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Top military investigators downplayed warnings about the alleged shooter in the November 2009 massacre at Fort Hood, Texas, and opted not to interview him before the tragedy because they feared casting suspicion upon him would harm his Army career, experts told lawmakers Friday.
Investigators from the Defense Criminal Investigative Service knew of email exchanges between U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, accused of fatally shooting 13 people, and notorious terrorist leader Anwar Nasser al-Awlaki, but they halted their investigation before seeking a face-to-face interview with Hassan.
Details of the Fort Hood shooting investigation emerged Friday at a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee's oversight, investigations and management panel.
An expert witness said DCIS was invited to participate in the FBI task force investigating Hasan before the shooting because the agency could provide detailed insider knowledge of military matters that might help the probe, but the DCIS agent "also brought the subjectivity of an insider to the assessment."
"That subjectivity may have caused undue deference to the Army chain of command and undue concern about the potential impact of an interview on Hasan's military career, which appear to have driven the decision not to interview Hasan or contact his superiors," according to a statement submitted to the panel.
That statement came from Douglas Winter, an attorney who was appointed to help lead an independent panel investigating the intelligence failures leading up to the shooting.
Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told lawmakers that the failure to interview Hasan to determine whether he might pose a threat runs counter to routine investigation procedures.
"The idea that people would not go talk to him — that, I do not understand," Leiter testified at the hearing Friday.
Concerns about "political correctness" may have influenced the investigation, said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who chairs the subcommittee.
"Is this a case where political correctness was more important or overshadowing national security?" McCaul asked the witnesses.
"It sure sounds like that," said Ishrad Manji, director of the Moral Courage Project.
The Army promoted Hassan despite reports from his colleagues that he made repeated comments sympathizing with Islamic extremists in general and Osama bin Laden in particular.
Some troops may have been reluctant to express concern about Hassan's remarks for fear of being accused of having a bias against Muslims, said Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.
"Service men and women are discouraged from pointing out things that they see … that should raise red flags," Duncan said "They are scared they will be labeled an Islamophobe."
Duncan said he does not understand why some officials labeled Hasan's shooting an incident of workplace violence rather than terrorism.
Hasan is accused of using two handguns and shouting "Allahu Akbar" as he shot 13 people at Fort Hood on Nov. 5, 2009. He is facing a court-martial that could result in the death penalty.