The Fort Hood Killer Terrified

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					The Fort Hood Killer: Terrified ... or Terrorist?
By NANCY GIBBS Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009
Illustration by John Ritter for TIME

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What a surprise it must have been when Major Nidal Malik Hasan woke up from his
coma to find himself not in paradise but in Brooke Army Medical Center, deep in the
heart of Texas, under security so tight that there were armed guards patrolling both the
intensive-care unit and checkpoints at the nearest freeway off-ramp. This was not the
finalé he had scripted when he gave away all his earthly goods — his desk lamp and air
mattress, his frozen broccoli and spinach, his copies of the Koran. He had told his imam
he was planning to visit his parents before deploying to Afghanistan. He did not mention
that his parents had been dead for nearly 10 years.


Inside the Apartment of Nidal Malik Hasan
           Fort Hood Highlights a Threat of Homegrown Jihad
    More Related
           Fort Hood Massacre Highlights Homegrown-Jihadist Trend
           For Hasan, Stresses at Fort Hood Were Likely Intense
           ... Why That’s Ridiculous
    And who denied him his martyrdom? That would be Kimberly Munley, the SWAT-team
    markswoman nicknamed Mighty Mouse, who with her partner ran toward the sound of
    gunshots at the Soldier Readiness Center, where men and women about to deploy gather
    for vaccinations and eye exams. It's practically been a motto stitched on their sleeves —
    "Better to fight the terrorists there than here" — except now they were at home, and
    there was one of their own, a U.S. officer, jumping up, shouting "God is great" in a
    language he could barely speak and then opening fire. (See pictures of Nidal Malik Hasan's

    For eight years, Americans have waged a Global War on Terrorism even as they argued
    about what that meant. The massacre at Fort Hood was, depending on whom you
    believed, yet another horrific workplace shooting by a nutcase who suddenly snapped, or
    it was an intimate act of war, a plot that can't be foiled because it is hatched inside a
    fanatic's head and leaves no trail until it is left in blood. In their first response, officials
    betrayed an eagerness to assume it was the first; the more we learn, the more we have
    cause to fear it was the second, a new battlefield where our old weapons don't work very
    well and our values make us vulnerable: freedom, privacy, tolerance and the stubborn
    American certainty that people born and raised here will not reject the gifts we share.

    Even as the President weighs how to fight the wars he inherited, he and the entire U.S.
    security apparatus will have to figure out how you fight a war against an enemy you can't
    recognize, much less understand. In that sense, the war on terrorism has left the
    battlefield and moved to the realm of the mind. The good news is that al-Qaeda's throw
    weight is much diminished; the bad news is that terrorism is now an entrepreneurial
    arena, with the Internet as its global recruiting station, attracting the lost, the loners, the
    guy with a coffee cart on Wall Street buying up hair dye and nail-polish remover to blend
    into bombs, or the polite army major in uniform who took his time, bought his gun and
    turned it on his comrades.

    In his tribute to the fallen, President Barack Obama invoked a "world of threats that
    know no borders." Soldiers sacrifice to keep us safe; somehow we failed to keep them
    safe. It would be grim news for the intelligence community and the Army if they just
missed all the warning signs. It would be worse news if they saw but chose to ignore
them. (Read "Obama's Fort Hood Speech: Lost in Translation.")

A Whole New War
No one thought the battle between the West and radical Islam was going to be fought like
a traditional war, but to the extent that we could, we did. We tightened our borders,
hardened the targets, took off our shoes and sent troops and tanks and drones to crush
opponents in Afghanistan and take out top al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan. We adapted our
laws and intelligence services to make it easier to infiltrate terrorist cells, sniffing their
emails, phone calls and Web traffic. The campaign has shown such success in crippling
al-Qaeda's ability to deliver a massive blow that the U.K. has just reduced its national
threat level.

But the terrorist techniques of even a decade ago are already outmoded. "I used to argue
it was only terrorism if it were part of some identifiable, organized conspiracy," says
Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. But Hoffman has changed
his definition, he says, because "this new strategy of al-Qaeda is to empower and
motivate individuals to commit acts of violence completely outside any terrorist chain of
command." Every month this year, he notes, there has been a terrorist event — either an
act committed or one broken up before it could be carried out. "The nature of terrorism
is changing, and Major Hasan may be an example of that," Hoffman argues. "Even if he
turns out to have had no political motive, this is a sea change."

If "leaderless resistance" is the wave of the future, it may be less lethal but harder to
fight; there are fewer clues to collect and less chatter to hear, even as information about
means and methods is so much more widely dispersed. It is more like spontaneous
combustion than someone from the outside lighting a match. Senator Joe Lieberman's
Homeland Security Committee warned of this threat in a report last year. "The
emergence of these self-generated violent Islamist extremists who are radicalized online
presents a challenge," the report concluded, "because lone wolves are less likely to come
to the attention of law enforcement." At least until they start shooting.

