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Military not told about Ft. Hood suspect's e-mails

A Defense official says the FBI and anti-terrorism teams never shared information about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's contact with a radical Yemeni imam. President Obama has ordered a review.

November 11, 2009|Julian E. Barnes and Josh Meyer

WASHINGTON — Two high-profile anti-terrorism task forces did not inform the Defense Department about contacts between a radical Islamic cleric and the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in last week's rampage at Ft. Hood, a senior Defense official said Tuesday.

On the day of a memorial service for those killed at the Texas military base, the revelation compounded questions about whether the government had known enough in advance to stop the gunman.

The FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Forces investigated e-mails that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan sent over the last year to Anwar al Awlaki, an imam in Yemen who espouses a radical Islamist ideology and who has ties to militants. However, officials said, task force members concluded that the communications posed no threat and had been undertaken as part of Hasan's research on Muslims, the military and post-traumatic stress disorders.

Defense officials said Tuesday that the department did not learn about Hasan's contacts with Awlaki until after the Ft. Hood shootings. "There was no U.S. Army or other Department of Defense organization that knew of any contact he had with Muslim extremists," said the senior Defense official, who requested anonymity when discussing the ongoing investigation.

At least one of the task forces included a Defense Department investigator, who did not seek to share the intelligence with the military, officials said.

Various government agencies assign officials and investigators to the Joint Terrorism Task Forces. But there are strict rules about sharing information that is discussed or developed on a task force. "Any and all information from the task force . . . has to be approved by the FBI," the senior Defense official said.

Senior federal law enforcement officials acknowledge that approval is required from a joint task force supervisor, traditionally an FBI official, to share information from investigations with agencies.

In the case of the Hasan e-mails, however, the Pentagon investigator -- a member of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service -- agreed with the task force assessment that the psychiatrist did not pose a threat. The investigator did not press to bring the case to the military's attention.

"It just didn't get to that point," said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing the case. "They made the judgment that it did not rise to that level."

The official cautioned that an investigation would touch on the question of intelligence-sharing, but said there was "no evidence" that any request to share intelligence had been denied. A spokesperson for the Defense Criminal Investigative Service did not return a call for comment.

President Obama, who attended the memorial service Tuesday, has ordered a review. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said U.S. agencies would seek to learn whether there were warnings that should have been heeded.

"That's what we want to figure out," Gibbs said.

The FBI has launched its own internal review, one likely to examine why information on Hasan was not provided to the Defense Department -- and whether the task forces erred in not investigating more thoroughly.

The Army Criminal Investigation Command is working to assess what clues to Hasan's plans or behavior may have been missed by military officials, and whether that evidence should have spurred action.

The possible communication lapse recalls the kind of breakdowns of intelligence-sharing that plagued U.S. agencies leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks. However, it is striking because the interagency task forces were created in large part to make sure information is more easily and routinely shared.

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julian.barnes@latimes.com

josh.meyer@latimes.com

Greg Miller in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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