A terrorism expert told a Senate committee yesterday that the Fort Hood massacre was an act of domestic terrorism but probably could not have been prevented unless the United States had resorted to police state tactics.
Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Corporation testified that he believes the alleged rampage by Maj. Nidal Hasan that killed 13 people at the Texas military base should not provoke blanket security.
"While I await the government's own inquiry, in this case I remain skeptical," he testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. "We do not, nor would we want, to live in a police state where every dubious remark, questionable correspondence, or relationship deemed suspicious is noted, recorded, and scrutinized for signs of dangerous deviancy."
Both the Obama administration and the Defense Department are conducting investigations into whether information-sharing gaps and procedural lapses allowed Hasan's rampage to occur. The Obama administration, however, did not supply witnesses to testify before the Senate committee because its investigation is ongoing.
Jenkins told the committee that publicly available information on Hasan shows he passed many of the signposts on the radicalization path. "If some of the markers of radicalization and recruitment are missing, it is because, except for Hasan's reported correspondence with the imam, Anwar al-Aulaqi, his journey may have been entirely an interior one."
Jenkins' reference to the prominent jihadist cleric al-Aulaqi may be the most troubling aspect of the lead up to Hasan's alleged rampage. The FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) knew about Hasan's multiple e-mail communications with the radical cleric in December but determined that they were in line with his research focus on Muslim soldiers. But there were other troublesome signs, including Hasan's PowerPoint presentation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that argued American-Muslim soldiers should be granted conscientious objector status. "It's getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims," Hasan said in the presentation, according to The Washington Post's Dana Priest.
“There were warning signs and red flags galore,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), the ranking member on Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, reports HS Today. “When you start to put together all of the pieces of information, it reminds me very much of the siloed information that was available throughout the federal agencies prior to the attacks on our country on 9/11.”
Jenkins, however, did not seem persuaded by this view.
"Seen through a rearview mirror, the clues appear tantalizingly obvious—if only we had been able to connect the dots," he said. "That famous phrase sometimes seduces us into overestimating what is reasonably knowable."
Nevertheless, Jenkins told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs that homegrown terrorism activity has increased since 9-11 and that it is a legitimate security concern. He stated that nearly 30 terrorist plots have been uncovered since 9-11. Of the 30, a minority have targeted U.S. service members while the majority have targeted mass transportation targets.
"What authorities confront are tiny conspiracies or the actions of individuals," he said, "which in a free society will always be hard to predict and prevent."
Jenkins also said these attacks and plots are natural blowback from U.S. foreign policy.
"American foreign policy should not be determined by a handful of shooters and would-be bombers, but we must accept the fact that what America does in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Pakistan may provoke terrorism in the United States," he said. "Wars are no longer confined geographically."
The good news, however, is that homegrown jihadist plots and attacks show al Qaeda's reach has deteriorated. Jenkins said RAND research shows that al Qaeda-inspired attacks outside of Iraq and Afghanistan are poor in quality. Because of the pressure the U.S. military is putting on al Qaeda, it can only "exhort others to violence" in what analysts describe as "leaderless resistance." Jenkins also told lawmakers that the level of terrorist violence was worse throughout the 1970s than it is today.
While Jenkins agreed that domestic terrorism was a concern, he also told the committee that the Muslim American community did not seem swayed by jihadist appeals toward violence.
"With roughly 3 million Muslims in America ... 100 terrorists represent a mere 0.00003 percent of the Muslim population—fewer than one out of 30,000," he said.
Jenkins stressed that the Hasan rampage should not prejudice the public's view of Muslim Americans because Hasan was an individual.
"Major Nidal Malik Hasan has the characteristics of both political extremist and ordinary mass murderer," he said. "At a glance, his homicidal rampage looks a lot like what used to be called 'going postal'—a deepening sense of personal grievance culminating in a homicidal rampage directed against co-workers, in this case, fellow soldiers. For Hasan, 'going jihad' reflects the channeling of obvious personality problems into deadly fanaticism."
Collins, however, pledged that her committee's ongoing investigation will determine where bureaucratic breakdowns occurred.
♦ Photo of Brian Michael Jenkins from RAND.org.