the force in measurable ways.

"Secretary Gates and the independent panel did an excellent job rapidly identifying and addressing our internal security shortfalls without interfering with the criminal investigation and prosecution of Major Hasan," Skelton said in a statement. "By tackling this process with a patient and deliberate attitude, we can successfully fix the shortfalls of our force protection without hindering the ability to bring the alleged perpetrator to justice."

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