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Expert: Study on extremism might have prevented Fort Hood shootings

By Ashley Hayes, CNN
Shannen Rossmiller says she's angry that a study she worked on with the Pentagon is now classified.
Shannen Rossmiller says she's angry that a study she worked on with the Pentagon is now classified.
  • Study aimed to help military officials recognize the signs of extremism among troops
  • Shannen Rossmiller angry study she worked with Pentagon to create is under wraps
  • Rossmiller says study was not classified in 2008 and contained vital information
  • "People were acting like there was nothing out there that could have been useful," she says

(CNN) -- A security expert who contributed to a now-classified 2008 study aimed at helping military officials recognize the signs of extremism among troops said it could have helped prevent the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas.

Shannen Rossmiller is angry that the study she worked with the Pentagon to create -- unclassified at its inception -- is now under wraps. She told CNN she is concerned political correctness trumped the study. As a result, she said, it failed to serve its intended purpose -- to help military officials recognize the signs that one of their own might pose a threat.

"These people didn't have to die, and that's why I'm speaking out," Rossmiller said.

CNN contacted the Pentagon about the report, but officials there did not immediate react to it.

Authorities say Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army psychiatrist, opened fire November 5 at a military processing center at Fort Hood Army Post, killing 13 people. Dozens of others were wounded. Hasan was wounded in the incident and is paralyzed from the waist down.

"It's an atrocity that this even had to happen ... You would think, eight years after 9/11, we'd be smarter," Rossmiller said.

Rossmiller was involved in the case of Army Spc. Ryan G. Anderson, a Muslim convert who was arrested after trying to pass information to al Qaeda over the Internet. Afterward, she was asked to contribute to the report, "The Radicalization of Members within DoD." It was completed in April 2008, she said.

After the Anderson case, Rossmiller said, the military recognized a need for more awareness to stop radicalization among troops.

"The intent behind the whole report was to provide a useful tool for intelligence officials to spot and identify certain signs of radical behavior," she said. At the time it was completed, it was her understanding that it was not classified, she said.

The Defense Department report was intended to prevent something like this.
--Shannen Rossmiller

She told CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" that she understood the report was sent to "intelligence officials within the defense community as well as the greater intelligence community."

After the Fort Hood shootings, she said she contacted the military after hearing no mention of the study in the media or from military officials.

"I sat quiet for a week," she told CNN. "... People were acting like there was nothing out there that could have been useful."

But, Rossmiller said, she was told the study was now classified.

"The Defense Department report was intended to prevent something like this, and it's just astonishing that this even had to happen after something like that has been prepared as a useful tool."

A key congressional committee opened an investigation Thursday into the shootings, pledging to find out whether authorities failed to "connect the dots" and could have prevented the attack.

Members said they plan to focus on whether concerns raised by Hasan's colleagues about this "mental stability and political extremism" were dealt with appropriately by senior Army officials.

Among other issues, the FBI has said it was aware of communication between Hasan and Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American cleric who has promoted jihad against the United States and other Western countries. But investigators determined that those contacts were "consistent with research being conducted by Maj. Hasan."

Also, a memo reportedly written two years ago by Hasan's supervisor at Walter Reed Army Medical Center says Hasan demonstrated "a pattern of poor judgment and a lack of professionalism" during his residency at the hospital. CNN could not corroborate the authenticity of the memo, obtained by National Public Radio.

A former classmate has said he witnessed at least two of Hasan's PowerPoint discussions that included what he described as extremist views. In these presentations, which were supposed to be about health, the source said that Hasan justified suicide bombings and spoke about the persecution of Muslims in the Middle East, the United States and the U.S. military.

"People are saying that, 'Wow, this is brand new,' but in my travels, in talking with counterterrorism experts around the world, especially in Europe, this whole process of radicalization has gone through a much more in-depth study, a much more professional rigor than I think what we've seen in the United States," Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "We could have learned from them, and it looks like we didn't."

A law enforcement official familiar with the investigation told CNN that when Hasan first came to the attention of investigators because of his communications with al-Awlaki, officials looked at his military personnel file and nothing was found that raised suspicion.

None of the items that have been reported since the shootings -- including the reported Walter Reed memo or the PowerPoint presentation arguing that Muslims in the Army should be given conscientious objector status -- were part of the file, the official said, but it was noted Hasan had done research about Muslims in the military.

Rossmiller said she was incredulous when Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a 45-day review of Pentagon policies to determine whether the Defense Department has fallen short in identifying service members "who could potentially pose credible threats to others."

That review apparently will do "exactly what this report encompassed," Rossmiller said. "It's just like, you know what? They need to fall on their sword, and we need to fix this."

"I think what you need to do here is, you need to understand the phenomenon," Hoekstra said. "I think the political correctness here is not about profiling. It is a reluctance to acknowledge that this problem actually exists, to confront it and ultimately then to defeat it. I think that we can study this problem."

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