Vigilance is Necessary to Prevent Future American Tragedies

Last week, our entire nation was shocked and saddened by the terrible massacre at Fort Hood.   In the midst of such terror, Fort Hood law enforcement officials provided a rapid and courageous response.  If it wasn’t for their valor and dedication in face of grave danger, even more lives would have been lost.  As the Army family and Fort Hood community begin the healing process, we must look ahead and take every reasonable action to prevent such atrocities in the future.

As news reports began to break and visuals of this mass murder showed up on televisions across the country, Americans tried to wrap their minds around how an individual who was honored with the protection of our nation would then try to inflict such devastation.  While the investigation into the motive behind the attack at Fort Hood is ongoing, it is clear from foiled terror plots in the United States that American-born  terrorists pose a serious and credible threat.  While the architects behind these reported foiled terror plots were in the United States legally, they claimed inspiration from violent Islamist ideology.

In a 2008 hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell stated, “Over the next year, attacks by homegrown extremists inspired by militant Islamic ideology but without operational direction from al-Qa’ida will remain a threat to the United States.”  His prediction proved to be true, and without vigilance, I’m afraid the threat will only grow.

As facts continue to surface about the fanatic’s personal history, we must come to grips with the reality that he was influenced by radical Islam.  It’s difficult to stomach, but the fanatic’s alleged attack at Fort Hood was praised by the very imam he spent time listening to at a mosque in Falls Church, Virginia.  While he may not have received orders from outside terrorist groups, it is clear that somewhere along the way dots were not connected and red flags were not raised high enough to get the attention of officials who may have stopped this individual from senselessly taking the lives of so many.

I understand proper vigilance must originate at the highest levels of government.  The executive branch of the Federal Government must take charge to develop and effectively implement a plan to dismantle the extremist recruiting and training within America’s own borders.  In 2006, President Bush unveiled the National Implementation Plan to leverage the capabilities of all government agencies in the fight against the terror threat.  However, after pouring billions of taxpayer dollars into better information sharing between intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, I am still not aware of a current strategy which specifically targets the homegrown terrorist threat.  

What we need to see is a strategy which simultaneously disrupts extremist communication and reaches out to Americans who are vulnerable to destructive ideology.   As we abruptly learned last week, the government can not work alone in this mission.  The engine behind any sound anti-terror strategy is the American people.  

If we are to prevent a homegrown terrorist tragedy in the future, the citizens of the United States must open our eyes and ears to threatening behavior. Americans are notorious for our openness and knack for informal communication.  On any given day we seek to embrace our loved ones, socialize with friends and co-workers, and even chat with complete strangers.  Embedded in this daily communication are clues.  Some are overt and some are subtle, but if we are attentive, we can often perceive a person’s mental state.  Just as joy and sadness are perceptible, so are dangerous tendencies.  When we recognize threatening behavior, it is incumbent upon us to report it to proper authorities without unfounded counter charges of intolerance.

However, exaggerated political correctness can hinder security. In workplaces, educational institutions, and media outlets across the United States, a skewed definition of political correctness poses a real threat to our ability to thwart deadly acts.  Sometimes official policy and implied rule leaves students, public servants, and even military members to hesitate before calling attention to threatening behaviors observed in an individual of a different gender, race, or religion.  The fear of disciplinary action or social castigation can prevent questionable behavior from being reported.  Clearly, no reasonable American supports baseless profiling of any particular race or faith group, but failure to report dangerous behavior on the same basis is just as unacceptable.

So, we all have work to do, and Congress must lead the effort to disseminate the facts surrounding the Fort Hood attack to protect all Americans in the future.  I am encouraged by Senator Joe Lieberman, Congressman Buck McKeon, and Congressman Pete Hoekstra’s call for hearings to learn as much as we can about the events leading up to the Fort Hood tragedy and the response following.  But I believe both policy makers and private citizens bear the responsibility to keep our country safe from an internally emerging threat.  If we pledge to increase our vigilance and treat all people with fairness and honesty, we can render radical ideology powerless in the United States of America.