How Alleged Fort Hood Shooter Slipped Through the Cracks

U.S. Intelligence Knew of Suspect Months Before Last Week's Shooting


Nov. 10, 2009

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the suspect in last weeks Fort Hood, Texas shooting spree that killed 13 people, came under scrutiny by officials beginning last year for communicating with Anwar al-Awlaki, who had been a scholar at a mosque Hasan attended when he lived in Virginia. The Virginia mosque where al-Awlaki taught had also been visited by 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Hani Hanjour.

Officials determined that the communications were benign and contained no threat. Given the results of the review, the FBI did not have enough information to open a full-field investigation, according to investigative officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Officials briefed on the case said that an individual overseas was being monitored when authorities recognized that Hasan had contacted the scholar. The FBI notified two of the bureau's Joint Terrorism Task Force offices, which pursued the leads on Hasan.

"We don't have any indication that he was directed, we don't have any indication that there were co-conspirators but, once again, this is fairly early on in what may be a complex and long-term investigation," a senior investigative official said.

Hasan and al-Awlaki communicated 10 to 20 times -- mostly by e-mail -- from December 2008 to some time this year, according to senior investigative officials.

"There was no indication that Maj. Hasan was planning an attack anywhere ... or that he was directed to do anything," the senior investigative official said.

According to an investigative official briefed on the case, "The Department of Defense was involved through the Joint Terrorism Task Force."

The FBI said in a statement Monday night, "At this point, there is no information to indicate Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had any co-conspirators or was part of a broader terrorist plot. The content of the communications was explainable by his research and nothing else was found."

The communications, reviewed by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, appeared to be part of Hasan's research he conducted at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"There was some social ... some religious guidance," according to one senior official briefed on the inquiry," the senior invesigative official said.

"The general tenor of the communications were fairly benign and did comport with a research project that he was doing that was sanctioned by Walter Reed," a different senior investigative official briefed on the case said.

In pursuing the case, members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force reviewed Hasan's background and military records at Walter Reed.

"Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or terrorist planning," according to the FBI statement.

Justice Department, FBI and Army officials have said that Hasan will be tried in a military court.

One official said Monday that the FBI and Army Criminal Investigation Command attempted to interview Hasan Sunday but that he invoked his right to have counsel. "The state of his mind at the time he conducted the shooting last Thursday is, frankly, unknown," the official said of the alleged attacker.

Intelligence Unaware of Hasan Gun Purchase

Although officials picked up on some e-mail communications, it was unclear if FBI and U.S. intelligence officials were aware of a May 29 blog posting Hasan apparently made in reference to suicide bombers.

"We don't monitor across the board every blog posting that may go up," one of the officials said.

Although Defense Department officials take part in terrorism task force efforts, it's unclear how closely the Army worked with the two FBI field offices in tracking Hasan's communications with al-Awlaki or whether Army officials had approached Hasan about the communications.

The people conducting the intelligence investigation never knew that Hasan purchased the gun he allegedly used in the last week's rampage.

"In hindsight, everything looks much clearer ... wish he had decided not to pull the trigger," one senior official said

Because Hasan had no Brady Law exclusions such as mental illness or felony convictions, he was allowed to purchase the gun he allegedly used in the Killeen, Texas, shooting. He bought it in August.

The military's and FBI's prior knowledge of Hasan is expected to get close scrutiny from oversight committees in Congress, with hearings beginning as early as next week in the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The FBI and intelligence officials briefed top leadership and staff on the Hasan case Monday evening, according to congressional members.