Does anyone remember the days when "connecting the dots" was considered vital to national security?
After the September 11 attacks, we had the 9/11 Commission and countless knockoff studies, committees, investigations, hearings, journalistic exposés and outings of fact-finders. The lesson from all of them was that in order to make sure "this never happens again," we must get better at connecting the dots.
No more Johnell Bryants!
You don't remember poor her?
She was the hapless Department of Agriculture official who interviewed a loan applicant by the name of Mohamed Atta (the leader of the 9/11 hijackers). At the time of their meeting, he wanted a $650,000 loan to buy a crop duster with an abnormally large tank. Guess why?
When Bryant told Atta he couldn't have the loan, Atta responded by asking, in the words of the New York Times, "what was to keep him from slitting her throat and stealing money from the safe behind the desk in her Florida office"?
Bryant didn't think much of the comment and continued to chat with the eager loan applicant, perhaps in part to assure him that he wasn't being discriminated against, as he claimed.
Again the Times: "Later in their meeting ... (Atta) told her he wanted to buy an aerial picture of Washington that hung in her office. He pulled out a wad of cash and threw money on her desk, even after she said she would not sell it. He asked about the White House and Pentagon, and she pointed them out."
Atta then went on to praise "the world's greatest leader," Osama bin Laden, and peppered her with questions about the security at various D.C. landmarks.
"Should I have picked up the telephone and called someone? ..." Bryant mused to the Times. "I don't know how I could possibly expect myself to have recognized what the man was. And yet sometimes I haven't forgiven myself."
But Bryant gets a pass. This all happened before 9/11. Before everything changed.
Flash forward to Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the man who last week shot more than 40 people at Fort Hood, killing 13, while reportedly shouting "Allahu Akbar!"
"As a senior-year psychiatric resident at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan was supposed to make a presentation on a medical topic of his choosing as a culminating exercise of the residency program," reports the Washington Post.
Hasan went a different way. He opted to give a bizarre PowerPoint presentation in which he defended suicide bombing and explained that nonbelievers should be beheaded, burned alive and have boiling oil poured down their throats (presumably not in that order). He argued that all Muslims should be discharged from the military.
One slide concluded: "We love death more then (sic) you love life!"
The following year, intelligence officials discovered that Hasan had been sending e-mail to Anwar al-Aulaqi, a prominent American-born radical cleric now based in Yemen with ties to al-Qaida.
The FBI concluded it was no big deal and dropped the matter. "Investigators," reports the Post, "said Hasan's e-mails were consistent with the topic of his academic research and involved some social chatter and religious discourse."
Ah yes, his "academic research," which was laid out so rigorously in his PowerPoint presentation.
Hasan also reportedly expressed joy over the murder of an Army recruiter in Arkansas and moral support for suicide bombers. His views were not a secret to his colleagues, nor apparently to his patients, whom he tried to proselytize.
Maybe the e-mails seemed innocuous enough. Maybe.
But you know, I've been interviewed by the FBI a few times as part of routine background checks for friends and colleagues seeking government jobs. The G-Men ask all sorts of probing questions. If a friend of mine supported suicide bombings and attacks on American soil, I think it would have come up.
When my wife was up for a job at the Justice Department, her background checker grilled her relentlessly over the fact that she once had a reduction in her rent by $100 a month. It was as if this proved she had a gambling problem, or credit issues, or was a sleeper agent for the Bulgarian KGB or something.
Apparently, the FBI's investigation of Hasan was not even that thorough. When the FBI "investigated," it seems they went looking for a reason not to investigate -- and they found it.
No dots there. Johnell Bryants everywhere.