On Nov. 19, 2009, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Lieberman held a hearing on the Fort Hood shooting. “We will look at the Fort Hood murders not as an isolated event, but as part of a larger pattern of homegrown terrorism that has emerged over the past several years,” Lieberman said in a press release about the hearing.
Since the criminal investigation into the shooting is ongoing, the committee and witnesses had incomplete information about the alleged shooter and the extent of government surveillance of Major Hasan before Nov. 4. The lack of complete information about the alleged shooter did not prevent members of the committee or most witnesses from drawing their own politically expedient, yet baseless conclusions.
Connecting the Dots
As usual, there was much hand-wringing over the perceived lack of information sharing and connecting of dots. In a press release, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) said, “The case… raises questions about whether or not restrictive rules have a chilling effect on the legitimate dissemination of information, making it too difficult to connect the dots that would have allowed a clear picture of the threat to emerge.” Unfortunately she did not question whether or not intelligence agencies are collecting too much information about innocent Americans to be able to effectively assess or manage truly useful intelligence.
One witness, Frances Fragos Townsend, former Assistant to President Bush for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, said that rules for information sharing spelled out in FISA, as well as the new Attorney General Guidelines and the internal operating guidelines, are “cumbersome and discouraging.” She opined that agents tracking Hasan, when confronted with the need to get supervisor’s approval to share information (which she admitted would have been forthcoming), might have decided it was just not worth it. It almost sounded like she was saying agents are just too lazy to follow information-sharing procedures in order to stop a potential terrorist threat.
Several members of the committee latched on to the notion that “political correctness” prevented colleagues of Major Hasan from raising concerns to superiors. They had no evidence for this theory of extreme sensitivity in the ranks, but seemed to love it. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) encouraged each witness to adopt this theory, and would not accept no for an answer, even when he extended it to the FBI. That’s right; according to Senator McCain, FBI agents probably hesitated to share intelligence about Hasan for fear of being politically incorrect.
Viva Domestic Intelligence
Several witnesses urged the committee to ensure that law enforcement has all the tools it needs for domestic intelligence investigations (haven’t we heard this before?) It’s hard to know what additional authorities they would grant to law enforcement, since the FBI had a warrant to monitor Hasan’s communications, and there were no restrictions on sharing necessary intelligence.
Sue Udry is the Director of the Defending Dissent Foundation