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Ft. Hood another intelligence failure

WASHINGTON -- The real tragedy in the Ft. Hood massacre is that like the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon it could have been prevented with even the slightest cooperation among government agencies that had reason to suspect things were not right with Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

A series of e-mails between Hasan and a Muslim cleric in Yemen showing a gradual change in the army officer were in the hands of the FBI long before the military psychiatrist loosed his deadly attack, killing 13 and wounding dozens more. That information was not passed on to the Pentagon or his direct superiors who also had reason to believe things were not right with him.

The FBI's long history of hoarding information and failing or refusing to pass it along to other law enforcement authorities, local, state or federal, seems to have struck again with terrible consequences despite efforts since 9/11 by the current bureau administration to reduce the incidences of uncooperativeness. The failure in this instance will be the main subject of expected congressional investigations into the murderous episode as well as one being conducted by the Pentagon.

The Army itself also faces stern questions about why it had not taken measures to deal with an obviously more and more disaffected officer whose fitness and efficiency reportedly had been questioned prior to his two-gunned rampage. He clearly was upset about having been ordered to deploy to a war zone and had tried to find a way to shorten his Army obligation. There has been speculation that concern over charges of ethnic profiling had deterred the military from taking any action against Hasan.

But certainly that reluctance to address the officer's problems would have changed had Army authorities been informed of the e-mails and what appeared to be some effort by Hasan and the cleric to transfer funds for unspecified actions. Or would it? The FBI obviously also failed to see the obvious shift in Hasan's attitudes and emotions as much of a threat and there is no assurance the Army, even if warned, would either despite the supposed high alert under which everyone operates since 9/11.

That is particularly infuriating given the fact that this same absence of concern was responsible for the failure to stop the 9/11 terrorists despite warnings from bureau agents to superiors that something strange was being planned. Since the apocalyptic occurrences of 2001, much of the bureau's focus has shifted to counterterrorism with a huge number of agents assigned to this effort.

While there have been some noticeable successes, the Hasan case also reveals some significant weaknesses including the tendency to slip back to the days when J. Edgar Hoover cautioned his lieutenants that information is power and should be closely held. In defense of that policy, it must be recognized that in the FBI's early days of development local and state law enforcement agencies frequently couldn't be trusted. Even sister federal agencies were denied access by Hoover, who had taken over the old Justice Department Bureau of Investigation, also an ineffective, clearly corrupt organization.

Hasan's solo excursion into Jihad activity, if it turns out to be that, is also extremely worrisome in that it poses a potential new threat for homeland security, the lone terrorist whose radicalism is well hidden up until the time it explodes in deadly force. If that is a phenomenon of long-standing concern as authorities claim, why then weren't the major's suspicious e-mails and his contacts with an American Muslim living overseas and often monitored by U.S. intelligence passed along to the proper sources? Even if it was believed he was basically harmless, the FBI's obligation was clear and it might have made a difference.

These are questions that need answering now and not months from now as seems to be the Obama administration's intention. The Pentagon inquiry seems more a move to delay and obfuscate than get to the bottom of this horrific incident. Other than the killer himself, an obvious culprit was the bureau's continuing bad judgment. There is a real need for the Congress to make some serious demands of this agency and for the Justice Department to exercise the oversight it seems to have abandoned.

-- Thomasson writes for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at