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Globe Editorial

Questions swirl in Fort Hood

November 21, 2009

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CRUCIAL QUESTIONS need to be answered about the motives and contacts of Colonel Nidal Hasan, the suspect charged in the mass murder at Fort Hood, Texas. Was the army psychiatrist radicalized by a Yemeni-American imam who had known two of the 9/11 hijackers and who called the Fort Hood massacre a “heroic act’’? Could the killings have been prevented if the FBI had notified the army about an exchange of e-mails the bureau was monitoring between Hasan and the radical imam?

These are questions that may not be the focus of prosecutors but are rightfully the concern of congressional committees with oversight responsibilities. Irritating as Senator Joe Lieberman’s grandstanding on other matters might be, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was doing what needs to be done when he opened hearings Thursday to determine if federal agencies “missed signals or failed to connect the dots in a way that enabled Hasan to carry out his deadly plan.’’

Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has been more willing than Lieberman to wait for the Justice and Defense departments to finish gathering facts. Nonetheless, he also promised to hold hearings “to find out exactly what happened, where steps were taken - and especially where steps were not taken.’’ Such a scrutiny of possible failures to understand and share intelligence is indispensable, and it must be undertaken by the legislative branch as well as the concerned agencies.

The FBI originally concluded that the e-mails between Hasan and the radical imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, were consistent with a research project the army psychiatrist had been pursuing. But the 9/11 Commission report had raised questions about Awlaki’s turning up in the company of two of the airplane hijackers, first in San Diego and then in Virginia. And Awlaki has since been implicated, as a radicalizing online influence, in other terrorist investigations. The very fact of Hasan’s exchanges with Awlaki ought to have raised suspicions and prompted the FBI to warn the army about Hasan.

Hasan may have been psychologically disturbed, or he may have acted under the sway of jihadist propaganda - or both. For the sake of national security, there is the same need to learn about missed opportunities as there was after 9/11.

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