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WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 2010 – The shooting spree allegedly perpetrated by a self-radicalized soldier of Muslim faith has revealed shortcomings in the Defense Department’s ability to counter dangerous outside influences on the military, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
Gates disclosed this and several other key findings of a broad review he ordered after Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly killed 13 people in a Nov. 5 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas. The conclusions of this preliminary assessment are due out later today.
“The review concluded that [Defense Department] force-protection programs are not properly focused on internal threats such as workplace violence and self-radicalization,” Gates told Pentagon reporters. “The problem is compounded in the absence of a clear understanding of what motivates a person to become radicalized and commit violent acts.”
Gates said he would forward to Army Secretary John McHugh the review’s recommendations on how to hold accountable the Army personnel responsible for supervising Hasan. According to reports, Hasan had displayed behaviors before the shooting that suggested sympathies toward radical Islam, possible red flags that could have derailed the shootings.
Gates tapped Former Army Secretary Togo West and retired Navy Adm. Vernon Clark, a former chief of naval operations, on Nov. 19 to assess the department’s procedures for identifying and responding to potentially dangerous troops within the ranks.
“It is clear that as a department, we have not done enough to adapt to the evolving domestic internal security threat to American troops and military facilities that has emerged over the past decade,” said Gates, adding that the department is still bogged down in a Cold War mentality. “Our counterintelligence procedures are mostly designed to combat an external threat, such as a foreign intelligence service.”
The review describes a military more equipped to investigate and adjudicate criminal conduct such as domestic abuse and gang activities than it is on outside influences posing an internal threat. Further, the current scope of prohibited activities is incomplete and fails to provide adequate guidance to commanders, Gates said.
“[They] provide neither the authority nor the tools for commanders and supervisors to intervene when [Defense Department] personnel at risk of potential violence make contact or establish relationships with persons or entities that promote self-radicalization,” he said. “We need to refine our understanding of what these behavioral signals are and how they progress.”
Noting the department’s lack of ability to gather and disseminate information about possible dangers, Gates underscored the need to establish a senior Defense Department official responsible for integrating force-protection policies throughout the department.
One positive finding Gates shared was the “prompt and effective” initial response at Fort Hood highlighted in the review. Anticipatory planning for such a mass-casualty event paid dividends in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the review found.
“The first responders deserve recognition for the efforts that prevented an awful situation from becoming even worse,” Gates said. “However, the report raises serious questions about the degree to which the entire Department of Defense is prepared for similar incidents in the future especially multiple, simultaneous incidents.”
Gates announced that Paul Stockton, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense, will rapidly assess the review's findings and recommendations to implement them quickly. Gates set a March deadline for the immediate fixes recommended in the review, and said major institutional changes should be under way by June.
In closing, Gates reiterated his condolences to the victims and families affected by the Fort Hood shooting, and urged commanders at every level to be more attuned to personnel who may be at risk or pose a danger.
“One of the core functions of leadership is assessing the performance and fitness of people honestly and openly,” he said. “Failure to do so, or kicking the problem to the next unit or the next installation, may lead to damaging, if not devastating, consequences.”