Smadi, Hasan were on FBI radar, yet only one was taken down
The FBI was aware of both. They set up Smadi, but didn't bother to even interview Hasan- why?
""I think part of it also is the sheer mental wall that someone in the military forces would betray their fellow soldiers," said Farah, the security consultant. "That act of betrayal. It's another example of the failure of the imagination that was brought up by the 9/11 Commission.""
The first part of Farah's statement is false- there have already been examples of people in the military murdering their fellow soldiers. The 2nd part is false as well; plenty of people imagined 9/11, and plenty of people knew an attack was coming- that doesn't fly as a reason why nothing was done to prevent it, and steps were taken to obstruct investigations that might have prevented it. Not to mention the WTC demolition, air defense failures, etc. - loose nuke
Smadi, Hasan were on FBI radar, yet only one was taken down
12:00 AM CST on Sunday, November 22, 2009
By DAVID TARRANT / The Dallas Morning News
email@example.com / The Dallas Morning News
s Dave Michaels in Washington, D.C., and Jason Trahan and Lee Hancock contributed to this report.
Both Hosam "Sam" Smadi and Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan attracted attention from federal agents long before their high-profile arrests.
But the two Texas cases, just six weeks apart, resulted in spectacularly different outcomes – one in the prevention of a large-scale terrorist attack in Dallas, the other in a deadly shooting rampage of soldiers and civilians at Fort Hood.
The Sept. 24 arrest of Smadi in Dallas came after he allegedly tried to detonate a vehicle with government- supplied fake explosives at a downtown skyscraper. Smadi was the object of a months-long FBI sting involving Arabic-speaking undercover agents.
The FBI chose not to take the same approach with Hasan, who is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder after the Nov. 5 attack at a base processing center filled with soldiers preparing for deployment to Afghanistan.
An FBI-run terrorism task force knew last December that Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, sent 16 e-mails to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric in Yemen who supports violence against the West.
"Why didn't someone intervene before this man picked up a gun?" asked David Cid, who retired from the FBI after 20 years and is executive director of the Memorial Institute for Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City. "Had the FBI perceived him as a threat, they absolutely would have intervened. So the fundamental question is: Why they didn't see him as a threat? I'm puzzled and concerned."
The FBI has said that analysts decided that Hasan's e-mails had to do with his research on Muslim U.S. soldiers' feelings about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and were not a red flag signaling a threat.
On Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered all military branches to find ways of "identifying service members who could potentially pose credible threats to others." Gates also announced that the Army would study whether it could have prevented the massacre at Fort Hood.
Congress is also looking into the Hasan case. One Senate committee is holding hearings. Another plans to investigate whether intelligence-sharing problems prevented Hasan from being flagged as a threat.
Interviews with counter-terrorism experts, including former FBI agents, indicate that the Smadi and Hasan cases expose vulnerabilities and challenges the government faces in its ongoing effort to prevent acts of terrorism.
The 'lone wolf' problem
The aspiring terrorist, who is either acting alone or within a small group, represents the most dangerous threat that investigators face. It is impossible for the government to identify and, if necessary, take pre-emptive action on every person who espouses violence – to separate the wheat from the chaff.
"In many ways, the lone wolf insider threat is the most challenging and difficult of problems for the counterterrorism and law enforcement communities," said Juan Zarate, former deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism for President George W. Bush.
The best chance to catch aspiring terrorists is when they leave footprints, said Zarate, in his testimony Thursday during hearings into Fort Hood shootings by the Senate Homeland Security Committee. "The more a terrorist is interacting, communicating, and manifesting intent and capabilities, the more likely the plot can be prevented. The U.S. government and foreign partners have uncovered a variety of such cells and networks since 9/11 and prevented numerous attacks."
What made the Fort Hood case so hard to prevent, Zarate said, "was that Maj. Hasan allegedly acted alone, in lone wolf fashion, and may have used his medical research to mask his own inner turmoil and attraction to a violent ideology."
