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Gates makes recommendations in Ft. Hood shooting case

The military needs to do a better job of comprehensively evaluating personnel and commanders need to be able to evaluate their personnel and pick up on behavior that needs closer examination, he says.

January 15, 2010|By Julian E. Barnes
  • Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan advanced in his career despite falling short of officer standards for fitness, appearance and work ethics.
Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan advanced in his career despite… (Uniformed Services University )

Reporting from Washington — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today that he has forwarded recommendations to the Army for disciplinary action against supervisors of the accused Ft. Hood shooter.

An official familiar with the investigation said Thursday that five to eight Army officers are expected to face discipline for failing to take action against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan over a series of behavioral and professional problems in the years leading up to the Nov. 5 rampage at the Army base in Texas.

Gates declined to discuss specifics of the case against Hasan, citing the criminal investigation. But he said he was ordering the Defense Department to begin to implement a series of reforms recommended by a review team that examined the events leading to the shooting.

The Department of Defense, Gates said, had not done enough to adapt to "evolving domestic internal security threat."

"The report raises serious questions about the degree to which the entire Department of Defense is prepared for similar incidents in the future," Gates said. "It reveals shortcomings in the way the department is prepared against threats posed by external influences operating on members of our military community."

Gates said he did not believe such homegrown radicals were a significant threat.

"But," he added, "clearly one is too many."

The Defense Department review found the response to the shooting spree at Ft. Hood was "prompt and effective." Just four minutes and 10 seconds after the first 911 call, the accused shooter was incapacitated and the rampage halted, according to the report.

The report recommends clarifying for unit commanders their responsibility in identifying people who could pose a threat. Unit commanders, according to the report, must become attuned to indicators of behavioral problems or the potential for violence or radicalization.

But the report also emphasized the importance of giving commanders more information about people within their charge.

"We believe a gap exists in providing information to the right people," West and Clark wrote in the executive summary of the report. "We now find ourselves at a point where we must give commanders the tools they need to protect the force from new challenges."

Although the Pentagon review did not examine problems in sharing information between intelligence agencies in depth, the report does say that the operations of the government's Joint Terrorism Task Forces must be enhanced, and suggests more military personnel be assigned to the groups.

Contacts between Hasan and a radical cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, were monitored by the government, but the joint task force did not share the correspondence with the Army. Some investigators believe those contacts are what pushed Hasan toward violence.

"To protect the force, our leaders need immediate access to information pertaining to service members indicating contacts, connections or relationships with organizations promoting violence," the report said.

The review, led by retired Adm. Vernon Clark, a former chief of naval operations, and Togo West, a former secretary of the Army, found that personnel evaluations often fail to record problems with behavioral issues.

"At times there is a reluctance to address those issues," Gates said.

The military, Gates said, needs to do a better job of comprehensively evaluating personnel. And commanders, he said, need to be able to evaluate their personnel and pick up on behavior that needs closer examination.

An official familiar with the results of a Pentagon review said Thursday that had Hasan's failings been properly documented and corrective action taken, the accused shooter's career might have been cut short before the Nov. 5 spree at the Army base that left 13 people dead.

According to officials familiar with the review, Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, repeatedly failed to meet basic standards sets for officers for physical fitness, appearance and work ethic, but that superiors allowed his medical career to advance.

"Had those failings been properly adjudicated, he wouldn't have progressed" and could have been forced out of the armed services, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the review's findings had not been made public.

Instead, the investigation found that, for much of Hasan's career, supervisors were blinded by his resume, believing they had found a rare medical officer: someone with a stellar undergraduate record, prior service in the infantry and intimate knowledge of the Islamic faith.

"The Army thought it had hit the trifecta," the official said.

The officers whose actions may be called into question hold ranks of colonel and below, and could be given letters of reprimand, according to the official familiar with the review.

The review also concludes that the military should work harder to identify threats posed by service members and employees with criminal tendencies, mental problems or extremist beliefs.

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