FBI Tracking 100 Suspected Extremists In Military At least a dozen of the cases are full-blown investigations of possible Muslim radicals in the military community. The stepped-up scrutiny comes in the wake of the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 dead.

FBI Tracking 100 Suspected Extremists In Military

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. We begin this hour with an exclusive story about alleged threats from within the U.S. military. NPR has learned that the FBI conducted more than 100 investigations into suspected Islamic extremists inside the military, and at least a dozen of those cases are considered serious - serious enough to warrant a deeper inquiry.

This is the first time these numbers have been revealed publically. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston joins me with more on the story. And Dina, what have you learned.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, what we know is that at the end of last year, the FBI provided a handful of lawmakers with an accounting of all the active Islamic extremist cases they were pursuing inside the military community. And this happened during a closed session in December that was called to look at threats to the military here at home. And that's when lawmakers first heard that the FBI and the Department of Defense had about 100 cases, and that a dozen of them were considered serious.

You know, the FBI declined to confirm the numbers for us because they said they're classified, but the officials familiar with the tally confirmed that the numbers we have are correct. What we don't know is if those numbers have changed dramatically since December.

BLOCK: And Dina, specifically, these are cases in which the FBI and the Pentagon were worried that somebody inside the military was actually going to attack a military target?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly right. I mean, the universe of people is more than just active military and reservists. It also includes close family members and contractors, basically anyone who can get onto a military installation by showing a military ID. Now, if you think about that, that's hundreds of thousands of people that could be included in that universe.

And you could say that 100 cases is just a tiny percentage of that. But Senator Joseph Lieberman, who co-chaired that joint hearing last December, told us that that wasn't the only way to think about it.

SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: But the reality is, it only took one man, Nidal Hasan, to kill 13 people at Fort Hood and injure a lot more. So I thought the number was higher than I would have guessed.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Now, the man he's referring to, Nidal Hasan, that's Major Nidal Hasan. He was an active-duty Army psychiatrist who opened fire on soldiers at a processing center at Fort Hood in 2009. Counterterrorism officials considered that to be the worst terrorist attack on the homeland since 9/11.

BLOCK: And Dina, these investigations that you're talking about, are they a reaction to that mass shooting at Fort Hood? Did these stem from that, specifically?

TEMPLE-RASTON: To a certain extent, they are. Both the FBI and the Defense Department have been extra vigilant in tracking these cases since Fort Hood, and there have been - there had been a bunch of warning signs that indicated that Major Hasan was becoming increasingly radicalized. And people like Senator Lieberman think officials at the time may have turned a blind eye to them.

And since Fort Hood, the presumption is to treat these things much more seriously.

BLOCK: Now, Dina, we mentioned there were maybe 100 or so investigations into suspected Islamic extremists, but that narrowed way down to those that were considered a possibly serious threat. Any way to judge how serious these threats might be?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it's difficult to say. I mean, there's always a chance that there has been some overreaction. I mean, the military and the FBI have been really wary of looking like they're only going after Muslims. Officials that we talked to stressed that the FBI and the military track all kinds of extremism in the ranks, from white supremacists to neo-Nazis.

And it's also hard to gauge how serious these cases are, because as a general matter, the FBI doesn't discuss open investigations, which is what all of these would be. But everybody I talked to said that after Fort Hood, there was new vigilance to not allow an attack like that to happen again. Among other things, the FBI and the Defense Department set up a new reporting procedure to make sure that someone like Hasan wouldn't fall through the cracks.

And the FBI wouldn't say how close any of these cases are to becoming something like a Hasan case or a Fort Hood case, or how close they are to arrests. And until something like that happens and we could see the evidence, it's hard to gauge what kind of threat this really is.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston with an exclusive report on FBI investigations into possible Islamic extremists within the U.S. military. Dina, thank you.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're very welcome.

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