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Clapper's leadership of Army intel group questioned

When retired Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr. goes to the Hill this afternoon to be grilled to become the nation's next spy-in-chief, Senate Intelligence Committee members might want to explore his leadership over the Army's 902nd Military Intelligence Group, a unit under his purview as the top military intelligence official.

The Fort Meade, Md.-based group is the one organization charged with handling counterintelligence investigations within the Army. But, as The Washington Post's Dana Priest and William Arkin reported Monday, it failed to detect the threat from Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who allegedly shot and killed 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., last Nov. 5.

Instead of searching for threats within the ranks, the unit was focused on gathering information on Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and al-Qaeda student organizations in the United States under a program called RITA (Radical Islamic Threat to the Army), Priest and Arkin reported.

The 902nd's assessment "didn't tell us anything we didn't already know," the Army's senior counterintelligence officer at the Pentagon told The Post.

Last fall, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee had sought a briefing from the 902nd to find out what it knew--or didn't know--about Fort Hood. They were eventually told they could arrange a visit with the Army intelligence congressional liaison, as long as it was clear "that we will not be dicussing Fort Hood," according to a letter of complaint sent to Clapper last December 1 by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the panel's vice-chairman.

"I am troubled that the [Army intelligence officer] believes it can determine over what this committee can conduct oversight," Hoesktra wrote.

Compounding matters, Hoekstra learned that the Army liaison facilitated a visit to the 902nd on Nov. 24 by Democratic committee staff. "The fact that the Department would arrange a visit for Democrat staffers but deny a visit by Republican members is appalling," he wrote to Clapper. "According to staff attending the visit ..., although the visit was not labeled a 'Fort Hood' briefing, there were no restrictions on what questions could be asked, including questions about Fort Hood."

Clapper replied a few days later saying that GOP committee members could visit, but that "the Department is still investigating the events surrounding the Fort Hood shooting, and therefore 902nd personnel are not able to discuss information related to the investigation."

Clapper has "never been very forthcoming," said Hoekstra, who opposes Clapper's nomination to be the next DNI. The incident shows two things, he said. "They were working on the wrong things, and Clapper wouldn't let us conduct oversight," he said.

A Democratic committee aide declined to comment, saying the 902nd briefing was classified. An aide in Clapper's office said no one was available to comment, but in a letter to Hoekstra last December, Clapper said he was not trying to impede oversight. "I am committed to keeping you and all members of the committee fully informed about all intelligence issues, including the Fort Hood shootings," he wrote Hoekstra.

By Ellen Nakasima  | July 20, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
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