Fort Hood: One Heck of a Man-Caused Disaster

By Janice Kephart on November 13, 2009

Today’s top news is that the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is finally getting a trial, not by a military commission, but in a courtroom in New York City. Four others that were also key to assuring logistics and finances for the plot will likely be indicted and tried with KSM, according to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder during a press conference this morning. Despite Republican statements claiming that KSM may walk due to a procedural or evidentiary issues related to torture, Holder stated that his personal review of the files indicates there is sufficient evidence to convict these men and seek the death penalty even without presenting questionable evidence. If Holder is right, then the decision to move the 9/11 conspirators to New York to be indicted and put on trial is in keeping with prior successful and noteworthy terrorism convictions such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; a subsequent plot to blow up key Big Apple landmarks; and the East African bombings of 1998. Defendants awaiting trial for their part in the USS Cole bombing of 2000 will be rightly tried by a military commission. There should be no issue here. The administration is doing the right thing to move these cases to justice after such a long, arduous, and highly argued waiting period.

This is good news. Consider the interesting timing of Attorney General Holder’s announcement, however. Six weeks ago there was a string of terror arrests and indictments around the country, all within a week’s time. All of these events paled in comparison to the Fort Hood murders a week ago. Yet the administration has not admitted we have a potential rising tide of emboldened jihadist activity. They have not said that the Fort Hood incident, if the evidence indicates that the murders constituted a terrorist incident, requires a reconsideration of our anti-terror policies. Instead, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano could only say she hoped there would not be an anti-Muslim backlash. And while most of the country would have no quarrel with such a statement, what was critically lacking is an acknowledgement there has been a worrying uptick in jihadist activity as of late – or at least jihadist activity that is coming so close to fruition, or as did at Fort Hood, tragically did come to fruition. Our leaders are irresponsible to not say so. Putting political correctness first before security is becoming increasingly problematic.

This past February our new Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told the European press she didn’t want to talk about terrorism anymore because it scared people. She’d rather address terrorism as a "man-made disaster." She also said she'd like to switch the discussion point over from "prevention" to "preparation." Even at the time, the new rubric was absurd. Here was a new administration appointing a Secretary of Homeland Security and announcing she wasn’t going to help secure our homeland against terrorists, but instead prepare it for an undefined set of man-made disasters.

A real concern I noted at that time was that the terrorists who'd been quietly waiting for President Bush to leave office since 9/11 would perk up their ears when President Obama and his Secretary of Homeland Security began talking about preparing for their attacks, not preventing them. I'm terribly glad we have been preparing for man-made disasters, because the terrorists that have been assimilating quietly in our country seem to be feeling just a twinge emboldened as of late. Up to a week ago, it seemed like not such a bad case of reverse psychology (if totally inadvertent): make the terrorists feel at home, and then nab them when they try to commit a terrorist act. A case of law enforcement roulette, but it was working. Take a look at the FBI's press release for September 25, 2009, listing its top ten stories for the week. The first six were all terror cases:

September 25, 2009 Washington D.C.
FBI National Press Office
(202) 324-3691

FBI's Top Ten News Stories for the Week Ending September 25, 2009

1. New York: Najibullah Zazi Indicted for Conspiracy to Use Explosives
Najibullah Zazi, a resident of Aurora, Colorado and legal permanent resident of the United States from Afghanistan, was indicted in the Eastern District of New York on a charge of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction (explosive bombs) against persons or property in the United States.

2. New York/Denver: Three Arrested in Ongoing Terror Investigation
FBI agents in Colorado arrested Najibullah Zazi and his father, Mohammed Wali Zazi, for making false statements to federal agents in an ongoing terror investigation. In addition, FBI agents in New York arrested Ahmad Wais Afzali on the same charges.

3. Dallas: FBI Arrests Jordanian Citizen for Attempting to Bomb Skyscraper
Hosam Maher Husein Smadi was arrested and charged in a federal criminal complaint with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. Smadi, who was under continuous surveillance by the FBI, was arrested near Fountain Place, a 60-story glass office tower in downtown Dallas, after he placed an inert/inactive car bomb at the location.

4. Charlotte: Superseding Indictment Charges Defendants with Conspiring to Murder Military Personnel, Weapons Violations
A federal grand jury returned a superseding criminal indictment in the Daniel Patrick Boyd matter. The superseding indictment includes all of the charges alleged in the original July 22, 2009 indictment and also includes new charges against Boyd, Hysen Sherifi, and Zakariya Boyd. Charges include conspiring to murder U.S. military personnel at Quantico, Virginia, and various weapons violations.