It might help if there were at least agreement on what constitutes terrorism; one
government study found 109 different definitions. As far as the FBI is concerned, it
counts as terrorism if you commit a crime that endangers another person or is violent
    with a broader intent to intimidate, influence or change policy or opinion. If Hasan shot
    people because of indigestion, worker conflict or plain insanity without a larger goal of
    intimidation or coercion, it was probably just a crime. If, on the other hand, his crime
    was motivated by more than madness — say, a desire to protest U.S. foreign policy — it
    was effectively terrorism.

    So what are we to make of the free agents who might have never sworn allegiance to a band of jihadist
    brothers or plotted a conspiracy of violence, just watched some YouTube videos or downloaded some
    sermons and came away with visions of carnage dancing in their heads? "We have to be careful not to let
    our definition of terrorism become too broad," said former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff last
    year. "Particularly when we get to the individual lone wolf, then it really does become hard to distinguish
    between the person who killed the students at Virginia Tech and the person who might do the same thing
    simply because they read something on the Internet about bin Laden and that happened to appeal to their
    psychology." Once everything is terrorism, he warned, then nothing is. But while the motivations of the
    Virginia Tech gunman seemed perversely personal, Hasan had spent years telling anyone who would listen
    that the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan was immoral.


    Inside the Apartment of Nidal Malik Hasan
             Fort Hood Highlights a Threat of Homegrown Jihad
    More Related
              For Hasan, Stresses at Fort Hood Were Likely Intense
              Did Army Give Hasan a Pass Over Muslim Religion?
              From AWOL to Exile

    The Making of a Radical
    Hasan was a walking contradiction: the counselor who himself needed counseling; the proud soldier who did
    not want to fight, at least not against fellow Muslims; the man who could not find a sufficiently modest and
    pious wife through his mosque's matchmaking machinery but who frequented the local strip club. A man
    supposedly so afraid of deployment that he launched a war of his own from which he clearly did not expect
    to return alive. "Everyone is asking why this happened," said Hasan's family in a formal statement, "and the
    answer is that we simply do not know." (See pictures of the aftermath of the Fort Hood shootings.)

    But if this is the new face of terrorism in America, we need better facial-recognition software. Hasan's
    motives were mixed enough that everyone with an agenda could find markers in the trail he left. For those
    inclined to see soldiers as victims, he was a symptom of an overstretched military, whose soldiers return
    from their third and fourth deployments pouring out such pain that it scars their therapists as well. "We've
    known for the last five years that [deployment to Afghanistan] was probably his worst nightmare," cousin
    Nader Hasan told Fox News. "He would tell us how he hears horrific things ... That was probably affecting
    him psychologically."

    That diagnosis seemed like sentimental nonsense to people who noted how well Hasan matched the classic
    model of the lone, strange, crazy killer: the quiet and gentle man who formed few close human attachments
    but, reported the New York Times, used to chew up food and let his pet parakeet eat it from his mouth; when
    he rolled over during a nap and accidentally crushed it to death, he visited the bird's grave for months

    But Hasan may be the new terrorist template that fuses psychological damage with jihadist ideology. The
    most obvious and ominous evidence points to a now familiar pattern: alienated individuals who don't have to
    graduate from al-Qaeda training camps to embrace their mission and means. When an Army officer is
    reported to proudly call himself a Muslim first, an American second; when he appears at a public-health
    seminar with the PowerPoint presentation "Why the War on Terror Is a War on Islam"; when he applauds
    the killing of a U.S. soldier by a Muslim convert at an Arkansas recruitment center; and when he is caught
    corresponding with a radical imam in Yemen who has called on all Muslims to kill American soldiers in Iraq,
    you wonder just how brightly the red lights had to flash before anyone was willing to stop and ask some
    questions. (Read "Was Hasan Inspired by a Radical Imam's Sermons?")

    Hasan's early life offers few clues to what came later. He was born in Virginia to Palestinian parents who
    had chased the American Dream from the West Bank to Roanoke. They opened a couple of restaurants and
    a convenience store and had great hopes for their three sons — which did not include their eldest joining the
    Army, even if just as a way to get a free education. Hasan graduated from Virginia Tech with honors in
    biochemistry, then went to medical school, where, an uncle told the Los Angeles Times, he decided to major
    in psychiatry after he fainted while watching a baby being born.

    At that point, his fanaticism did not extend past cheering on his Washington Redskins. He did, however,
    regularly attend services at the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, Md., helped at its homeless
    shelter and even applied to an annual matrimonial center that acts as a kind of matchmaking service. He
    described himself in his application as "quiet and reserved until more familiar with person. Funny, caring and

    "He wanted a woman who prayed five times a day and wears a hijab," the former imam Faizul Khan told the
    New York Times, "and maybe the women he met were not complying with those things." It was after his
    parents died that Hasan became more conspicuously devout. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where
    he completed his psychiatric training, he was reportedly reprimanded for trying to convert patients to Islam,
    while castigating those with drug and alcohol issues for their "unholy" behavior. As the wars in Iraq and
    Afghanistan unfolded, he asserted the right of Muslim Americans to conscientiously object to fighting; his
    relatives claimed he offered to repay the cost of his medical education in exchange for release from his

