Why did the Army miss the warning signs from soldier who expressed ISIS sympathies?
A retired military judge questioned why the Army allowed a soldier to continue on active duty despite his statements in support of ISIS.
Col. Gregory Gross said there were similarities between the case of Sgt. 1st Class Ikaika Kang, who was arrested on terrorism charges, and the case of Major Nidal Hasan, who opened fire on soldiers at Fort Hood in 2009, killing
13 14 (including one soldier's unborn baby –ed.).
Hasan's views on Islamic extremism were well known to his colleagues and superiors. The same was apparently true of Sgt. Kang.
Noel Tipon, an attorney in military and civilian courts, said there's nothing in the Army manual on removing soldiers from the service that would address allegations like speaking favorably about a group like Islamic State.
He suspects the FBI wanted to Kang to stay in the Army while they investigated whether he had collaborators.
"They probably said `let's monitor it and see if we can get a real terrorist cell,' " said Tipon, who served in the Marine Corps.
The Army took away Kang's security clearance for a while. But he stayed in the service, deploying to Afghanistan in 2013.
Then, last weekend, the FBI arrested the 34-year-old on terrorism charges following a yearlong investigation, shortly after Kang declared his loyalty to the terrorist group and exclaimed that he wanted to "kill a bunch of people," according to authorities.
The case highlights the challenges investigators face with protecting the public from a potentially dangerous actor on one hand and gathering sufficient evidence to enable prosecution on the other.
Kang is on record making pro-Islamic State comments and threatening to hurt or kill other service members back in 2011, according to an FBI affidavit filed Monday in federal court.
The Army revoked his security clearance in 2012, but gave it back to him the following year. Last year, the Army called the FBI when it "appeared that Kang was becoming radicalized," the affidavit said.
Lt. Col. Curtis J. Kellogg, a spokesman for the 25th Infantry Division, declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Kang's court-appointed lawyer, Birney Bervar, said his client may suffer from service-related mental health issues of which the government was aware but neglected to treat. He declined to elaborate.
The FBI said its investigation showed Kang was acting on his own.
Spokesman Arnold Laanui said the probe took nearly a year given the evidence that needed to be collected and the constitutional rights that needed to be protected.
Free speech rights in the military can be limited. You can't criticize superiors, including political leaders. But there is little restraint when it comes to political views, and because of that, the FBI must tread carefully when investigating.
Still, we may have dodged a bullet in this case. Sgt. Kang sounded as though he was about ready to act on his beliefs, which could have resulted in a mass casualty attack similar to the one we experienced at Fort Hood in 2009. How many more Sgt. Kangs are out there? And will we be able to act in time to prevent a massacre?
The military should take a more practical approach to dealing with soldiers like Sgt. Kang. While they may not be able to remove him from the service, they could certainly put him in a position where he can be monitored more closely. What possessed his superiors to send him to Afghanistan? That was a mistake that, thankfully, didn't cost us.
Kang's attorney appears to be maneuvering for some kind of mental health defense. It seems crazy to support terrorists like ISIS, but a soldier doesn't have to be mentally ill to swear allegiance to terrorists. Kang belongs in prison for the rest of his life regardless of his state of mind.