5. Springfield: Man Arrested in Plot to Bomb Courthouse and Murder Federal Employees
Michael C. Finton was arrested on charges of attempted murder of federal employees and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction (explosives) in connection with a plot to detonate a vehicle bomb at the federal building in Springfield, Illinois.

6. New York: Brooklyn Resident Indicted for Conspiracy to Commit Murder Overseas and Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to Terrorists
An indictment was unsealed charging Betim Kaziu, a U.S. citizen and resident of Brooklyn, with conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country and conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. Kaziu allegedly devised a plan to travel abroad for the purpose of joining a radical foreign fighter group and to take up arms against perceived enemies of Islam.

And then Fort Hood happened. A lone shooter in an unexpected venue, but one Al Qaeda has long sought to turn from the inside. At first, there was a description of a man who had cracked under military pressures (even though he had never been deployed) who happened to be a Muslim. Now, evidence is showing something very different: a premeditated attack by a U.S. military officer on fellow soldiers because he felt it his duty to Allah to take down as many infidels as possible. Although there is no conclusive evidence that Hasan was anything other than a self-appointed terrorist whose ideology co-joined with Al Qaeda, Hasan was likely aware of the recent fatwah that justified single-actor attacks against the infidels. Witnesses say Hasan was screaming "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great" – the jihadist battle cry) as he was shooting 51 people.

The sad irony is that despite the FBI's successes, they did not stop Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan from carrying out what it seems now a jihadist duty to "achieve the submission of unbelievers to Islam." In fact, there is no way the FBI can catch everyone, even if there is an outstanding issue as to whether the FBI missed the boat on this case. Yet in Hasan, the terrorism agenda had a perfect self-made recruit. The traditional target for terrorists has always been the military. There was the 2000 attack on the USS Cole while refueling in Yemen that left 17 dead. The 2007 Fort Dix plot to shoot up military officers on that New Jersey base (three radical Islamist immigrant brothers were sentenced in April 2009 to life in prison). In July 2009, shortly after that conviction, Daniel Boyd and his sons were arrested after a two year operation for plans to attack the Marine base in Quantico, Va. All these cases involved infiltrating the military. But Hasan was right there, seemingly immersed in a psychological jihadist incubation that eventually turned beliefs into action.

The FBI reports that Hasan had reached their radar almost a year ago when he was communicating with a "subject" of a Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation:

Major Hasan came to the attention of the FBI in December 2008 as part of an unrelated investigation being conducted by one of our Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs). JTTFs are FBI-led, multi-agency teams made up of FBI agents, other federal investigators, including those from the Department of Defense, and state and local law enforcement officers. Such task forces are designed to bring investigators and analysts into a collaborative, information-sharing environment in order to maximize the collective impact of the respective agencies.

In this case, the JTTF included investigators and analysts from, among other agencies, the FBI and the Department of Defense's Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS). Investigators on the JTTF reviewed certain communications between Major Hasan and the subject of that investigation and assessed that the content of those communications was consistent with research being conducted by Major Hasan in his position as a psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Medical Center. Because the content of the communications was explainable by his research and nothing else derogatory was found, the JTTF concluded that Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or terrorist planning. Other communications that the FBI was aware of were similar to the ones reviewed by the JTTF.

So this brings us back to whether this administration will be willing to connect the policy dots in the Hasan case. It remains curious that our leaders are not calling a terrorist, a terrorist. Are we going to continue to call Fort Hood a compassion crime by a man so horrified by what he heard in the halls of Walter Reed he decided to put other, unrelated comrades out of their misery by killing them? What good does it do us as a country to continue to turn our backs on the reality that the terrorist threat remains, and is very real? Whatever Hasan's psychological makeup, he committed a terrorist act. Period. Our leaders need to recognize counterterrorism is not just a law enforcement matter. While the FBI is doing its best and has saved us from incidents dozens of times since 9/11, they simply cannot catch every terrorist every time. We need to tell the world we have robust policies to counter them, and then follow through.

When a terrorist seeks to come into our country, like the 9/11 terrorists or Dallas would-be bomber from Syria, Hosam Smadi, we need to prevent that terrorist from entering. For those that slip through, it is our duty as a nation to prevent their actions and arrest or remove them, not embolden them by pretending the problem is not what it is. Because really, when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of descriptive clauses, the Fort Hood terrorist incident was one heck of a man-caused disaster. Disasters like that this one are the whole reason this country needs to admit that Fort Hood suffered the worst terrorist incident since 9/11. If we simply close our eyes and prepare for another disaster, that is exactly what will happen.