    And al-Awlaki was not the only red flag. About six months ago, authorities discovered a Web posting in
    which the writer, "NidalHasan," compared suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on grenades to
    save their colleagues. A senior Administration official tells TIME that Hasan had other foreign connections as
    well: "It is clear that he had contacts with individuals overseas who have espoused the use of violence like
    al-Awlaki. It is unclear whether or not it was anything more than just contacts, or if there was any type of
    operational engagement. It appears as though Major Hasan was inspired by some of this extremist rhetoric
    and propaganda. But what we are trying to do is make sure that we don't reach conclusions based on just a
    preliminary review of information that is available to date. That's why we have to go back in, make sure we
    scour those files." (See pictures of Nidal Malik Hasan's apartment.)


    Inside the Apartment of Nidal Malik Hasan
             Fort Hood Highlights a Threat of Homegrown Jihad
    More Related
            Hasan’s Therapy: Could "Secondary Trauma" Have Driven Him to Shooting?
            Fort Hood: Army Gains with Muslim Soldiers May Be Lost
            The Military Death Penalty: The President Must Approve

    Congress is bound to ask, How was it possible that even as his performance was poor, his personnel file
    was being reviewed and his communications with a radical cleric were being analyzed, Hasan was promoted
    from captain to major last May and dispatched in July to Fort Hood, the largest active Army base in the
    U.S.? One explanation is a desperate need for mental-health professionals. With its 50,000 soldiers and
    150,000 family members and civilian personnel, Fort Hood has the highest toll of military suicides;
    posttraumatic-stress-disorder cases quadrupled from 2005 to 2007.

    But others are convinced that his religion protected him from stronger action by the Army. "He'd have to
    murder the general's wife and daughter on the parade ground at high noon in order to get a serious
    reprimand," says Ralph Peters, an outspoken retired Army lieutenant colonel who now writes military books
    and a newspaper column. While stressing "there shouldn't be witch hunts" against Muslims in uniform,
    Peters insists that "this guy got a pass because he was a Muslim, despite the Army's claim that everybody's
    green and we're all the same." A top Pentagon official admits there may be some truth to the charge. "We're
    wondering why some of these strange encounters didn't trigger something more formal," he says. "I think
    people were overly sensitive about Muslims in the military, and that led to a reluctance to say, 'This guy is
    nuts.' The Army is going to have to review their procedures to make sure someone can raise issues like
    this." (Read "Army Gains with Muslim Soldiers May Be Lost.")

    Obama's Response
    Less than an hour after the shooting began, the Situation Room notified the White House that there had
    been an event at Fort Hood; Obama was briefed in the Oval Office a half hour later. Reports were all over
    the place — how many shooters, how many dead. As the day went on, the principals from the White House
    and Pentagon pushed for clarity as to whether this was part of a broader plot. Obama knew about the al-
    Awlaki e-mails long before he went to bed that night. "We were looking to see if there might have been any
    code or anything embedded in that," an official says.

    The next morning, Obama ordered all the agencies to do an inventory of their files, collect every scrap they
    had on Hasan and review how that information had been handled. "We needed to understand what we knew
    and when we knew it," the official says, "and not to make any preliminary or premature judgments about

    Investigators continued to comb Hasan's computer, search his garbage, scrub his phone records. By
    Saturday, Hasan was awake and talking, though only to his doctors and lawyers. He will face a trial, most
    likely in a military court, and if convicted, he could become the 16th person sentenced to death under the
    current military death-penalty system. Ten of the previous 15 had their sentences commuted, and five sit on
    death row in Fort Leavenworth, Kans.

    Meanwhile, the Fort Hood community does what it has had to do all too often: mourn the dead, minister to
    the living. At least 545 soldiers from Fort Hood have died in Iraq and Afghanistan; now 13 more are gone,
    ranging in age from 19 to 62. One victim was a newlywed; one was three months pregnant; 19 children were
    left without a parent. Support groups kicked in, delivering food to the families. Local blood banks were
    swarmed with donors. The Facebook group Sgt. Kimberly Munley: A Real Hero has close to 24,000 fans
    and counting.

    A President can't go to every memorial service. But this one he had to attend, if only to make sure that the
    stories got told, the names got spoken — Aaron and Amy, Jason and John, Frederick, Francheska, Juanita,
    Kham, Libardo, Justin, Russell, Michael. A young President baptized a new Greatest Generation: "We need
    not look to the past for greatness," he said, "because it is before our very eyes." Our security is their life's
    work, he said, and peace is their legacy, and freedom their gift. To the great gray sea of soldiers that stood
    before him, the deaths were a hard reminder of the challenge of protecting all three at the same time.

    — Reported by Massimo Calabresi, Bobby Ghosh, Michael Scherer, Mark Thompson and Michael
    Weisskopf / Washington and Hilary Hylton / Fort Hood
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