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Gates makes recommendations in Ft. Hood shooting case

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today that he has forwarded recommendations to the Army for disciplinary action against supervisors of the accused Ft. Hood shooter.

An official familiar with the investigation said Thursday that five to eight Army officers are expected to face discipline for failing to take action against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan over a series of behavioral and professional problems in the years leading up to the Nov. 5 rampage at the Army base in Texas.

Gates declined to discuss specifics of the case against Hasan, citing the criminal investigation. But he said he was ordering the Defense Department to begin to implement a series of reforms recommended by a review team that examined the events leading to the shooting.

The Department of Defense, Gates said, had not done enough to adapt to “evolving domestic internal security threat.”

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“The report raises serious questions about the degree to which the entire Department of Defense is prepared for similar incidents in the future,” Gates said. “It reveals shortcomings in the way the department is prepared against threats posed by external influences operating on members of our military community.”

Gates said he did not believe such homegrown radicals were a significant threat.

“But,” he added, “clearly one is too many.”

The Defense Department review found the response to the shooting spree at Ft. Hood was “prompt and effective.” Just four minutes and 10 seconds after the first 911 call, the accused shooter was incapacitated and the rampage halted, according to the report.

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The report recommends clarifying for unit commanders their responsibility in identifying people who could pose a threat. Unit commanders, according to the report, must become attuned to indicators of behavioral problems or the potential for violence or radicalization.

But the report also emphasized the importance of giving commanders more information about people within their charge.

“We believe a gap exists in providing information to the right people,” West and Clark wrote in the executive summary of the report. “We now find ourselves at a point where we must give commanders the tools they need to protect the force from new challenges.”

Although the Pentagon review did not examine problems in sharing information between intelligence agencies in depth, the report does say that the operations of the government’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces must be enhanced, and suggests more military personnel be assigned to the groups.

Contacts between Hasan and a radical cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, were monitored by the government, but the joint task force did not share the correspondence with the Army. Some investigators believe those contacts are what pushed Hasan toward violence.

“To protect the force, our leaders need immediate access to information pertaining to service members indicating contacts, connections or relationships with organizations promoting violence,” the report said.

The review, led by retired Adm. Vernon Clark, a former chief of naval operations, and Togo West, a former secretary of the Army, found that personnel evaluations often fail to record problems with behavioral issues.

“At times there is a reluctance to address those issues,” Gates said.

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The military, Gates said, needs to do a better job of comprehensively evaluating personnel. And commanders, he said, need to be able to evaluate their personnel and pick up on behavior that needs closer examination.

An official familiar with the results of a Pentagon review said Thursday that had Hasan’s failings been properly documented and corrective action taken, the accused shooter’s career might have been cut short before the Nov. 5 spree at the Army base that left 13 people dead.

According to officials familiar with the review, Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, repeatedly failed to meet basic standards sets for officers for physical fitness, appearance and work ethic, but that superiors allowed his medical career to advance.

“Had those failings been properly adjudicated, he wouldn’t have progressed” and could have been forced out of the armed services, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the review’s findings had not been made public.

Instead, the investigation found that, for much of Hasan’s career, supervisors were blinded by his resume, believing they had found a rare medical officer: someone with a stellar undergraduate record, prior service in the infantry and intimate knowledge of the Islamic faith.

“The Army thought it had hit the trifecta,” the official said.

The officers whose actions may be called into question hold ranks of colonel and below, and could be given letters of reprimand, according to the official familiar with the review.

The review also concludes that the military should work harder to identify threats posed by service members and employees with criminal tendencies, mental problems or extremist beliefs.

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Information sharing can be improved by giving commanders broader access to law enforcement checks, financial problems and complaints by co-workers. Investigators said that if Hasan’s commanders had such access, they may have been able to take more decisive action.

The report also examines weapons policies. Hasan had two firearms, one given to him by his brother in Virginia and one purchased in Texas when he arrived in Ft. Hood. Because he resided off base, he was not required to disclose that he owned those weapons.

The review does not call for a specific change in weapons policies, but recommends a unified department policy, rather than one that varies by service or installation.

The inquiry raises questions about the Army Medical Corps and how it trains and reviews its officers.

Investigators found that Hasan was promoted because he was an adequate doctor, but that he was a poor officer and should have been forced to take corrective action. The review determined that Hasan was overweight, avoided physical training, was frequently late and did not meet standards for appearance.

During his residency at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington from 2003 to 2007, Hasan was counseled about improperly discussing his religion, the official familiar with the review said. “The feedback he got seemed to be effective,” the official said. "[The proselytizing] stopped.”

But Hasan was a difficult person to work with and at other times pushed back forcefully against counseling. At one point, the review found, a supervisor insisted that he see a Muslim psychiatrist.

Hasan refused, saying his religious views were none of the Army’s business. The supervisor backed down, a decision the review found was a mistake.

Following his Walter Reed residency, Hasan won a military fellowship to continue his studies for two more years. But the review concludes that the honor was intended for high-achieving doctors, so Hasan should instead have been sent into the field or pushed to correct his conduct and behavior.

Despite the failings, the review did not conclude that it was a mistake to send Hasan to Ft. Hood and found no clues that he would become violent.

Hasan’s supervisors in Texas were informed of some of his problems; they reportedly counseled him on his work ethic and worked to accommodate his religious needs -- like having a time and a place to pray.

The investigation, according to a second official, found that Hasan’s performance at Ft. Hood was good.

Still, investigators believe there was suspicious behavior that in hindsight supervisors at Ft. Hood should have confronted Hasan about -- including his refusal to socialize with colleagues and his decision to rent a rundown apartment in a rough part of town.

“He was such a loner,” the first official said. “That is not unusual, but there were enough indicators that we should have taken a closer look. But nobody asked the right questions.”

julian.barnes@latimes.com


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