In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, we discovered that a failure to “connect the dots” left America unable to defend itself against 19 lunatics armed with boxcutters. The Fort Hood massacre had far fewer casualties, but all of them could have been avoided had the FBI informed the Pentagon that one of its high-ranking officers had a new al-Qaeda pen pal in Yemen. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Pentagon never heard from the FBI or other intelligence services that Major Nidal Hasan had begun corresponding with a radical Islamist imam in the hotbed of al-Qaeda terrorism:
The Pentagon said it was never notified by U.S. intelligence agencies that they had intercepted emails between the alleged Fort Hood shooter and an extremist imam until after last week’s bloody assaults, raising new questions about whether the government could have helped prevent the attack.
A top defense official said federal investigators didn’t tell the Pentagon they were looking into months of contacts between Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki. The imam knew three of the Sept. 11 hijackers and hailed Maj. Hasan as a “hero” after the shooting last week at Fort Hood that left 13 people dead. …
A person familiar with the matter said a Pentagon worker on a terrorism task force overseen by the Federal Bureau of Investigation was told about the intercepted emails several months ago. But members of terror task forces aren’t allowed to share such information with their agencies, unless they get permission from the FBI, which leads the task forces.
In this case, the Pentagon worker, an employee from the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, helped make the assessment that Maj. Hasan wasn’t a threat, and the FBI’s “procedures for sharing the information were never used,” said the person familiar with the matter.
This is absurd. Anwar Aulaqi gets a number of mentions in the 9/11 Commission report for his contacts with at least two of the 9/11 hijackers. Anyone communicating with Aulaqi after the attacks, especially after Aulaqi relocated to Yemen and established his Islamist jihadist website and recruitment efforts, should have been immediately reported to the Army’s chain of command, especially a high-ranking officer.
From the 9/11 Commission report, page 221:
Another potentially significant San Diego contact for Hazmi and Mihdhar was Anwar Aulaqi, an imam at the Rabat mosque. Born in New Mexico and thus a U.S. citizen, Aulaqi grew up in Yemen and studied in the United States on a Yemeni government scholarship. We do not know how or when Hazmi and Mihdhar first met Aulaqi. The operatives may even have met or at least talked to him the same day they first moved to San Diego. Hazmi and Mihdhar reportedly respected Aulaqi as a religious figure and developed a close relationship with him.33
When interviewed after 9/11, Aulaqi said he did not recognize Hazmi’s name but did identify his picture. Although Aulaqi admitted meeting with Hazmi several times, he claimed not to remember any specifics of what they discussed. He described Hazmi as a soft-spoken Saudi student who used to appear at the mosque with a companion but who did not have a large circle of friends.34
Aulaqi left San Diego in mid-2000, and by early 2001 had relocated to Virginia. As we will discuss later, Hazmi eventually showed up at Aulaqi’s mosque in Virginia, an appearance that may not have been coincidental. We have been unable to learn enough about Aulaqi’s relationship with Hazmi and Mihdhar to reach a conclusion.35
In sum, although the evidence is thin as to specific motivations, our overall impression is that soon after arriving in California, Hazmi and Mihdhar sought out and found a group of young and ideologically like-minded Muslims with roots in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, individuals mainly associated with Mohdar Abdullah and the Rabat mosque. The al Qaeda operatives lived openly in San Diego under their true names, listing Hazmi in the telephone directory. They managed to avoid attracting much attention.
And more from page 230:
At the Dar al Hijra mosque, Hazmi and Hanjour met a Jordanian named Eyad al Rababah. Rababah says he had gone to the mosque to speak to the imam, Aulaqi, about finding work. At the conclusion of services, which normally had 400 to 500 attendees, Rababah says he happened to meet Hazmi and Hanjour. They were looking for an apartment; Rababah referred them to a friend who had one to rent. Hazmi and Hanjour moved into the apartment, which was in Alexandria.75
Some FBI investigators doubt Rababah’s story. Some agents suspect that Aulaqi may have tasked Rababah to help Hazmi and Hanjour. We share that suspicion, given the remarkable coincidence of Aulaqi’s prior relationship with Hazmi. As noted above, the Commission was unable to locate and interview Aulaqi. Rababah has been deported to Jordan, having been convicted after 9/11 in a fraudulent driver’s license scheme.76
The Commission was unable to locate and interview Aulaqi, but Hasan found him without too much trouble. The Commission also makes it clear that they themselves suspected Aulaqi of an operational role in 9/11, and that counterterrorism agents shared that suspicion. This was no run-of-the-mill radical imam, but a man suspected of helping to murder almost 3,000 people in the worst terrorist attack in history.
And eight years later, no one thought it was suspicious or worthy of further investigation that a high-ranking officer in the Army was communicating with a man suspected of being one of the architects of 9/11?
There’s a failure to connect dots, and then there’s willful blindness. This appears to be the latter. Something is very, very wrong with our present counterterrorism effort if contacts between a military officer and a known radical imam in Yemen gets shrugged off like this, especially with a figure likely part of the 9/11 attacks.