U.S. Terror Experts Fail Their Own Country

Wednesday, 27 Jan 2010 12:04 PM

By Walid Phares

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The Pentagon's review of the act of terrorism committed at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hasan deserves national attention not only regarding its important conclusions but also what it missed in terms of analysis. In this piece, I'll address major points made public in the media and raise issues about the bigger picture regarding the terror threat America is facing today.

Jihadi Penetration: Part of a War

As announced by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the report "reveals serious 'shortcomings' in the military's ability to stop foreign extremists from trying to use America's own soldiers against the United States." The Pentagon's review of the Fort Hood massacre stated that "serious shortcomings" were found in "the military's ability to stop foreign extremists from trying to use its own soldiers against the United States."

The first question that comes to mind is to know if the issue is about "shortcomings," as described by the Pentagon, or is it about "systemic failures" as announced by President Obama in his evaluation of the Christmas Day terror act? For as underlined by the Department of Defense in the case of Major Hasan, these failures were about the military's ability to "stop foreign terrorists from using American soldiers against the United States."

Such a statement is extremely important as it finally informs the public that U.S. personnel are indeed being infiltrated and recruited by foreign jihadists, which are described politically by the administration as "extremists."

Hence, the first logical conclusion from that finding is that jihadi networks are performing acts of war (and thus of terrorism) against U.S. defense assets and personnel in the homeland. Thus, this warrants the reevaluation of the conflict and re-upgrading it to a state of war, even though it would still need to be determined "with whom."

Self radicalization

Secretary Gates said "military supervisors are not properly focused on the threat posed by self-radicalization and need to better understand the behavioral warning signs." He added that "extremists are changing their tactics in an attempt to hit the United States."

Concluding that the Fort Hood massacre "reveals shortcomings in the way the department is prepared to defend against threats posed by external influences operating on members of our military community," he said. "We have not done enough to adapt to the evolving domestic internal security threat to American troops and military facilities."

The bottom line of the Department of Defense report is, as I relentlessly argued before and since Hasan's shootings, that the U.S. military and intelligence lack the capability of detecting radicalization, should it be "self-developed" or activated from overseas.

In my last three books and dozens of briefings and testimonies to legislative and executive forums, I underlined the crucial importance of identifying the ideology behind radicalization. For the latter is produced by a set of ideas assembled in a doctrinal package. Unfortunately, the Bush and Obama administrations were both poorly advised by their experts. They were told, wrongly, that if they try to identify a "doctrine," they will be meddling with a religion.

Academic and cultural advisors of the various U.S. agencies and offices (the majority of them at least) failed their government by triggering a fear of theological entanglement.

To the surprise of our Arab and Muslim allies in the region, who know how to detect the jihadist narrative, Washington disarmed its own analysts when bureaucrats of the last two years banned the reference to the very ideological indicators that could enable our analysts in detecting the radicalization threat. And it is not about "extreme religious views" inasmuch as it is about an ideology.

If Arabs and Muslims can identify it in the Middle East, why can't Americans do this also? Simply because jihadi propaganda already penetrated our advising body and fooled many of our decision makers into dropping the ideological parameters. Stunningly, Major Hasan, who amazingly displayed all the narrative of jihadism, was not spotted as a jihadist.

The report tried to blame his colleagues and other superiors for failing to find him "suspicious enough" and thus for causing a shortcoming. I disagree: what allowed Hasan to move undetected was a bureaucratic memo issued under both administrations and made into policy last summer, ordering the members of the public service to not look at ideology or refer to words that can detect it.

We did it to ourselves.


Dr. Walid Phares is Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad

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