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Report: Extremism in the ranks tough to track

Oct. 7, 2012 - 10:49AM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 7, 2012 - 10:49AM  |  
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A 16-month Pentagon study on predicting workplace violence, launched in the wake of the 2009 Fort Hood shootings, concludes that the military has no systematic way of responding to internal threats of extremist behavior.

"There is no framework in place to respond to red flags," concluded the Defense Science Board's report, entitled "Predicting Workplace Violence".

The report, released Friday, criticized the military's personnel record-keeping system because troops with behavioral problems can transfer to a new unit without giving the new commander more than limited visibility on past problems.

"At present, each new assignment for an individual represents a ‘clean slate' whereby concerning behavior is not documented across assignments, patterns get lost, and prevention becomes significantly more challenging," the report said.

Current personnel files are restricted to information directly related to job performance or medical conditions, the report said.

Many commanders are reluctant to share potentially worrisome information for fear of violating privacy rules. "A serious review of the implementation of privacy rules and their potential for adverse impacts should be undertaken," the report said.

The Pentagon ordered the study on workplace violence in May 2011 after an investigation into the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, in which Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist and radicalized Muslim, allegedly shot 13 people.

The Fort Hood investigation found that Hasan showed signs of extremism before arriving at Fort Hood, but they were largely ignored.

The Defense Science Board report urges military officials not to ignore signs of religious radicalism that may be politically sensitive, and sought to debunk the notion that Islam is the only religion that fuels extremism.

"Covering over or ignoring radical religious belief as a potential factor will greatly handicap efforts to discover and divert individuals who are on a trajectory toward engaging in targeted violence," the report said.

"While a number of cases involved radical Islam, there were examples involving Christianity, and the potential exists for radicalization to occur in the context of other religions as well."

The report also linked workplace violence to sexual assault. Some of the warning signs are similar — stalking, verbal threats — and both can require behavioral assessments to determine the level of risk. Both could be investigated by the same unit-level or installation-level experts, the report said.

"In the current environment of diminishing resources" and "growing demand for leaner, more efficient operations … it cannot be overlooked that adult sexual assault and workplace violence possess similarities especially in regards to behaviors of concern," the report said.

The study found "no silver bullet" to address the threat of workplace violence, and said predicting it is extremely difficult. Current scientific methods for predicting workplace violence, such as psychological or physiological testing, are unreliable, the study found.

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