Fort Hood shooting revealed multiple military security lapses

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 20, 2010 

WASHINGTON — The November 2009 shootings of more than 40 people by an Army psychiatrist at Fort Hood, Texas, revealed a wide range of security lapses at U.S. military bases, including a failure to consider the possibility that a threat might come from an "insider," according to a Pentagon report released Friday.

The 23-page document makes 47 different recommendations on how to improve security in the aftermath of the attack, which left 13 people dead.

The report provides scant information, however, on how the security lapses contributed to the Fort Hood shootings. Pentagon officials continue to refuse to release the actual report of an independent panel into the shootings.

Among the recommendations:

  • Better screening of military personnel for signs that they may become violent. Currently, the report said, there's no requirement to screen soldiers for violent tendencies prior to their deployment, and post-deployment screenings rely primarily on soldiers to report their own symptoms on questionnaires. Maj. Nidal Hasan, who's accused in the Fort Hood shootings, was about to be deployed to Afghanistan when he allegedly opened fire on his fellow soldiers.
  • Improved 911 emergency call systems. An independent Pentagon review after the Fort Hood shootings determined that emergency phone systems on most military bases were not as sophisticated as those in neighboring civilian communities and couldn't, for example, tell dispatchers a caller's location. The report called for the installation of better 911 systems by 2014.
  • Tougher screening of civilians working at U.S. military facilities and of non-citizens working on military bases overseas. The report said that background checks on U.S. citizen civilians "may be incomplete, limited in scope or not conducted at all."

    Overseas, the Pentagon's ability to screen foreign nationals "who require access to (Department of Defense) facilities is limited by available resources and agreements with the host country," the report said. The report also said that military commanders have little authority to assess the possibility of violence from civilian Defense Department employees.

  • Better focus on threats from military insiders. "Force protection programs and policies are not focused on internal threats," the report said. Noting that issuing credentials and checking IDs doesn't insure against violence, the report recommended that security guards, police officers and others on bases be trained to recognize signs that visitors might be violent. "Detecting a trusted insider's intention to commit a violent act requires observation of behavioral cues/anomalies," the report said.

The report made just one mention of the events of Nov. 5, 2009 — in a section urging that the Pentagon establish better communication between bases about violent incidents.

When Fort Hood went on heightened alert as the shootings unfolded, the report said, "there were no indications that the rest of the Continental United States DoD forces were immediately notified of the event. Most installations found out . . . through the news media."

Many of the recommendations, however, could be paired with some of the public information known about Hasan.

For example, the government's Counterterrorism Center apparently was aware before the shooting that Hasan had sent e-mails to radical Yemeni cleric Anwar al Awlaki, but that information did not trigger any special action among Hasan's commanders.

Without referring to that chain of events, the report calls the Defense Department's commitment to joint task forces with other government agencies "inadequate" and called for the appointment of a senior Pentagon official to oversee Defense Department involvement with such task forces.

Hasan, 39, who faces 13 murder charges and 32 charges of attempted murder, was paralyzed during the shooting by return fire in the worst shooting incident ever at a U.S. military installation. He's being held in a Texas jail.

An Army psychiatrist, Hasan served at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and was sent to the military largest installation to address the mental health needs of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but officials at Walter Reed questioned his abilities.

Indeed, some charged he urged fellow soldiers — including patients — to convert to Islam. He joined the Army in 1997, and the military spent thousands on his medical school.

The report's recommendations include several calling for better mental health care for Army mental health care providers and closer supervision and mentoring of junior Army physicians by senior officials.

Some of the recommendations appear to address the way the Pentagon handled the shootings.

Two call for better training of chaplains to respond to mass casualty events, one deals with improving policies on when expenses are reimbursed for travel to memorial services, and another calls for new policies on mortuary services for civilians killed on military bases.

The report also calls for better training for military and civilian base police forces in how to handle "an active shooter."

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