Brass: Leaders must beware self-radicalization

By William H. McMichael - Staff writer

Posted : Friday Jan 15, 2010 13:56:35 EST

Commanders need better tools and policies to track potential violent attitudes and counter negative external influences on the force, the Pentagon’s top two leaders said Friday.

They were previewing a two-month review, released the same day, into the Nov. 5 shootings at Fort Hood that left 13 dead and dozens injured — an act allegedly committed by a Muslim Army major who reportedly had raised colleagues’ concerns over a two-year period that he was becoming increasingly radicalized.

"Current policies on prohibited activities provide neither the authority nor the tools for commanders and supervisors to intervene when DoD personnel, at risk ... of potential violence make contact or establish relationships with persons or entities that promote self-radicalization," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said at a Pentagon news conference.

"We need to refine our understanding of what these behavioral signals are and how they progress. At the same time, there is no well-integrated means to gather, evaluate and disseminate the wide range of behavioral indicators that could help our commanders better anticipate an internal threat," Gates said.

One such tool, he said, would identify research into behaviors that could indicate the potential for self-radicalization and violence in the workplace, and "having those in the hands of commanders."

Gates also would give commanders "more comprehensive information on individuals — particularly if there have been behavioral issues that have been noted ... under previous assignments."

Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said military leaders need an "active focus" on transferring information on potential problematic individuals.

"The issue of self-radicalization is one that we have really got to focus on because ... there is clearly more and more of that going on, and how much of it we have in the military is something that we ought to really understand," Mullen said.

Privacy issues

Mullen declined to elaborate when asked if he would give commanders a greater ability to see what troops are privately communicating to others. But he said that commanders have the responsibility, authority "and accountability, quite frankly," for their troops and "have more than adequate room and authority right now to really understand what their people are doing."

"There are typically indicators of this," Mullen said. "Not perfect, but there are indicators of behaviors that oftentimes are known at the junior level, in the unit, at the squad level. And so ... how do we make sure that when we see indicators, we’re doing all we can? That’s key."

Gates said the report, which was being briefed to members of Congress on Friday morning and due for public release at noon, "raises serious questions about the degree to which the entire Department of Defense is prepared for similar incidents in the future, especially multiple simultaneous incidents. It also reveals shortcomings in the way the department is prepared to defend against threats posed by external influences operating on members of our military community.

"It is clear that as a department, we have not done enough to adapt to the evolving domestic internal security threat to American troops and military facilities that has emerged over the past decade," Gates said. "In this area, as in so many others, this department is burdened by 20th-century processes and attitudes, mostly rooted in the Cold War.

"Our counterintelligence procedures are mostly designed to combat an external threat such as a foreign intelligence service," Gates said. "Our force protection procedures are set up to investigate and adjudicate criminal conduct, such as domestic abuse and gang activities."

Gates said the review concluded that the Pentagon’s force protection programs "are not properly focused on internal threats such as workplace violence and self-radicalization."