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David Hines [userpic]

Fort Hood, in review

November 9th, 2009 (06:08 pm)
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I've been going over the Fort Hood shooting news, as I usually do on stories like this. As in most cases, it won't be perfectly clear for a while exactly what happened from a tactical standpoint, but the heroes of the hour are Sgt. Kimberley Munley, 34, and Sgt. Mark Todd, 42, both of Fort Hood's Department of Emergency Services; Todd, who retired from the Army to become a cop, apparently does a lot of K-9 stuff. It's been reported several times that they're partners, but I don't know if that's right or if they just teamed up in the firefight. Munley is laid up with gunshot wounds, and she hasn't given her full account publicly yet; what we know of her experience comes second-hand, through her supervisor. Todd has spoken briefly about the gunfight, which by his reckoning lasted maybe 30 to 45 seconds (given the time dilation effect often experienced in gunfights, my guess is it was a hell of a lot less than that).

I don't know if they arrived separately or together. The DOD news agency says that when they did, Hasan fired on them. They ducked behind a car. Hasan then went out of sight around a building. The officers, following active shooter protocol, pursued to engage. As Todd recalls, their training took over perfectly; they were working as a team, coordinating, yelling commands back and forth. Munley pursued Hasan directly. Todd went around the other side of the building to engage from that side. From this point, unsurprisingly, their accounts differ.

Here's (a secondhand version of) Munley's recollection: she went around the corner after Hasan. They exchanged fire. Munley went down. Hasan moved toward her, still firing. Munley continued to fire. Hasan was struck in the upper chest and dropped.

That's how (we're told) she saw it. Here's how Todd recalls it: Todd came around the corner and saw that Munley was down and Hasan had turned his attention from her to fire at people who were running away, trying to find cover. Todd yelled that he was a police officer and told Hasan to drop his gun. Hasan turned and opened fire at Todd, but none of the bullets hit. Todd recalls firing five times. Hasan went down, and Todd jumped on him to confiscate the gun and cuff him. He realized people were shouting, "Two more! Two more!" at him, and thought they were warning him of two more shooters before he realized they wanted him to give Hasan a double-tap -- i.e., shoot Hasan two more times.

Reporters trying to reconcile their accounts asked Todd if he'd seen Munley shooting on the ground, and Todd said as soon as Hasan opened fire on him Munley dropped completely off his radar screen and he had no recollection of her at all. That's classic gunfight tunnelling: she could have put on a gorilla suit and danced the hokey-pokey, and Todd wouldn't have noticed; you'll doubtless have noted that Munley, who'd already engaged in close-up gunfighting and been seriously wounded in it, was tunnelling herself because she *didn't even see Todd was there.* My bet is that they were both shooting at the end, and that Munley fired at Hasan from the ground but was mistaken about his direction of movement, but it'll be a while before the FBI is done with their reconstruction. Regardless of which of them fired the shot that took him down, both of them are Officers of the Year, and they officially have balls of steel.

(I don't know about Todd's family, but Munley is married with kids; her husband is in special forces and she's a SWAT team member and firearms instructor who doesn't shrink from rushing an armed mass murderer, so I guess their kids are going to grow up to be every eighties action hero ever.)

Here's what I know on hardware. News organizations have reported that the perpetrator carried a "5.7-caliber gun," meaning the FN Five-seveN, in 5.7mm, and an older-model Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum. (The NEW YORK POST mentions that 1) Todd's gun is a Beretta, which means probably a 9mm Beretta 92FS or similar model. I figure Munley carried the same; that's the gun Todd would have carried in the Army, so he was familiar with it from two careers. 2) the perpetrator's gun had a laser sight.) The perp bought the Five-seveN legally from a local gun store; no word on the Smith, which may not have been fired at all. (Though if it was, that would be one reason there were reports of multiple shooters; the guns would have sounded quite different.)

The Five-seveN can use magazines of 10, 20, or 30 rounds; it can defeat bulletproof vests if you have the appropriate ammo, which one of the most all-around knowledgeable gun nuts/sellers I've ever run across says is kept locked up by the manufacturer and only released as orders from police or military institutions come in. (I don't think the perp, despite being military, could have acquired it on his own, and the reports now out there are that he just used standard civilian ammo.) Eyewitness reports state that, like the VA Tech shooter, he shot people multiple times after they were down. This is why I always say that playing dead is not a great tactic. OTOH, one of those eyewitness reports came from a guy who successfully played dead, so it can work if you're lucky.

The shooter, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, is an Islamist fanatic. Some media outlets, particularly Time and Newsweek, are pushing the traumatic stress theory -- he heard terrible stuff from his patients with PTSD, and had been harassed for being Muslim, et cetera. I think emotional imbalance was a component, but I think TIME and NEWSWEEK are focusing on it way too much. (The Orlando shooting, committed by Jason Rodriguez, in which mercifully only one person died, is a really classic emotional imbalance workplace shooting, though the long delay between the instigating incident and the concluding is curious.) Hasan had been on his current gig only briefly, and in any event neither newsweekly was inclined to be half so understanding of the personal hardships of any other mass shooters, which was proper because they bloody well shouldn't have been. It seems to me they're hammering Hasan's personal troubles because they don't want to grapple with the fact that Nidal Hasan was a religious fanatic.

