figuring out hasan

Figuring Out Hasan

Ever since the attacks at Fort Hood on Thursday, thousands of people from the media and the blogosphere have been trying to create a profile of Nidal Malik Hasan, the shooter.  Who was he, and why would he do such a thing?  Well, we know some more now.  The Telegraph reported yesterday and today that Hasan had all the makings of an extremist.

From yesterday:

Hasan, the sole suspect in the massacre of 13 fellow US soldiers in Texas, attended the controversial Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Great Falls, Virginia, in 2001 at the same time as two of the September 11 terrorists, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt. His mother’s funeral was held there in May that year.

The preacher at the time was Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Yemeni scholar who was banned from addressing a meeting in London by video link in August because he is accused of supporting attacks on British troops and backing terrorist organisations.

From today:

He also told colleagues at America’s top military hospital that non-Muslims were infidels condemned to hell who should be set on fire. The outburst came during an hour-long talk Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, gave on the Koran in front of dozens of other doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington DC, where he worked for six years before arriving at Fort Hood in July.

No doubt the first article in particular will cause some to fear the worst, but there is no evidence yet that Hasan was actually a member of Al-Qaeda.

The picture is becoming clearer, but still somewhat murky.  What we do know is that Hasan grew more devout following the deaths of his parents in 1999 and 2001.  For a few days, there was a gap in our knowledge of how a seemingly patriotic native-born could turn against his own country.  Now, with the news of Hasan’s attendance at al-Awlaki’s mosque in 2001, the picture seems to be one of a somewhat new fundamentalist finding a darker meaning behind his religion.  Perhaps Hasan turned fundamentalist because of guidance by al-Awlaki, though this is just speculation.

That still leaves a seven to eight year gap after his initial attendance at the church, including his time in residency and his fellowship at Walter Reed.

Lets be clear: This was terrorism.  All the evidence collected so far points to this as fueled by Hasan’s religious beliefs.  The bigger question is: Was it just one guy doing it on a whim or was it something more carefully planned?  We don’t know for sure yet.  However, I have seen comparisons of this shooting made to those at Virginia Tech and Colombine, and it certainly does seem closer to those than an al-Qaeda led attack.

Consider that Hasan did not go for a civilian target (as has typically been the case with al-Qaeda type attacks), but the army base, where he knew people.  Hasan also apparently had a history of being denigrated for his faith, but more importantly, was about to be shipped off to Afghanistan three weeks later.  So he definitely held a grudge with the army.  Add that to what was likely eight years of increasingly following a radical form of Islam, and that doesn’t make for a great mixture.  In the end, it was probably the thought of having to go fight what he considered an unjust war and killing those he thought were innocent (at best) or had a point about America (at worst) that moved him to commit a massacre.  Perhaps as a sort of “see how you like it” message.

There will be the temptation (if there isn’t already) in some sectors to try and link this to Al-Qaeda, or some other group, but there is the equal likelihood that this was a solo guy, who was radicalized enough to go out and do this.  It has happened with terrorism linked to radical forms of other religions (think Planned Parenthood bombings), and it can certainly happen with Islamic terrorism, too.

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  1. dom youngross

    November 9th, 2009 at 21:25

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    The main reason for figuring out Nidal Malik Hasan is to avoid a future repeat. Secondarily, if you can figure out why some go way off the deep end, you can also help considerably more get over all the less-drastic bumps and bruises of life. I hope the Army is considering these basic things:

    1) Where and how someone lives compared to their occupation and age

    I was floored that an Army major would live off-base in a $325/month walk-up flat, and pay for it six months in advance. Okay, so maybe he was an ultra-frugal long-term budgeting freak or had a lot of bills/charitable financial commitments. But those things then raise subsequent questions, like why so frugal or why all the debt to pay off or why all the charitable donations. Then on top of that, it was a sparsely-furnished $325/month dig. For a 39-year-old? He didn’t pick up stuff along the way to being 39 that was worth keeping, putting in storage if he had to move? Okay so maybe he was a possessionless Zen master. But then what would a Zen master be doing in the Army? Stuff — yeah, it’s an American thing, but it also tells you the extent to which someone has become Americanized.

    No one’s privacy has to be violated, but a simple cross-check of home address versus typical mortage or rent payment for such an address would ring a look-closer alarm bell. Your average realtor would be the security consultant for this.

    2) Work and personal relationships compared to occupation and age

    It seems that never-married, no significant other, no kids, and a loner at 39 falls well outside the statistical norm. All that, along with the above, suggests someone is not ‘tied’ to or ‘vested’ in the system. And you don’t have to necessarily hang out with people from work, or invite them over and vice versa. But those things also suggest nothing going on relationship-wise to hold someone back from behaviorally crossing the nothing-to-lose boundary.

