Leaders of the Senate’s principal oversight committee are accusing the Obama administration of stonewalling an investigation they have been conducting into the background to the deadly shootings at the Ft. Hood military base last Nov. 5, for which Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan was arrested and charged.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the independent Democrat from Connecticut who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, are expected on Thursday to release correspondence with the administration requesting documents and witnesses who have information about how Defense and law- enforcement agencies, including the FBI, handled information about Hasan’s alleged erratic behavior and contacts with an Islamic extremist preacher in the months before his shooting rampage. The senators are expected to declare that unless the administration complies with their committee’s request for documentation and witnesses by next Monday (April 19), the committee will issue a subpoena to force the administration to turn over the evidence. Documentation about the committee’s investigation and dealings with the administration can be found via this link on the panel’s Web site.
In a letter they sent on March 23 to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the contents of which were made available to NEWSWEEK, Lieberman and Collins complained that they had been trying for more than three months to persuade the Pentagon to cooperate with their Ft. Hood investigation. Among the evidence they say they requested: Hassan’s personnel file, and witnesses and documents regarding Hasan’s alleged communications with Anwar al-Awlaki, a notorious American-born jihadist preacher who is currently hiding out in Yemen. Awlaki, who recently became what is believed to be the first American citizen whose name has been placed on a list of terrorist operatives whom the CIA is authorized to kill (if they can find him), has said publicly that he exchanged e-mail correspondence with Hasan over period of about a year before the Ft. Hood shootings. (As we reported here Awlaki claimed that in one of Hasan’s messages, he had asked the imam for religious advice on a Muslim soldier killing his colleagues who serve with him in the American army.)
The senators also asked the Pentagon for any communications between Hasan and any other known Islamic extremist, as well as “any intelligence or investigative material held by [the Defense Department] related to Major Hasan or violent Islamist extremism in the military generally.” The senators are seeking similar information from the Justice Department and FBI, which is known to have acquired—and investigated—copies of Hasan’s electronic correspondence with Awlaki in the months before the shootings; two joint terrorism task forces led by the FBI are believed to have looked into the Awlaki-Hasan correspondence some time before the shootings, but to have deemed it harmless.
In their letter to Gates, Sens. Lieberman and Collins complain that even though their committee has “clear authority” to investigate the background to the Ft. Hood shootings, the Pentagon “continues to refuse to provide us with the material we need to do our job.” All the Defense Department has done in response to the senators’ inquiries, they say, is to give the committee one secret briefing, an out-of-date report on Islamic extremists in the military the contents of which, the senators allege, had already been leaked to the media, a videotape of a presentation that Hasan had made at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (where he was once assigned) and several hundred pages of documents on Pentagon policies, many of which, say the senators, are readily available to the public. All of this material, the senators say, adds up to little more than “a portion of what we requested.” The senators also complain that the Pentagon blacked out the names of Defense personnel from some documents, even though Congress is legally entitled to receive the redacted information.
The senators complain that the Pentagon has asserted “no basis, legal or otherwise” for refusing to turn over background documents on Hasan, and that it recently asserted that it “does not possess any [relevant] documents … related to Major Hasan’s contacts with violent extremists.” The senators say they find it hard to believe this Pentagon claim.
The senators say that they have been asking since early December to interview Pentagon investigators who were part of the joint task force units that examined Hasan’s correspondence with Awlaki before the shootings, saying such interviews are “critical for us to determine why [the Defense Department] did not take further action against Major Hasan before he killed 13 people.” The senators say that in March, Pentagon officials suggested to committee staff that the Defense Department was resisting allowing Senate staffers to interview Pentagon investigators about Hasan because this might compromise continuing efforts by the authorities to prosecute and convict Hasan for the shootings.
Lieberman and Collins say they’re not interested in rummaging through prosecutors' files or interviewing witnesses to the shootings; “Instead we are seeking to determine whether the Department properly handled information in its possession for at least one year prior to the shootings apparently pointing to Major Hasan’s increasing radicalization.” They say Pentagon assertions that investigators who handled advance intelligence about Hasan’s contacts with Awlaki might appear as prosecution witnesses “simply cannot serve as a talisman to ward off Congressional scrutiny of the Department’s actions.” The kicker to their letter? “It is growing difficult not to reach the conclusion that the Department simply does not want to cooperate with our investigation.”
A White House spokesman referred Declassified’s request for a comment on the senators’ complaints to the Department of Defense. Geoff Morrell, press secretary to Defense Secretary Gates told Declassified, "We recognize and appreciate Congress’s responsibilities and the committee’s important oversight interests. That is why the Defense Department continues to cooperate with them while also trying to ensure the integrity of the Obama administration's internal reviews as well as our department's investigation and prosecution of the Ft. Hood shooter."
In a letter sent to Collins and Lieberman in January, John Brennan, the former CIA officer who serves as the top White House counterterrorism adviser, claimed that the administration was keeping Congress appropriately informed about investigations into the Ft. Hood tragedy.