Dr. Walid Phares
Ft Hood's Terror: The US Failed by Its Own Experts
January 23, 2010
The Pentagon's review of the act of
Terrorism committed at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hasan deserves national
attention not only regarding its important conclusions but also what it missed
in terms of analysis. In this piece, I'll address major points made public in
the media and raise issues about the bigger picture regarding the terror threat
America is facing today.
Jihadi Penetration: Part of a War
As announced by Secretary of Defense Robert
Gates, the report "reveals serious 'shortcomings' in the military's ability to
stop foreign extremists from trying to use America's own soldiers against the
United States." The Pentagon's review of the Fort Hood massacre stated that
"serious shortcomings" were found in "the military's ability to stop foreign
extremists from trying to use its own soldiers against the United States." The
first question that comes to mind is to know if the issue is about
"shortcomings," as described by the Pentagon, or is it about "systemic failures"
as announced by President Obama in his evaluation of the Christmas Day terror
act? For as underlined by the Department of Defense in the case of Major Hasan,
these failures were about the military's ability to "stop foreign terrorists
from using American soldiers against the United States."
Such a statement is extremely important as it
finally informs the public that US personnel is indeed being infiltrated and
recruited by foreign Jihadists, which are described politically by the
Administration as "extremists." Hence, the first logical conclusion from that
finding is that Jihadi networks are performing acts of War (and thus of
Terrorism) against US defense assets and personnel in the homeland. Thus this
warrants the reevaluation of the conflict and re-upgrading it to a state of war,
even though it would still need to be determined "with whom."
Secretary Gates said "military supervisors are
not properly focused on the threat posed by self-radicalization and need to
better understand the behavioral warning signs." He added that "extremists are
changing their tactics in an attempt to hit the United States." Concluding that
the Fort Hood massacre "reveals shortcomings in the way the department is
prepared to defend against threats posed by external influences operating on
members of our military community," he said. "We have not done enough to adapt
to the evolving domestic internal security threat to American troops and
The bottom line of the Department of Defense
report is, as I relentlessly argued before and since Hasan's shootings, that the
US military and intelligence lack the capability of detecting radicalization,
should it be "self" developed or activated from overseas.
American analysts are not able to "detect"
radicalization from where it is generated. In my last three books and dozens of
briefings and testimonies to legislative and executive forums, I underlined the
crucial importance of identifying the ideology behind radicalization. For the
latter is produced by a set of ideas assembled in a doctrinal package.
Unfortunately the Bush and Obama Administrations were both poorly advised by
their experts. They were told, wrongly, that if they try to identify a
"doctrine" they will be meddling with a religion. Academic and cultural advisors
of the various US agencies and offices (the majority of them at least) failed
their government by triggering a fear of theological entanglement.
To the surprise of our Arab and Muslim allies in
the region, who know how to detect the Jihadist narrative, Washington disarmed
its own analysts when bureaucrats of the last two years banned the reference to
the very ideological indicators that could enable our analysts in detecting the
And it is not about "extreme religious views"
inasmuch as it is about an ideology. If Arabs and Muslims can identify it in the
Middle East, why can't Americans do this also? Simply because Jihadi propaganda
already penetrated our advising body and fooled many of our decision makers into
dropping the ideological parameters. Hence, stunningly, Major Hasan, who
amazingly displayed all the narrative of Jihadism, was not spotted as a
Jihadist. The report tried to blame his colleagues and other superiors for
failing to find him "suspicious enough" and thus for causing a shortcoming. I
disagree: what allowed Hasan to move undetected was a bureaucratic memo issued
under both Administrations and made into policy last summer, ordering the
members of the public service to not look at ideology or refer to words that can
detect it. We did it to ourselves.
The Strategic Threat Ahead
The report raises "serious questions" about
whether the military is prepared for similar attacks, particularly "multiple,
simultaneous incidents." In my book, Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies
against America published half a decade ago, I sternly warned about the
strategic determination of Jihadists, al Qaeda and beyond, to target the US
homeland, not just in terms of terrorizing the public, but in the framework of a
chain of strikes widening gradually until it would evolve to coordinated,
In 2006-2007, I served on the then Task Force on
Future Terrorism of the Department of Homeland Security and developed an
analysis clearly showing the path to come. My briefings to several entities and
agencies in the Defense sector clearly argued that implanting, growing, and
triggering homegrown Jihadists to strike at US national security is at the heart
of the enemy's strategy. I even projected the existence of a "war room" that
directs these operations; Imam al Awlaki's example of multiple operatives'
coordination is only a small fragment of what it would be like.
In facing this mushrooming threat, not only do we
not have a detection capacity to counter it, but we have been induced in error
to adopt the opposite policies suitable to our national defense. The misleading
advice that the US Government relied on is deeply responsible for the failure to
counter, stop and reverse radicalization.
The report, although a step in the right
direction, has troubling shortcomings:
A. It claims "fixation on religion" is a missing
indicator. Meaning if Muslims insist on praying or Catholics refrain from eating
meat on Fridays during Lent this could be a lead to radicalization. Obviously it
is a dead end; for the indicator is the substance of the fixation, not the mere
fact of religiosity. One statement of commitment to Jihad is by far more
important than fasting during the whole month of Ramadan. It is not theology it
is ideology, even though many writers in town insist on merging both based on
their readings of text. I offer our government an easier way to detect the
threat, without venturing in inextricable religious debates or unnecessarily
apologizing for one or other particular faith.
B. The report describes Hasan as "an odd duck and
a loner who was passed along from office to office and job to job despite
professional failings that included missed or failed exams and physical fitness
requirements." Nice shot, but it leads nowhere. For the other potential Hasans
amongst us aren't all necessarily odd, failed students and physically unfit. The
next Jihadists could be sharp, are professionals and extremely social. It all
depends on what the "War Room" is going to surprise us with. Medical doctors in
Britain, rich young men from Nigeria or converted farmers from North Carolina
aren't all in one profile basket. So let's stop looking for framing "profiles"
and start detecting ideology.
C. The report calls on the Defense Department "to
fully staff those teams of investigators, analysts, linguists and others so the
Pentagon can quickly see information collected across government agencies about
potential links between troops and terrorist or extremist groups." This is a
long awaited initiative short of creating further catastrophes by staffing our
bureaucracies with more cultural advisors, who would mislead our leaders further
and worsen the already fledgling counter ideology sectors already in place. I am
making the bold statement that our problem is precisely that the expertise we
sought over the past eight years is the reason for our inability to detect
radicalization. Hence I would recommend an additional inquiry into our own
specialization body before we re-contract it to lead the war of ideas.
The beef is there. Everything else is dressing.