Senate probe finds gaps persist in preventing domestic attacks

The FBI and Defense Department still have not taken sufficient action to identify and prevent terrorist plots hatched by individuals inside the United States who succumb to radical Islamic ideology, according to the findings of a Senate investigation released Thursday.

The probe by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee examined the circumstances leading up to the November 2009 terrorist attack at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 Defense employees dead and another 32 wounded.

Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. citizen, has been charged with carrying out the attacks.

"Our basic conclusion is as follows: Although neither DoD nor the FBI had specific information concerning the time, place, or nature of the attack, they collectively had sufficient information to have detected Hasan's radicalization to violent Islamist extremism but failed both to understand and to act on it," the report concluded.

Many of the findings in the report have already been made public, but some of the details are new.

For example, the report said Hasan's radicalization to violent Islamic extremism "was on full display" to military officials, and he was even referred to as a "ticking time bomb." No action was taken, however, to discipline or discharge him, and evaluation reports of Hasan "sanitized his obsession with violent Islamist extremism into praiseworthy research on counterterrorism," it added.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said the attack should have been prevented and that 13 people died "needlessly."

"People in the Department of Defense and the FBI had ample evidence of alleged killer Nidal Hasan's growing sympathies toward violent Islamist extremism in the years before the attack. He was not just a 'ticking time bomb' but a traitor," Lieberman said.

"To honor their memory, we pledge to use this report and its recommendations as a blueprint to ensure the appropriate reforms are adopted quickly so the next 'ticking time bomb' can be spotted early and defused before another deadly detonation," he added.

An FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force learned that Hasan was communicating with a suspected terrorist before the attack. The suspect's name is redacted in the report, but the person has previously been identified as radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

The task force inquiry, however, failed to identify all of Hasan's communications or to inform the military and Army security officials that Hasan was communicating with a known Islamic extremist, the report stated. Instead, it relied on the "erroneous" military evaluation reports, ultimately dismissing his communication as legitimate research, the investigation found.

The report concludes that the FBI's inquiry into Hasan "ended prematurely" and was impeded by division between field offices, insufficient use of intelligence analysts, and outdated investigative techniques.

The FBI was not immediately available for comment.

Overall, the investigation found "that the Fort Hood attack is an indicator that the current status of the FBI's transformation to become intelligence-driven is incomplete and that the FBI faces internal challenges -- which may include cultural barriers -- that can frustrate the on-going institutional reforms," the report concluded.

With regard to the Pentagon, the report said it was clear that DoD lacks "the institutional culture, through updated policies and training, sufficient to inform commanders and all levels of service members how to identify radicalization to violent Islamist extremism and to distinguish this ideology from the peaceful practice of Islam."

A Pentagon spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.

Though the report noted that the Pentagon conducted an internal review after the attack, it said DoD still has not specifically stated that the threat that resulted in the Fort Hood attack was from "violent Islamist extremism."

"DoD should update its policies on extremism and religious accommodation to ensure that violent Islamist extremism is not tolerated," the report said. "DoD should also train service members on violent Islamist extremism and how it differs from Islamic religious belief and practices."

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