Clear Indicators of Radicalization Are Elusive, Fort Hood Investigators Testify

By Matthew Harwood

The lack of clear behavioral indicators of radicalization could frustrate the military's efforts to spot service members who pose a threat to their comrades-in-arms, the co-chairs of the investigation into the Fort Hood massacre told lawmakers Thursday.

“The lack of clarity for comprehensive indicators limits commanders’ and supervisors’ ability to recognize potential threats and detecting a trusted insider’s intention to commit a violent act requires observation of behavioral cues/anomalies,” former Secretary of the Army Togo West, Jr., and retired Admiral Vern Clark said in their joint statement before the Armed Services Committee.

To address this vulnerability, West and Clark recommend creating a unit within the Department of Defense (DoD) that catalogues behavioral cues associated with violent radicalization. This continuously updated list will then get passed down to commanders, who will then educate service members about indicators that signal violent radicalization.

The pair’s inquiry stems from the November 5, 2009, shooting spree at the military base at Fort Hood, Texas, allegedly committed by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. The Army psychiatrist is charged with the premeditated murder of 13 people and the attempted premeditated murder of 32 others, mostly fellow soldiers. According to reports, Hasan exhibited numerous warning signs of violent jihadist radicalization on top of poor performance reviews before allegedly committing mass murder at his military base.

West and Clark said officers must scrupulously document possible warning signs of radicalization in their subordinates' performance reports so the DoD has the information needed to spot threats. “Effective communication is the order of the day,” Clark said, later adding that the Pentagon needs to “get rid of the barriers to information flow inside and outside the department.”

After the shooting, it was discovered that a DoD investigator assigned to an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force knew about Hasan's e-mails to a radical cleric in Yemen but did not share that information with his superiors or counterparts in the military.

Since the release of their investigation's report last Friday, critics have pummeled the investigation for being "politically correct" because it did not mention radical Islam.

West and Clark’s testimony Thursday - like their report -- dealt broadly with radicalism without concentrating on jihadism—a fact that some lawmakers cast as political correctness run amok.

“I believe in racial and ethnic profiling,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). “When you hear that not all Middle Easterners or Muslims between the age of 20 and 35 are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims or Middle Easterners between the age of 20 and 35, that’s by and large true.” Inhofe’s comments were immediately rebuked by Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and later by Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL).

West and Clark, however, defended their decision to not identify the internal threat specifically as violent Islamist extremism in the report and in testimony. “We didn’t use the magic term…on purpose,” Clark said, noting jihadism is just one subset of the larger phenomenon of violent radicalization.

West further argued that any individual seeking to emulate the attack at Fort Hood wouldn’t betray any religious extremism because doing so would only draw scrutiny. West also warned that violent extremists can come from “the wilds of this country” too.

“The behavioral cues are the only way to identify extremists,” he said.


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