    3) Pets

    That’s something that you might not initially think about as being indicative of someone’s personality or predictor of behavior. But here no dog, no cat, not even a goldfish that would suffer or be missed by him if he didn’t come back? Yeah, tougher to have pets if you are single and work takes you away 12 months at a crack. But that also motivates you to make friends with other pet lovers for a mutual-interest and -aid society. In addition, pets, especially dogs — outstanding — they give you unconditional love all the time which really takes the edge off even the worst day at work. We know Nidal Malik Hasan had a bird at one time though, but that bird supposedly met an untimely death.

    Come to think about it, since long-term deployments and PTSD are core issues here, I hope Ft. Hood and all state-side military installations operate no- or low-cost dog/cat/iguana/whatever boarding kennels for their personnel. That would make for one less reason not to have a pet, and provide one more vector for PTSD treatment.

    Also come to think about it, putting a psychiatrist in a room with a friendly dog for an hour or so and watching the interaction could be better than a couple hundred questions on a personality inventory test, if you factor in cultural attitudes toward dogs and pets. And if a person’s background culture isn’t too keen on dogs and pets, such could tell you how Americanized that person has become to date, and more vested in the system.

    And even further, military psychiatrists might as well be so treated as lab rats periodically, to transcend their cognitive functions (which may be impaired and undiagnosed) and to transcend the limits of conventional professional evaluations.

    4) Hobbies/avocations/volunteering

    If someone isn’t into making or collecting things or volunteering time and effort in the local community, those aren’t problems in and of themselves necessarily, particularly if you work 60-hour or longer weeks. But conversely, any one of them could indicate that someone found something out there worthwhile, so his/her life isn’t all bad.

    5) Religion

    Yeah that’s going to draw flak, making something out of someone’s religion. But the point is it’s only a singular thing that in and of itself can be innocuous. But when factored into the mix and compared to all the above, a religious belief system with an incendiary element to it rings alarms.

    All told, time will show that Nidal Malik Hasan had a LOT of warning dots that just weren’t connected, any way you cut it. There was no joy in this guy’s life, and he lived it all in his head. It was all unfulfilling work and unfulfilling religion. So how could any mental-health professional with no joy in his life successfully work to help others back from the PTSD brink? Such can’t.

    There was nothing left for him to do but die — and traitorously take out others with him. Nidal Malik Hasan seems to be like one of those Magik Eye puzzles that look like a bunch of incoherent but repeating shapes and colors — until of course you hold it at the right focal distance from your eyes and see SUICIDE MUSLIM TERRORIST spelled out as plain as day.

  2. Jason Arvak

    November 10th, 2009 at 01:40

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    The level of monitoring and invasion of privacy you suggest for military members would constitute a serious disincentive for many completely innocent people to serve.

    Or were you suggesting that only Muslim military members be subjected to such extreme monitoring?

  3. Michael Merritt

    November 10th, 2009 at 02:45

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    The level of monitoring and invasion of privacy you suggest for military members would constitute a serious disincentive for many completely innocent people to serve.

    Or were you suggesting that only Muslim military members be subjected to such extreme monitoring?

    Seems like all of dom’s suggested criteria for monitoring would make a lot of America eligible.

  4. Jason Arvak

    November 10th, 2009 at 04:00

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    yeah, somehow I don’t think it would actually be applied that way.

    I’m sure I’ll be accused of being all politically correct and lilly-livered-liberal sensitive. You know me….

  5. Tully

    November 10th, 2009 at 04:59

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    You politically correct lily-livered liberal!

    I didn’t want you to be disappointed, Jason. ;-)

    More relevantly, from accounts to date it doesn’t seem that any intensive or intrusive monitoring was needed to discern that Hasan was a dangerous nutburger. Apparently he oozed dangerous nutburger. So the real question is why no one did anything about it before he proved he was deadly dangerous crazy.

  6. Jason Arvak

    November 10th, 2009 at 05:07

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    Other than his comments on a blog, I don’t agree that the signs were so obvious to observation at the level expected from someone without an extremely high security clearance.

    And as someone who was once personally targeted for investigation for online comments (even in pre-internet days in 1987 — I believe I was the first person EVER targeted with such an investigation by a military agency) based on hasty and inaccurate presumptions about their meaning, I’m not well-inclined towards the 20/20 hindsight reasoning that would ask the military to monitor online comments and make sweeping conclusions based on them.

  7. Michael Merritt

    November 10th, 2009 at 07:48

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    Well, there is that lecture he made at Walter Reed a couple years ago that was apparently dripping with fundamentalist juiciness, when he was supposed to give a medical lecture. Of course, those less…tolerate toward certain religions will no doubt try and cherry pick certain statements to make their point.

    Or his apparently well known attempts to contact Al-Qaeda a couple months ago which, if it has legs, may work to eventually demolish the argument I made in this article.

    It’s not only about some dubious blog posts made a six months ago.

  8. Doomed

    November 10th, 2009 at 14:46

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    Hat tip to dom.

    At least hes willing to put forth something to consider…..however…..

