As Congress, civilian leaders, and the public demand more accountability from service members and our military leaders, the Washington politics can involve cannibalistic witch-hunting at the highest levels. The pressure to be perfect, the one-mistake service, can take its toll on all members of the armed forces; from the airman and seaman to the service chief himself.
John J. Sproul, Major, USAF, Research Report, Air Command and Staff College, Air University, CSAF V. CNO: Core Values and Their Career Ending Impact (April 1998).
The summary of the career of Admiral James O. Richardson at the Naval Historical Center’s photo page is crisp and about as scrubbed of controversy as one can get: “Beginning in January 1940, he was Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet, holding that position during a stressful period marked by the fleet’s forward deployment to Pearl Harbor. Relieved by Admiral Husband E. Kimmel in February 1941, he served at the Navy Department into 1942.”
What it leaves out is one salient detail of that “stressful period” and its impact on Admiral Richardson’s career. In October 1940 Richardson told President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that continued deployment of the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor was a bad idea for a number of reasons. This military advice did not go down well with the Commander-in-Chief, who had his own plan and his own impression of himself as a naval strategist. With months, Admiral Richardson was replaced by Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, on whose watch the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Day of Infamy, occurred on December 7, 1941.
Adm. Kimmel is said also to have not been enthusiastic about the fleet’s basing, but having got the message, he saluted and sailed on.
The rest is history.
One is sure that the matter was infinitely more complicated than that tiny summary. But what is not complicated is that — as is the case in all publicly known government disasters — the final stage of every project is the hunt for someone to blame. This involves a lot of perfect hindsight mixed with the bowel-chilling perception of participants (think the 3:00 a.m. phone call) that this could be their own personal career-ender.
Thus, one is sure that some very angry arguments have been going on — at the “highest levels” — of Washington’s military and civilian establishment. Cynics would say that the risk of summary beheading is usually in inverse proportion to one’s rank. Agents and investigators are expendable. Generals and directors are not.
In that context, the following post from Strategypage.com about the case of Ft. Hood’s apparent-jihadist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, seems to combine just the right film-noir-like mix of real-world experience and knowing resignation. The full text is about the use of statistical techniques for predicting terrorism, but the excerpt here deals (speculatively, to be sure) with the problems inherent in Major Hasan’s case for everyone involved:
Ignoring The Threat Does Not Make It Go Away
November 11, 2009: Even before September 11, 2001, counter-terrorism experts sought to use statistical techniques to predict where the next big terror attack would occur….
In the United States, these techniques still suffer from a shortage of data (terrorists.) With enough data, you can test your model by successfully predicting the past, and then turn it on the future. But with insufficient data, you have to rely on human judgment. This is subject to other factors, like the political atmosphere. An example of this was the recent terror attack in Fort Hood, Texas. There, a Moslem army officer, shouting “God Is Great”, murdered 13 soldiers and civilians, and wounded over thirty others. The major had previously been detected by the counter-terror intelligence system (both via emails to known terrorists and his public calls for attacks on non-Moslems.) When the FBI (which handles counter-terror intelligence inside the U.S.) urged the army to do something, the army declined. The FBI did not press the matter. One can imagine army commanders, confronting what the FBI described as a “potential” terrorist, realizing that in the current political climate, disciplining (or discharging) a Moslem army officer would endanger the careers of the generals involved in such a decision. So nothing was done, until the terrorist made his move.
It should be noted that at this writing the Department of Defense denies that anyone in the military establishment above the grade of an investigator detailed to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (sound effect here: chop, chop) was ever informed of the information that had been developed about Hasan.
The buck is thus in furious circulation now.
The Los Angeles Times has an excellent piece today (Thursday, November 12, 2009)(“Fort Hood suspect’s contact with cleric spelled trouble, experts say,” by Sebastian Rotella and Josh Meyer). Here are relevant excerpts:
The radical cleric contacted by accused Ft. Hood gunman Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan has such unmistakable connections to past terrorist plots that his e-mail exchanges with the American should have triggered an all-out investigation, a number of officials and experts now believe
Awlaki has left a well-documented trail of influence in a string of recent terrorism cases in North America and Europe.
“It seems that the American investigators had difficulties detecting signs of worrisome conduct,” Jean-Louis Bruguiere, a veteran French anti-terrorism judge, said in a telephone interview. “It may also be that, because of the respect for religion, and the excesses by the U.S. services in recent years, that today there’s a tendency to be too prudent — perhaps less vigilant.”
Bruguiere is a giant in counter-terrorism, having been instrumental in the cases — among many others — of Carlos the Jackal and the Libyan mid-air bombing of UTA Flight 772 over the Sahara Desert in 1989 with the loss of 170 lives.
Stratfor.com has a thoughtful and informed analysis here. This is a relevant excerpt, but the whole piece covers many more angles:
So far, the Hasan shooting investigation is being run by the Army CID, and the FBI has been noticeably — and uncharacteristically — absent from the scene. As the premier law enforcement agency in the United States, the FBI will often assume authority over investigations where there is even a hint of terrorism. Since 9/11, the number of FBI/JTTF offices across the country has been dramatically increased, and the JTTFs are specifically charged with investigating cases that may involve terrorism. Therefore, we find the FBI’s absence in this case to be quite out of the ordinary.
However, with Hasan being a member of the armed forces, the victims being soldiers or army civilian employees and the incident occurring at Fort Hood, the case would seem to fall squarely under the mantle of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). From a prosecutorial perspective, a homicide trial under the UCMJ should be very tidy and could be quickly concluded. It will not involve all the potential loose ends that could pop up in a federal terrorism trial, especially when those loose ends involve what the FBI and CIA knew about Hasan, when they learned it and who they told. Also, politically, there are some who would like to see the Hasan case remain a criminal matter rather than a case of terrorism. Following the shooting death of Luqman Ameen Abdullah and considering the delicate relationship between Muslim advocacy groups and the U.S. government, some people would rather see Hasan portrayed as a mentally disturbed criminal than as an ideologically driven lone wolf.
Despite the CID taking the lead in prosecuting the case, the classified national security investigation by the CIA and FBI into Hasan and his possible connections to jihadist elements is undoubtedly continuing. Senior members of the government will certainly demand to know if Hasan had any confederates, if he was part of a bigger plot and if there are more attacks to come. Several congressmen and senators are also calling for hearings into the case, and if such hearings occur, they will certainly produce an abundance of interesting information pertaining to Hasan and the national security investigation of his activities.
Round and round it goes. Where it will stop, nobody knows.