Five Years After First Fort Hood Shooting, Army Faces Questions About Why It Couldn’t Prevent A Second

The Pentagon insists the changes put in place after the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood prevented this week’s mass shooting there from being much worse. But its not yet clear that’s true, and senior Army generals will face intensive scrutiny in the days and weeks ahead about whether they could have done more to keep ...

Drew Anthony Smith/Stringer/Getty
Drew Anthony Smith/Stringer/Getty
Drew Anthony Smith/Stringer/Getty

The Pentagon insists the changes put in place after the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood prevented this week's mass shooting there from being much worse. But its not yet clear that's true, and senior Army generals will face intensive scrutiny in the days and weeks ahead about whether they could have done more to keep Spec. Ivan Lopez from killing three fellow soldiers and wounding 16 more.

In the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting five years ago, a commission established by then-Defense Secretary Bob Gates created a laundry list of recommendations designed to better identify troubled soldiers, create systems to more quickly alert the soldiers and family members living at a base about an ongoing attack, and accelerate the speech at which medical care is provided to the wounded.

Pentagon officials say that most of those changes that had been put in place at Fort Hood before Lopez, a 34-year-old Iraq veteran with a history of depression, allegedly walked into two different locations on the sprawling Texas base and opened fire. Authorities believe that Lopez might have had an argument with one of his victims before shooting him.

The Pentagon insists the changes put in place after the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood prevented this week’s mass shooting there from being much worse. But its not yet clear that’s true, and senior Army generals will face intensive scrutiny in the days and weeks ahead about whether they could have done more to keep Spec. Ivan Lopez from killing three fellow soldiers and wounding 16 more.

In the aftermath of the Fort Hood shooting five years ago, a commission established by then-Defense Secretary Bob Gates created a laundry list of recommendations designed to better identify troubled soldiers, create systems to more quickly alert the soldiers and family members living at a base about an ongoing attack, and accelerate the speech at which medical care is provided to the wounded.

Pentagon officials say that most of those changes that had been put in place at Fort Hood before Lopez, a 34-year-old Iraq veteran with a history of depression, allegedly walked into two different locations on the sprawling Texas base and opened fire. Authorities believe that Lopez might have had an argument with one of his victims before shooting him.

"His underlying medical conditions are not a direct precipitating factor," Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the commander of Fort Hood, said Friday. "We believe that the immediate precipitating factor was more likely an escalating argument in his unit area."

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, speaking on Capitol Hill Thursday, said the changes put in place since 2009 prevented Lopez from killing or wounding more soldiers.

"I believe that some of the procedures that have been put in place following the incident four and a half years ago did help us yesterday," Odierno insisted during testimony before a Senate panel.

Lawmakers are just beginning to investigate the shooting, but they are sure to focus much of their attention on figuring out whether Odierno’s statement was true and why the Army had failed to prevent a new Fort Hood shooting from taking place just five years after Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people in the worst incidence of soldier-on-soldier violence in American history.

The Pentagon report on the 2009 massacre recommended a number of far-reaching shifts in how the Army identifies threats and responds to attacks once they begin. Top military officials will doubtlessly be hauled to Capitol Hill to detail which were implemented, which were not, and what new steps should be put in place going forward.

Many of the reforms the report called for pertained to identifying radicalized individuals within the force, as Hasan held some extremist views inspired by jihadists overseas. There is no indication that the shooting this week at Fort Hood was motivated by terrorism.

But several of the other changes from the 2010 report were more practical, geared toward protecting the force from any threat on a U.S. military installation. They included developing a "force protection threat reporting system" for suspicious incidents and creating a system in which "near real-time unclassified force protection information" could be shared among military installations.

There were other practical recommendations implemented from that report, including showing troops how to respond to an "active shooter threat" and giving all troops across the Defense Department basic training in how to respond to workplace violence.

The commission also concluded that the Defense Department lacked a policy governing privately-owned weapons. That issue figures prominently in the case of Lopez, who bought a Smith and Wesson semi-automatic pistol at a store off-base, brought it past a security gate and then used it to gun down fellow soldiers.

While there are various regulations governing private arms for troops living off-base, including a rule barring soldiers from carrying those weapons onto a facility, there’s nothing to compel troops to register their guns or force them to leave them at home. Lopez, authorities say, didn’t register his weapon after purchasing it. Even if he had, there would have been no way of searching all the cars entering Fort Hood the day of the shooting to prevent the troubled soldier from bringing the gun onto the base.

Visiting wounded soldiers Friday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz declined to answer questions about whether more should be done to prevent soldiers from carrying concealed weapons onto the base, according to a report on CNN.

Pentagon officials, for their part, said the bulk of the recommendation from the report commissioned after the 2009 shooting had resulted in "directives" requiring bases and stations to put in place better measures for protecting their troops. They declined to go into more specifics, though they will certainly have to on Capitol Hill.

Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, a Pentagon spokesman, said the military had "made progress," but acknowledged that it was struggling to make it easier for commanders to access military health records to "better understand individual behavior that could potentially harm others, while ensuring appropriate protection of privacy and civil liberties."

The U.S. military force protection programs are still not as focused on internal threats as well as they could be. The 2010 report directed the military to find a better way to integrate "disparate efforts" to identify such threats. To do that, the Pentagon agreed to use practices based on individual programs that were seen as a success, such as the ones used by the Navy’s Threat Management Unit, the Postal Service’s "Going Postal Program," and Stanford University’s workplace violence program that is focused on predicting and preventing insider attacks.

But perhaps the most effective measure taken since 2009 is the simplest. After that shooting, the military commission called for implementing a more robust "giant voice" that could be used to alert everyone at a military installation that an attack was imminent or underway. Anyone who was watching network news this week is familiar with repetitive footage, apparently shot by an amateur, of people running into their homes while a woman’s voice booming across the base, directing residents to get inside.

"The alert procedures that were in place, the response, the training that has gone into the response, forces that responded I think contributed to making this something that could have been much, much worse," Odierno told the Senate panel.

Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

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