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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Giuliani and the Lessons of Fort Hood

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani went beyond the boundaries of what investigators have reported on Sunday when he said the suspect in the 2009 Fort Hood shootings indicated "a desire to participate in jihad" three years before the attack. It is still not clear what the Army knew – and when – about the political views of Maj. Nidal Hasan, or how it failed to identify him as a potential internal threat before the attack that killed 13 people and wounded dozens.

Giuliani was asked by CBS’ "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer whether "it is time to reexamine the gun laws" in the wake of the Jan. 8 shootings of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in Tucson. Giuliani said the "most relevant problem" was suspect Jared Lee Loughner’s mental instability and society’s failure to heed the warning signs. He cited Hasan’s case.

Giuliani, Jan. 16: Most important thing that would have prevented this is if this Loughner had been identified as what he clearly was. And there’s something wrong in a society where we have so many of these situations. We had the– the– the Major Nidal, you know a year-and-a-half ago. Major Nidal for three years in the Army was indicating a desire to– to participate in jihad. And we promoted him in the Army.

While it’s true that the Pentagon has admitted that it missed some early signs of trouble, it hasn’t provided details. And we find nothing in official or unofficial accounts to conclusively support the claim that Maj. Nidal was openly seeking to "participate in jihad" years prior to the shootings.

The Department of Defense issued two reports on the shootings at the Texas military base (January 2010 and August 2010) and the Army issued one (November 2010) without addressing Hasan’s political views and the extent to which they may have influenced him. The reports almost exclusively deal with internal department policies and procedures. The January 2010 report, for example, says the department’s policy on "religious accommodation lacks the clarity" needed to help supervisors know the difference between "appropriate religious practices" and "self-radicalization." But it provides no details on Hasan’s "self-radicalization," beyond saying that "some signs were clearly missed; others ignored."  Without a full, official account of what the Army knew about Hasan, we don’t know for sure if and when he indicated "a desire to participate in jihad" — and neither does Giuliani. 

In fact, Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Susan Collins — the chairman and ranking Republican, respectively, on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — were so frustrated with the lack of information coming from the Obama administration that their panel subpoenaed the administration last April as part of its probe of the shootings. "There are too many questions that still demand answers," they wrote in an April 26, 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed. Hasan still awaits trial — pending the outcome of a mental evaluation — which is why the Department of Defense says it has limited its cooperation with the congressional probe.

Lieberman’s committee completed its report, but has not yet released it. In a Nov. 4, 2010 press release, the committee announced it has concluded that the shootings "may have been prevented had the government acted on information in its possession," but provided no details pending the release of its report. The committee is working with the administration to make sure that the report does not contain material that would compromise Hasan’s prosecution.

What is publicly known about Hasan’s radical Islamic influences before the Nov. 5, 2009 shootings? Lacking official government reports, we have to rely on news accounts. Numerous stories based on information from anonymous sources certainly suggest the Army overlooked signals of Hasan’s increasing radicalization. But even those don’t cite any suspicious incidents occurring as far back as three years before the shootings, as Giuliani had it.

The Washington Post reported shortly after the shootings that Hasan spoke in 2007 of allowing U.S. soldiers who are Muslim to be released as conscientious objectors, but that’s far from indicating a desire to participate in a jihad. In that same story, the Post reported that federal terrorism tasks forces first learned of Hasan’s contact with a radical cleric in December 2008 — a little less than a year before the shootings. But the Post described the e-mails as "innocent" and not alarming coming from an Army psychiatrist conducting research on the conflicts facing U.S. soldiers who are Muslims.

Washington Post, Nov. 12, 2009: Hasan came to the attention of two joint terrorism task forces in December 2008, as he corresponded by e-mail with Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S. citizen and Islamic spiritual leader residing in Yemen who has exhorted followers to pursue violent jihad, or holy war. A Defense Department analyst on one of the task forces concluded that the chatter was innocent and in keeping with Hasan’s research interests, two government officials said this week.

ABC News, citing unnamed government sources, reported days later that in one e-mail Hasan told al-Aulaqi, "I can’t wait to join you" in the afterlife — suggesting, in retrospect, a sinister motive. The FBI launched an investigation into the e-mails headed by former FBI director William Webster. Agency spokesman Bill Carter told us Webster’s review is "still ongoing."

The New York Times, citing an unnamed law enforcement official, wrote of "Internet postings by a man calling himself Nidal Hasan" that "discussed suicide bombings favorably." One item described by the Times was posted July 2008 — 16 months before the attack at Fort Hood. However, the Times added: "It could not be confirmed, however, that the writer was Major Hasan." The paper didn’t say when the FBI became aware of the writings. 

Terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins of the Rand Corporation told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee more than a year ago that "we must wait for a full inquiry to thoroughly understand Hasan’s motives and objectives." We are still waiting.