WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday he would hold to account those who missed warning signs that could have prevented a shooting rampage on a Texas army base earlier this month that killed 13 people.
“If there was a failure to take appropriate action before the shootings, there must be accountability,” Obama said in his weekly address.
U.S. government officials say Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the army psychiatrist charged with 13 counts of murder in the Fort Hood rampage, had surfaced in communications with an anti-American cleric in Yemen who was sympathetic to al Qaeda.
The agencies monitored between 10 and 20 contacts between the cleric and Hasan, a U.S.-born Muslim of Palestinian descent who was waiting to be sent to Afghanistan.
The officials said U.S. intelligence agencies learned of the communications late last year and passed this knowledge to federal authorities, who judged they were largely consistent with his academic work and did not warrant an investigation.
The information was shared with a joint terrorism task force led by the FBI, but the Pentagon said it had not been informed of the contacts until after the shooting spree.
Obama has ordered a review of how U.S. intelligence agencies handled information gathered about Hasan.
“Given the potential warning signs that may have been known prior these shootings, we must uncover what steps — if any — could have been taken to avert this tragedy,” he said.
“We must compile every piece of information that was known about the gunman, and we must learn what was done with that information. Once we have those facts, we must act upon them.”
Obama’s remarks recall the push to learn lessons in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
This led to a major shake-up of U.S. intelligence agencies designed to ensure clues that could prevent another al Qaeda strike were not overlooked in the future.
In addition to contact with the cleric in Yemen, Hasan was reported by the Washington Post to have argued that the military should allow Muslim soldiers to be released as conscientious objectors in order to avoid “adverse events.”
Representative Pete Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, has asked intelligence agencies to preserve all information they have on Hasan and said he expected Congress to fully investigate.
Obama welcomed Congress’ inquiries, but cautioned that “all of us should resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into the political theater that sometimes dominates the discussion here in Washington. The stakes are far too high.”
Reporting by Alister Bull; editing by Todd Eastham