Did A File Error Stall FBI Inquiry Into Hasan? NPR has reconstructed what officials did or didn't do over the past year with regard to Maj. Nidal Hasan, the alleged Fort Hood shooter. Sources say it's likely that the FBI, which looked into Hasan last winter, may have missed clues about his character because it got information from the wrong Army file.
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Did A File Error Stall FBI Inquiry Into Hasan?

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Did A File Error Stall FBI Inquiry Into Hasan?

Did A File Error Stall FBI Inquiry Into Hasan?

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is away. I'm Steve Inskeep.

We have new information, this morning, about the man accused of a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. It involves Major Nidal Hasan's life before that shooting. As we know, Major Hasan came to the FBI's attention long before the attack. Yet, people familiar with this case say FBI agents did not seek out the most relevant information about his troubled past. That's what we're learning now. The agents did not ask Hasan's supervisors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for key information that was available in a filing cabinet.

NPR's Daniel Zwerdling reports on how this may have led the FBI to miss important clues.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: The FBI and the Army never connected the dots, partly because of plain old human error - although Mike German is more philosophical. German was an FBI agent for 16 years, now he is at the ACLU. He says even the best investigation might not have forecast that Hasan would shoot his colleagues.

Mr. MIKE GERMAN (Counsel with ACLU): Thankfully, that's a very rare event. Here's the problem. It's very hard to predict the future.

ZWERDLING: But let's go back and reconstruct what officials in the FBI and army did or didn't do. Spokesmen of both didn't return our calls, and we based this report on interviews with former FBI officials and sources at Walter Reed and the military's medical school. The evidence suggests here's what likely happened.

It's December 2008. U.S. spy agencies are keeping track of the radical cleric who used to preach in Virginia - now he's in Yemen. Electronic intercepts discover that the cleric and an American named Nidal Hasan are trading Emails. So they send a report about it to the Joint Terrorism Task Force back in the Washington, D.C. area. And most likely, a supervisor hands it to an FBI agent.

Mr. MARION BOWMAN (Former FBI official): And probably say, check it out, see what you find. And that's probably about it.

ZWERDLING: That's Marion Bowman. He was one of the top officials at the FBI, in charge of national security, until a few years ago. Bowman says that at this point, the FBI agent would have done what's called an assessment. The agent might have checked out Hasan in court records and other public government files. He would have pulled his driving record.

Mr. BOWMAN: Their primary reason would be to get a picture.

ZWERDLING: And then the FBI agent would have probably picked up the phone and he or she would have called Walter Reed, that's where Hasan trained. And at this point, let's freeze that frame for a moment, the FBI agent is reaching for the phone. And let's go to Walter Reed. As we've been reporting, Hasan's boss there wrote a memo, which denounced Hasan. He said Hasan had poor judgment and was unprofessional. Some colleagues had been troubled by a lecture Hasan gave about Islam. They felt he was telling them that nonbelievers, like them, should go to hell on Earth. Hasan showed PowerPoint slides to back it up.

Some supervisors had even wondered if Hasan might be psychotic. Much of this information, including the Islamic lecture, was in Hasan's training file. Every resident has a training file. It's a thick folder that's stored behind a secretary's desk at Walter Reed. And now, let's go back to the FBI agent. He calls Walter Reed, and he doesn't get any of this information I've just told you.

Mr. BOWMAN: I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised at all.

ZWERDLING: Marion Bowman, the former FBI official, says here's what likely happened. That's routine. The agent calls Walter Reed's security office. Then a security officer calls the commander's office. And somebody pulls Hasan's personnel file, not the training file, they pull the personnel file and tell the FBI agent what's in it. But sources at Walter Reed say personnel files in the military are pretty basic - your rank, your awards, your military history. They say the negative details about Hasan were in his separate training file. But sources say the FBI agent did not meet with Hasan's supervisors or ask anybody at Walter Reed about that. Bowman says if the agent had done that, things might have been different.

Suppose that you were the FBI agent looking into Nidal Hasan.

Mr. BOWMAN: I go back to my supervisor and say, you know, we may have some problems here. I don't know, you know, if it's a fundamentalist problem � meaning Muslim fundamentalism - or if we might have a danger problem. I think we need to open a case.

ZWERDLING: But, Bowman says, you need to put this in context. The FBI gets more than a 100 potential threats, each day, to national security. They only have a few dozen agents to check them out. That means only a few hours to decide this guy is harmless, that one's a threat. And second, what about the psychiatrists at Walter Reed? Why didn't they call the FBI? Those psychiatrists say: don't blame them, the army doesn't train them to spot potential killers. It trains them to heal people.

Daniel Zwerdling, NPR News.

INSKEEP: For extensive coverage of the shootings at Fort Hood, you can go to npr.org.

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