The lone wolf is often an individual who becomes radicalized after exposure to extremist Web sites or through encounters at a place of worship. "They have the intent, then, but they don't have the capability" to do violence, said Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical intelligence for Stratfor Global Intelligence, an Austin-based private firm that gathers intelligence for corporations, U.S. agencies and foreign governments.
"Quite often, they try to gain that capability," he said, and that's often the point when the lone wolf attracts attention from the government.
"It's much easier if you have someone who is overtly soliciting logistical support, who is fishing in a terrorist pond for help," said Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler and hostage negotiator, who worked for the bureau for 25 years.
That was the case of Smadi. According to an FBI affidavit, an undercover FBI agent monitoring an online extremist Web site discovered Smadi espousing jihad against the U.S. more than eight months ago. The 19-year-old Jordanian, who was living near Dallas on an expired tourist visa, was approached by undercover agents pretending to be terrorists. Smadi told them that he wanted to "bring down" Fountain Place, a 60-story office tower, which houses a Wells Fargo bank branch and several commercial enterprises, the affidavit said.
"Smadi is viewed as the classic way a threat emerges," said Douglas Farah, a security consultant and former journalist who investigated terrorist groups. "He's poor and angry, [and has] nothing to lose."
Failure of the imagination
According to several experts, Hasan might have escaped serious scrutiny by the government because of his rank and occupation. A psychiatrist and military officer with a security clearance, Hasan doesn't fit the classic profile of a desperado.
"The challenge with Hasan is he's a psychiatrist, a major in the Army. [He's] been there for 10 years and has a track record," said Van Zandt, the former FBI profiler.
"I think part of it also is the sheer mental wall that someone in the military forces would betray their fellow soldiers," said Farah, the security consultant. "That act of betrayal. It's another example of the failure of the imagination that was brought up by the 9/11 Commission."
Ironically, the fact that Hasan was a Muslim also may have been a factor preventing serious inquiry into the Army major's background – since the military as well as the FBI and other government agencies have heavily recruited Muslims.
"There is legitimate concern as to not wanting to target Muslims," Farah said. "But I do think you have to think of this as a radicalization process and pushing buttons that are directly tied to religious beliefs. You do have a sector of Islam that says you can't be a Muslim and serve in the U.S. military. And he [Hasan] called himself a soldier of Allah."
Hasan often spoke about his faith-based opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. During a PowerPoint presentation in 2007 that was supposed to focus on medical topics, he instead gave a lecture on the moral conflict that Muslims in the military faced as a result of the wars.
If nothing else, that should have raised Hasan's profile to the point where the FBI could have at least talked to him – a case of: "Let's follow this guy a little more closely," Van Zandt said.
"If you know enough to reach out to al-Awlaki, who's not easy to find – if you figure that out, then you're really looking. It shows a certain intentionality," said Farah.
Still, there are mitigating factors – including rights of free speech guaranteed by the Constitution. It's not against the law to espouse violence or even to condone acts of violence, such as the shooting at a recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark., said Stewart, of Stratfor.
Failure to connect the dots
Signs of Hasan's radicalism have emerged since the Fort Hood shootings. But why wasn't that information shared – or acted upon?
"Lots of people saw signs of trouble, but nobody connected the dots," Van Zandt said. "Everybody was carrying around dots in their pockets – his co-workers, his medical school peers – everybody had a dot here and a dot there."
There is no wall between military and civilian investigators that would have impeded investigators. "The FBI has jurisdiction on military bases," said Cid, who helped investigate the Oklahoma City bombing. The military and FBI often work together so "exchange of information shouldn't be impaired."
In addition, interagency communication has improved since problems were identified after the 9/11 attacks eight years ago. "All that being said, it's a complex system," Cid said. "I see mistakes not through malice and intent, but oversight. It's easy to overlook something."
In the end, nobody could prevent the tragedy at Fort Hood. But the case does provide the opportunity to re-examine how the government conducts national security investigations and ways they can be improved.
"I think we're going to see a lot more come out as we get into the hearings on this," Stewart said.
Staff writers Dave Michaels in Washington, D.C., and Jason Trahan and Lee Hancock contributed to this report.