    I learned today that…….ABC News uncovered the fact that US intelligence agencies knew of Hasan’s attempts to contact AlQaeda operatives for months prior to the Fort Hood massacre. It isn’t known whether they alerted the military. Hasan also made anti-American comments to his colleagues, which apparently were ignored.

    This is sad but now it makes me wonder if the good major was not under surveillance in a manner in which the government was actually trying to use him to uncover operatives in the USA.

    I am starting to believe that this guy was actually under deep scrutiny but no one could predict he would do something like this. More likely they were thinking hes gonna build a bomb, hijack a plane or something spectacular as is al qaeda’s op.

    Im not excusing the government for letting this happen but rather its now starting to become clear to me that they were indeed watching this guy in hopes that he would lead to a bigger intell haul.

  9. Jason Arvak

    November 10th, 2009 at 15:50

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    Well, let’s put it this way, Michael: I don’t have any problem with people asking why the Army overlooked anything publicly accessible that should have raised red flags — blog posts, lectures, whatever. But I draw the line at the insistence of some that the Army should subject some or all of its members to intrusive monitoring of bank accounts, private associations, private conversations, etc, without proper individualized cause.

  10. Tully

    November 10th, 2009 at 18:02

    I would draw that line too, Jason. Cause or assent/permission required. There’s no doubt safeguards and standards to address specific concerns for some personnel at higher clearance levels. There are some analogues with private employers — you are not likely to get a job as a corporate comptroller without undergoing a period credit-record check, for example. And more and more potential employees are being googled to check their “embarrassment factor” to the hiring company. Regularly updated background checks on key employees are not exactly unheard of. Those are items of assent, normally overt. You don’t get the job unless you agree to the conditions.

    The signs that Hasan was a potential threat (signs such as attempting to contact Al Qaeda, public statements supportive of Islamic terrorism) were there and did call for a higher level of scrutiny. In this case, as you put it, “individualized cause” existed and had been noted. The question is why it was not acted upon in time. With so much in the way of judgement calls involved (how do you know the ranter will become a shooter?) we may never know that. That he was a nutburger was readily apparent, so the real question is how he could have been distinguished from the mumbling crowd as a deadly-dangerous nutburger without violating his rights.

  11. Jeb

    November 10th, 2009 at 19:33

    For it to be terrorism doesn’t it need to be goal oriented? If he refuses to state a goal and no terrorist organization takes ownership then is it really terrorism?

    Additionally the targets were undeniably military rather than civilian in nature.

    It is a tragic incident and it appears that religious fundamentalism was at least a partial motivator, but terrorism does not seem the appropriate label.

  12. Michael Merritt

    November 11th, 2009 at 06:01

    If he refuses to state a goal and no terrorist organization takes ownership then is it really terrorism?

    First of all, Hasan is (or up until recently was) in a coma at some hospital. He doesn’t have the capability to state a goal right now.

    While I agree with you that the signs point more toward an individual motivated by his religion, as you point out (and the Al-Qaeda thing doesn’t hold up), terrorism is usually defined as an action with a religious or politically ideological motivation. This clearly was.

    Eric Robert Rudolph (1996 Olympic bombing) is defined as a terrorist all the time, and he was a lone attacker. What makes Hasan different?

    But I draw the line at the insistence of some that the Army should subject some or all of its members to intrusive monitoring of bank accounts, private associations, private conversations, etc, without proper individualized cause.

    No disagreements, here. Though it wouldn’t be the first time the law-and-order wing of the Republican Party has gone off the deep end with demands for surveillance powers.

  13. Jason Arvak

    November 11th, 2009 at 07:04

    Intrusive surveillance, retribution against political enemies, and particularly suppression of free expression are hardly the exclusive province of the Republican Party, Michael. Anyone who lives on a college campus with a speech code can see the Orwellian mirror image. And unlike greatly exaggerated rumors of free-speech suppression by post-9/11 Republicans, the lefties on campus actually wield the power necessary to pull it off from time to time.

  14. Jeb

    November 11th, 2009 at 18:26


    I wrote this after he woke up and refused to speak to the police. He has to this point refused to state why he did what he did. Eric Rudolph on the other hand proclaimed his intent

    Rudolph declared that his bombings were part of a guerrilla campaign against abortion and the “homosexual agenda”.

    That is one of the two primary differences. Rudolph proclaimed his political agenda and attacked a civilian target to inspire terror in the name of that agenda. Most definitions of terrorism I have seen require expressed political intent and a civilian target.

    For example,

    the calculated use of violence (or the threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature

    Rudolph meets both requirements. At this time Hasan meets neither. If and when he states his goals he might meet one. This in no way makes his crime less heinous, but I do think it means that it is not terrorism as it is generally defined.

    I don’t think that anyone but Hasan knows his primary motivation or what made him snap at this point and his targets were decidedly not civilian. He may or may not see himself as part of a larger war for his version of Islam and that may or may not simply be the rationalization of a man that snapped for other reasons. Time will make at least some of that more clear.

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