Pentagon Says Warning Signs Were Missed

The Pentagon on Friday offered its view of what the military missed before a massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. People who worked with him say Major Nidal Hassan left many warning signs before allegedly opening fire last year. Defense Secretary Gates says the internal Pentagon policy review "raises serious questions" about the military's ability to cope with security threats within its ranks.

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DEBORAH AMOS, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Deborah Amos.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Today the Pentagon releases its report on what the military missed before a massacre at Fort Hood, Texas. People who worked with him say Major Nadal Hasan left many warning signs before allegedly opening fire last year. But that did not stop the psychiatrist's transfer from Walter Reed Medical Center to Fort Hood for additional work. Defense Secretary Robert Gates summed up the Pentagon's conclusions a short time ago.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (U.S. Defense Department): In particular, the review concluded the DOD force protection programs are not properly focused on internal threats such as workplace violence and self-radicalization.

INSKEEP: Let's try to translate that with NPR's Daniel Zwerdling, who's been covering the story from the beginning. Daniel, good morning once again.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: DOD force protection. That's people who are supposed to look after things - security, basically - were not properly focused, Gates says, on internal threats.

ZWERDLING: Interesting. He said the military basically is focused, the whole structure was focused on foreign enemies, the Cold War, spies...

INSKEEP: Or enemies trying to infiltrate spies from outside. Okay.

ZWERDLING: Exactly. And they were not focused on the sort of things that I was reporting last November, which was that some of Nidal Hasan's supervisors, as early as 2007, started musing to each other: Is it possible that this guy is a radical Muslim extremist who might even leak secrets to Muslim extremists? Could he be capable of committing fratricide? They actually - he was preoccupied, some of his colleagues said, with the case of the American Muslim soldier back in 2003 who killed the U.S. soldiers in Kuwait.

Let me just mention that the military has not yet released the actual report, so I have not seen any fine print.

INSKEEP: Okay, so this is a general idea of what they're going to be reporting a little bit later on today. Now, they talk about the problem - Gates talks about the problem of self-radicalization. That seems to be part of what happened here. He also just mentions workplace violence, which suggests that Gates is concerned not only about Islamic radical threats but simply about mental illness and difficulty of that kind.

ZWERDLING: Well, it was curious. Gates did not give any indication how much this report goes into something that all of the sources I've talked to in the military's medical field say is as important as the radicalization issue, and that is simply: what kind of psychiatrists are we assigning to deal with our sickest and most vulnerable soldiers coming back from the war?

Now, remember, back in November I reported starting four or five years ago, Hasan's supervisors at Walter Reade and at the military's medical university had serious concerns about his - what one supervisor called his lack of professionalism and poor judgment. They said he was simply at best a mediocre psychiatrist and at worst a really bad one. The caught him proselytizing the patients about Islam.

INSKEEP: And still he kept his job and got promoted?

ZWERDLING: Exactly. He got a fellowship that normally is only given to the best psychiatrists, and so what the report should show, we hope, is, you know, who knew what about him, who reported it to whom, why did they promote him instead of kicking him out of...

INSKEEP: Well, now, did Gates talk about the failure of Major Hasan's commanders to pass on information that they had about him?

ZWERDLING: He did, actually. And as I reported in November, they sent him to Fort Hood - the top Army officials decided to send him to Fort Hood partly because they sort of hoped it would get him out of their hair. And we have another clip of Secretary Gates. Let's listen.

Sec. GATES: One of the core functions of leadership is assessing the performance and fitness of people honestly and openly. Failure to do so, or kicking the problem to the next unit or the next installation, may lead to damaging if not devastating consequences.

ZWERDLING: You know, it's not just the military that does this. It's institutions everywhere. Let's kick the problem guy to the person in that office. They'll deal with him.

INSKEEP: Daniel, thanks very much.

ZWERDLING: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Daniel Zwerdling is reporting this morning on a Pentagon report due out a little bit later on today. Secretary Gates, the defense secretary, says that this report finds the Pentagon was not properly focused on internal threats like workplace and self-radicalization.

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