On Thursday, Scott Shane and David Johnston, who report on intelligence for the Times, wrote on the failure of the Defense Department, the FBI, and Walter Reed Army Medical Center to stop alleged Fort Hood killer Major Nidal Malik Hasan before the rampage that killed 13 people.
In "Accused Gunman's Exchanges With Cleric Raised Questions, Not Alarms," Shane and Johnston suggested it might be too much to ask the government to connect the dots and act on warning signs, relaying arguments that "at least to a point, the system worked," as if such massacres may be impossible to stop.
The Times set the scene:
Last December, the vast electronic net of American intelligence captured queries that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan of the Army was sending by e-mail to a radical cleric in Yemen who has long been a target of American surveillance.
Trained in the connect-the-dots mantra since rival agencies failed to prevent the 2001 terrorist attacks, analysts recognized that the contacts were significant. The dozen or so messages to the cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, were largely questions about Islam, not expressions of militancy or hints of a plot, government officials familiar with the messages said. Mr. Awlaki sent a handful of answers to Major Hasan that were cautious and said nothing to indicate that the two men knew each other, the officials said.
Still, the messages were quickly passed to a Joint Terrorism Task Force in Washington, where a Defense Department investigator pulled the personnel files of Major Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who was charged last week with killing 13 people and injuring dozens more in a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Tex.
Those files, however, did not reflect the concerns of some colleagues at Walter Reed Army Medical Center about Major Hasan's outspoken opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and his strong feeling that Muslims should not be sent to fight other Muslims.
The defense investigator also did not interview any of the psychiatrist's superiors and co-workers. After studying the messages, which were sent between December and the early months of this year, the investigator wrote a report last spring concluding that the e-mail contacts were not a sign of a terrorist threat. The report was not shared with the Pentagon, or with anyone outside the task force.
Now, Congress is looking for someone to blame for the shootings at Fort Hood. The Defense Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies are reviewing whether they missed significant clues - or whether Walter Reed ignored signs of serious trouble - that might have averted the shootings. Already, the military and F.B.I. officials have begun an inevitable round of finger-pointing.
But a striking fact is that the system set up after Sept. 11, 2001, to make sure clues of a coming attack were not missed actually worked as intended - and still failed to stop the deadly episode. The question for investigators is whether the very fact that Major Hasan sent the e-mail messages to an imam with mysterious connections to the Sept. 11 hijackers and a Web site encouraging extremist violence should have set off greater alarms.
Is there any doubt?
The Times also left off arguments popping up in Time magazine of all places, suggesting political correctness played a role. Mark Thompson wrote:
As officials continue to investigate the alleged Fort Hood killer, it is looking increasingly likely that the Army missed several red flags in Major Nidal Malik Hasan's behavior. Many observers say it wouldn't be surprising if such signals had been missed, given that Hasan was a psychiatrist whom the Army desperately needed to help tend to the mental wounds of two wars. But at the same time, some members of the military are quietly discussing the more troubling possibility that the Army looked the other way precisely because Hasan was Muslim.
The Times surveyed the chilling details of what is known about Hasan's state of mind and behavior and somehow managed to term it "a mixed picture."
Had the task force investigator spoken with Major Hasan's psychiatric colleagues, he would have found a mixed picture. Some co-workers at Walter Reed and the Uniformed Services University said in interviews that they found his conduct troubling at times.
Other faculty members and students have expressed alarm about Power Point presentations Major Hasan delivered both as a senior resident at Walter Reed and during his fellowship. In one presentation in June 2007, first reported by The Washington Post, Major Hasan argued that the Army should allow Muslim soldiers to leave the military as conscientious objectors if they refused to kill other Muslims, and he warned of "adverse events" if it did not.
Other colleagues had a more benign view of Major Hasan. Nancy Meyer, a social worker who attended the 2007 presentation, described it as a scholarly explanation of why "Muslims should not be in a position to harm other Muslims," saying she did not take it as "at all threatening." Ms. Meyer added, however, that when she heard Major Hasan had been charged with the shootings, the lecture was the first thing that came to her mind.
Even while bringing up Hasan's chilling Power Point presentation, the Times failed to report an item from Hasan's "scholarly explanation" that ABC News and the Washington Post did. As described by the Washington Post's Dana Priest:
The final three slides indicate that Hasan referred to Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, suicide bombers and Iran.
Under a slide titled "Comments," he wrote: "If Muslim groups can convince Muslims that they are fighting for God against injustices of the 'infidels'; ie: enemies of Islam, then Muslims can become a potent adversary ie: suicide bombing, etc." [sic]
The last bullet point on that page reads simply: "We love death more then [sic] you love life!"