Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter who killed thirteen fellow soldiers in a surprise massacre last week, exchanged e-mails with a radical Muslim cleric who had been investigated for ties to Al Qaeda, reports out today confirm. The FBI knew of the communications, which began in December 2008, but dismissed them after minor inquiry because they bore no indication that Hasan was planning any kind of violence. Instead, they were consistent with the research he was performing for his master's degree, which related to how American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan affects civilians. "At this point, there is no information to indicate Major Nidal Malik Hasan had any co-conspirators or was part of a broader terrorist plot," the FBI said in a statement, defending its actions. "Because the content of the communications was explainable by his research and nothing else was found," the agency concluded that "Major Hasan was not involved in terrorist activities or terrorist planning."
The cleric, Anwar Aulaqi, posted a blog entry yesterday calling Hasan a "hero." They had met at Aulaqi's former mosque in Virginia — though while they communicated, Aulaqi was based in Yemen. Aulaqi was investigated for his relationship with 9/11 attacker Nawaf al-Hazmi, though he was not convicted of anything.
Representative Peter Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has gone after the FBI for what he labels as an oversight. "I think the very fact that you've got a major in the U.S. Army contacting [a radical imam], or attempting to contact him, would raise some red flags," he told the Los Angeles Times, announcing that he's requested that the agency preserve all records of their dealings with Hasan. It's typical grandstanding — red flags were raised, that's how the FBI knew about the guy in the first place, and obviously they're not going to just up and delete their files on him now. But Hoekstra is right to know that whatever turns up in this inquiry is going to have repercussions on public opinion of both the Department of Homeland Security and the USA PATRIOT Act.
Hasan, meanwhile, is awake and speaking with doctors. He has so far "declined" to speak with federal investigators, which is a situation, we're predicting, that won't last.