WASHINGTON — Congress and the Obama administration on Monday headed toward a showdown over access to information about how an Army major with known contacts to Islamic extremists was able to carry out a deadly shooting spree at a Texas military base last fall.
Saying the Pentagon and Justice Department had failed to cooperate in Congress' efforts to understand what took place, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs issued subpoenas to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder, demanding documents about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the disgruntled Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people and injuring another 32 during a Nov. 5 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas.
Among the documents the committee is seeking: any that show what the Joint Terrorist Task Force in San Diego and the National Terrorism Task Force in Washington knew about Hasan's e-mail exchanges with Anwar al Awlaki, a Yemen-based, U.S.-born imam with links to three of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., the committee's chairman, said the panel wants to determine how Hasan could communicate with Awlaki, speak regularly to colleagues and patients about his doubts that American Muslims should take part in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and be the subject of persistent concern among his supervisors and still not be investigated by the military or FBI. Instead, he was sent from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington to Fort Hood to counsel soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
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"There were repeated signals being sent off by Major Hasan that he was a potential danger," Lieberman said in a conference call with reporters. "We want specific information on what those signals were and why was nothing done about them."
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama authorized U.S. forces to kill Awlaki, a U.S. citizen.
In addition to documents about Hasan's contacts with Awlaki, the subpoena also seeks Hasan's personnel file; any documents that would show what defense intelligence agencies and military criminal units knew about Hasan prior to the shooting, and "all transcripts, reports or summaries of prosecutorial interviews of witnesses that were provided to the staff" of an independent Defense Department review headed by former Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr., and retired Adm. Vern Clark, a former chief of naval operations.
The Senate committee also wants copies of an otherwise unexplained secret document that was given to West and Clark on Jan. 15.
The subpoena gives Gates and Holder until next Monday to provide the documents.
"We expect some cooperation from the executive branch to carry out our responsibility," Lieberman told reporters.
It's unlikely the Obama administration will comply, however. Senior Pentagon legal officials said that releasing too much information could taint the jury pool and jeopardize Hasan's military trial.
"We consider a release to Congress, analytically, to be a release to the public," one senior legal official said. "The military investigation trumps" the congressional one, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the investigation.
The Pentagon officials said the Defense Department already had given hundreds of documents and video to the committee, but in their letter, Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that most of that information was either publicly available or didn't provide the information they sought.
The letter rejected the administration's concerns about Hasan's upcoming court martial and said the unwillingness to surrender documents smacked of a cover-up.
"Unfortunately, it is impossible for us to avoid reaching the conclusion that the departments simply do not want to cooperate with our investigation," the letter said.
Last week, the Pentagon released a summary of what actions Gates has authorized as a result of the West/Clark investigation. The investigation itself hasn't been released.
The summary said the investigation had concluded that at the time of the Fort Hood shootings, the Pentagon had no way to track reports of suspicious activity by service members. A previous system was terminated in 2007, the summary said, and a pilot program to find a new tracking system had been completed only in July 2009. That system, however, will now be implemented throughout the military, with a plan for doing so due by June 30, the summary said.
It also said that the investigation had found that the Pentagon's cybersecurity policies didn't require that information uncovered in routine counterintelligence work — such as monitoring Defense Department e-mails — be passed to the military's "investigative organizations."
The summary also said that the investigation had determined that Pentagon policies didn't cover activities such as Hasan's that unnerved his colleagues but didn't include outright membership in an extremist organization, which would have been prohibited.
Hasan, who was paralyzed when Fort Hood police officers returned fire, is being held at the Belton County Jail in Texas. A court martial date hasn't been set.
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