Congress Awaits Administration Info on Fort Hood Shooter

Congressional investigators were expecting to learn on Wednesday how forthcoming the Obama administration is going to be in explaining why military, law-enforcement, and intelligence officials did not raise red flags that might have led to some kind of official intervention with Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan before he embarked on his deadly shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, last Nov. 5.

Officials from the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, and the office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence were scheduled to present closed-door briefings on the administration's internal investigation of the Fort Hood shootings to both House and Senate intelligence committees on Wednesday. According to congressional aides from both political parties, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, what legislators most want to find out is how much U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies knew about Major Hasan's emotional state, behavioral tics, and Internet contacts with a radical English-speaking jihadist cleric, and why so little notice was taken in authority of what in hindsight appear to be strong warning signs that Hasan was a troubled individual on the verge of a psychic meltdown.

Capitol Hill officials say that the Obama White House and relevant government agencies have been very cooperative in supplying congressional oversight committees with a torrent of information—both raw intelligence and law-enforcement material and results of internal administration inquiries—about alleged would-be Christmas Day underpants airplane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. President Obama and other senior administration officials have said that in the months before Abdulmutallab boarded his flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, U.S. agencies had collected various "bits and pieces" of intelligence, which, had they been properly knitted together, might well have enabled U.S. authorities to foil Abdulmutallab's attempted airplane bombing before he boarded his flight.

By contrast, the same officials allege that the administration has been relatively tightfisted with information, both from raw intelligence and law-enforcement files and from postmassacre investigations, on the background of the accused Fort Hood shooter. Congressional officials say they don't know why the administration has been more reticent about Fort Hood than about the failed underpants attack, but that the contrast between how the cases have been treated up until now has been striking.

The administration has already provided some key evidence to the intelligence committees about Major Hasan, namely copies of messages that the National Security Agency's ultrasecret worldwide electronic eavesdropping network intercepted between late 2008 and last summer between Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born, Yemen-based jihadist cleric whom investigators also believe played a key role in the Christmas Day underpants attack plot. Congressional investigators have been asked to treat the messages as they normally treat NSA intercepts, which is as super top secrets; officials say that if al-Awlaki and other terrorism suspects knew precisely which messages the NSA collected, then they might be able to figure out how to avoid U.S. intelligence surveillance in the future.

In an Arabic language interview just before Christmas with the website, however, al-Awlaki described some of the messages he exchanged with Hasan in detail. According to a translation of the interview published by the research group MEMRI, al-Awlaki spoke in some detail: "The first message was asking for an edict regarding the [possibility] of a Muslim soldier killing his colleagues who serve with him in the American army. In other messages, Nidal was clarifying his position regarding the killing of Israeli civilians. He was in support of this, and in his messages he mentioned the religious justifications for targeting the Jews with missiles. Then there were some messages in which he asked for a way through which he could transfer some funds to us [and by this] participate in charitable activities." MEMRI's full translation can be read here.

In the interview, al-Awlaki accuses the U.S. government of trying to suppress his correspondence with Hasan and says he has provided Al-Jazeera with copies of the exchange of messages. To date, however, the Web site has not published any of the messages verbatim. The news organization did not reply to a NEWSWEEK e-mail requesting access to the materials, although a reporter involved in the story at one point suggested that he might be willing to share the messages in return for payment, which NEWSWEEK declined.

After NSA intercepted the messages, they were referred for further investigation to the FBI. The bureau in turn farmed them out to Joint Terrorism Task Force personnel, who apparently decided the messages were relatively innocent and did not merit a full-scale terrorism investigation of Major Hasan. People familiar with the contents of the secret NSA versions of al-Awlaki–Hasan messages say that the messages described by al-Awlaki in the Al-Jazeera interview do exist and that he describes them accurately, though in the interview he does not describe all the messages that NSA intercepted.

While the Obama administration some time ago provided congressional investigators with the al-Awlaki–Hasan messages, officials say that the White House and relevant agencies subsequently have proved reluctant to share with Capitol Hill material indicating just how and why the NSA intercepts were played down by domestic terrorism investigators and how and why military authorities decided to play down other possible red flags about Hasan's state of mind, such as strange comments he made to Army colleagues.

In response to a request for comment, a presidential spokesman provided NEWSWEEK with a letter sent Tuesday by the White House to Senate Homeland Security committee leaders Sens. Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins. In the letter, presidential terrorism adviser John Brennan maintains that congressional concerns about administration reticence on Fort Hood are unjustified, asserting that the administration had provided numerous congressional briefings on Fort Hood investigations and was "working to provide" other relevant documentation to Congress.

Congress Awaits Administration Info on Fort Hood Shooter | U.S.