There are reports that intelligence agencies had Hasan on their radar, and that he might have reached out to Al Qaeda types online. If that's accurate, whoever was in charge of his case should be fired. I have no idea whether he will turn out to have been acting on orders, or if he was a case of what's been called "sudden jihad syndrome." There are a lot of alarming things that are coming out about his religious hang-outs: his former imam, who's been giving interviews about how shocked he is that Hasan killed people, is on the board of directors of the Islamic Society of North America, which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and was an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case. Not warm and fuzzy guys. Two of the 9/11 hijackers went to Hasan's mosque, and one of their former imams -- whom Hasan heard preach -- once glowingly described by the New York Times as a modern Muslim leader who bridged the old and new, has fled to Yemen, where he operates as a pro-jihad propagandist and has apparently dabbled in shuffling arms to Islamist groups. He posted to his website praising Hasan's actions. The BBC correspondent doing interviews at Hasan's mosque found a young guy named Duane who gave Hasan's actions a serious, sober, thumbs-up.

I think the odds are still pretty good that Hasan acted alone, but whether he did or not this is looking more and more clearly like a jihadist attack. Hasan would not be alone as an unsupported jihadist, BTW; sniper John Mohammed (Washington, DC area, 2002), mass shooters Naveed Afzal Haq (Seattle, 2006) and Hesham Hedayet (Los Angeles, 2002), and attempted-mass-murderer-by-automobile Mohammed Taheri-azar (Chapel Hill, NC, 2006) were all similar cases, so while it's not impossible that Hasan took orders from somebody it's quite probable that he planned and executed everything himself.

A final note: restrictions on arms at Fort Hood meant that Hasan, who smuggled his own guns and ammo onto the base for his rampage, had a target pool full of people who couldn't fight back. This is a policy by the army to cut down on drunken accidents and the like; as I've mentioned a few times before, these policies don't seem wise to me.


Posted by: LiamStLiam (liamstliam)
Posted at: November 9th, 2009 11:48 pm (UTC)

What have you heard/read about the role of the Killeen PD SWAT folks, and whether they could have been "the other shooters?"

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: November 10th, 2009 05:50 pm (UTC)

Not a lot. I guess it's possible, but I don't know.

Posted by: Seperis (seperis)
Posted at: November 10th, 2009 12:01 am (UTC)

Thanks for the combined detail. I've been following up every major (and minor) website, but the contradictory information was way too overpowering to get a coherent picture.

It seems to me they're hammering Hasan's personal troubles because they don't want to grapple with the fact that Nidal Hasan was a religious fanatic.

The more I read about it, the more I agree with that assessment, and I wasn't exactly on the fence before. Sure, I get wanting to find out all the reasons that this was set off so it can be watched for later, but undercutting the strongly religious aspect doesn't do anyone any favors. The only thing I'd wonder about is if the emotional stress/whatever was partially a causes of turning to violent fanaticism. It's not that I don't think someone could quietly hide homicidal religious crazy for decades, but it seems more likely there was a tipping point in the last few years.

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: November 10th, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)

He and his brother apparently became very religious after their mother died. I don't think the emotional stress was part of his turning to Islamism, but it may have contributed to his desire to act on his extremist beliefs. (Or, possibly, to his choice of target.)

In terms of press scrubbing anything that doesn't fit a comfortable narrative, here's a beaut: Private Joseph Foster, an eyewitness and shooting victim, confirmed in an interview with CNN that Hasan had stood up and screamed "Allahu Akbar!" before opening fire. "And you were shot in the hip and you didn't realize it at the time?" said the CNN reporter. Foster replied, "I had realized it at first, but with that much adrenaline, you tend to forget things."

CNN excerpted Foster's comments for a text article. This is how they did it:

Among the wounded in the shooting was Pvt. Joseph Foster, 21, who was hit in the hip as he sat at the base's military processing center, preparing paperwork for his January deployment to Afghanistan.

He said he "was sitting in about the second row back when the assailant stood up and yelled 'Allahu akbar' in Arabic and he opened fire," Foster said Monday on CNN's "American Morning."

Foster, 21, said he wasn't clear about whether the gunman said those exact words, noting that "with that much adrenaline, you tend to forget things."

That's a pretty desperate attempt to take Foster's comments out of context.

Edited at 2009-11-10 06:07 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Ellen (keyne)
Posted at: November 10th, 2009 01:26 pm (UTC)

There are reports that intelligence agencies had Hasan on their radar, and that he might have reached out to Al Qaeda types online. If that's accurate, whoever was in charge of his case should be fired.

What do you think the people in charge of his case should have done?

Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: November 10th, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC)

The biggest thing they should have done would have been to let the other people in charge of it know what the hell was going on. Just kicking him up to a higher level of scrutiny would have been useful. The big question with Hasan would have been "does he really mean this stuff, or is he just saying it so he'll get out of the army?" so the folks who intercepted those emails should have gotten information to the other people who were red-flagging his file. Or at the very least, kicked their own investigation up a notch by, say, planting an undercover agent in that mosque.

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: David Hines (hradzka)
Posted at: November 11th, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)

I don't think he was a psychopath; that's something different, though there have been psychopathic mass killers. (Eric Harris of Columbine being an example.) People noticed Hasan was off, but the world is full of people who're off, and most of 'em don't want to shoot anybody. They just want to be left alone.

There are reports that a Muslim colleague who attended his now-infamous Powerpoint presentation asked him WTF he was on about. The presentation's been posted by the WASHINGTON POST: The beginning part is sloppy and clumsy but handles something Army psychiatrists would find interesting and potentially useful; then it just goes off the rails and starts listing crazy jihadist talking points.

ETA: Freeeeeeeowwww. NPR has a must-read on the "what do we do about Hasan" meeting. The guys at Walter Reed are among those who seriously dropped the ball on this guy; some of them wondered if he might be psychotic, but the interesting thing is that they don't have any actual diagnostic claims -- it might be that somebody with a hard-core fanaticism didn't fit well on their diagnostic radar.

Edited at 2009-11-12 01:27 am (UTC)

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