The Senate Intelligence Committee has rejected as untrue one of the most disturbing claims about the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes — a congressman’s contention that a team of military analysts identified Mohamed Atta or other hijackers before the attacks — according to a summary of the panel’s investigation obtained by The Times.
The conclusion contradicts assertions by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) and a few military officers that U.S. national security officials ignored startling intelligence available in early 2001 that might have helped to prevent the attacks.
In particular, Weldon and other officials have repeatedly claimed that the military analysts’ effort, known as Able Danger, produced a chart that included a picture of Atta and identified him as being tied to an Al Qaeda cell in Brooklyn, N.Y. Weldon has also said that the chart was shared with White House officials, including Stephen J. Hadley, then deputy national security advisor.
But after a 16-month investigation, the Intelligence Committee has concluded that those assertions are unfounded.
“Able Danger did not identify Mohammed Atta or any other 9/11 hijacker at any time prior to Sept. 11, 2001,” the committee determined, according to an eight-page letter sent last week to panel members by the top Republican and Democrat on the committee.~~~
The panel said it found “no evidence” to support claims by military officers connected to Able Danger that Defense Department lawyers prevented the team’s analysts from sharing their findings with FBI counter-terrorism officials before the attacks.
Nor was the alleged chart or any information developed by Able Danger improperly destroyed at the direction of Pentagon lawyers, the panel concluded — a charge that had stoked claims of a cover-up.~~~
Able Danger was the unclassified name given to a program launched in 1999 by the U.S. Special Operations Command as part of an effort to develop military plans targeting the leadership ranks of Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.
Military analysts assigned to the effort did create charts with pictures of Al Qaeda operatives whose identities were known publicly at the time, the committee found. But the committee concluded that none of those charts depicted Atta, and that the claims of Weldon and others may have been caused by confusion.
One of the charts, titled “The Al Qaeda Network: Snapshots of Typical Operational Cells Associated With UBL [Usama bin Laden],” was attached to the letter sent to committee members last week by Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the panel’s leaders.
Question to the Senate Intelligence Committee….why then was Atta on one of the charts produced by Able Danger?
“One of these individuals depicted on the chart arguably looked like Mohammed Atta,” the committee concluded. “In addition, the chart contained names of Al Qaeda associates that sound like Atta, as well as numerous variations of the common Arab name Mohammed.”
The committee also suggested that officials’ memories may have been clouded by the flurry of charts and photographs of Atta that surfaced after the attacks. The panel noted that a defense contractor that produced the chart at the center of the controversy subsequently created a follow-up chart, after the attacks, that did include Atta.
Yeah. Simple case of mistaken identity right? Too many Mohammed’s to go around.
Nevermind that there is a Colonel in the intelligence community who has testified that they did indeed identify the right Atta, along with 3 of his buddies:
A military intelligence team repeatedly contacted the F.B.I. in 2000 to warn about the existence of an American-based terrorist cell that included the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a veteran Army intelligence officer who said he had now decided to risk his career by discussing the information publicly. The officer, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, said military lawyers later blocked the team from sharing any of its information with the F.B.I.
Colonel Shaffer said in an interview that the small, highly classified intelligence program known as Able Danger had identified by name the terrorist ringleader, Mohammed Atta, as well three of the other future hijackers by mid-2000, and had tried to arrange a meeting that summer with agents of the F.B.I.’s Washington field office to share the information.
But he said military lawyers forced members of the intelligence program to cancel three scheduled meetings with the F.B.I. at the last minute, which left the bureau without information that Colonel Shaffer said might have led to Mr. Atta and the other terrorists while the Sept. 11 plot was still being planned.
“I was at the point of near insubordination over the fact that this was something important, that this was something that should have been pursued,” Colonel Shaffer said of his efforts to get the evidence from the intelligence program to the F.B.I. in 2000 and early 2001.
He said he learned later that lawyers associated with the Defense Department’s Special Operations Command had canceled the F.B.I. meetings because they feared controversy if Able Danger was portrayed as a military operation that had violated the privacy of civilians who were legally in the United States. “It was because of the chain of command saying we’re not going to pass on information – if something goes wrong, we’ll get blamed,” he said.
Now the Intelligence Committee’s assertions have been that there was no way a visa picture of Atta was available to put on this chart since he didn’t arrive into the US until June 3rd, 2000.
Here is the 9/11 Commissions response to this whole thing when the dust-up first occurred in August of 2005:
According to this record (record of the meeting between Shafer and the 9/11 commission representatives in 2004), the officer recalled seeing the name and photo of Mohamed Atta on an “analyst notebook chart” assembled by another officer (who he said had retired and was now working as a DOD contractor).
The officer being interviewed said he saw this material only briefly, that the relevant material dated from February through April 2000, and that it showed Mohamed Atta to be a member of an al Qaeda cell located in Brooklyn. The officer complained that this information and information about other alleged members of a Brooklyn cell had been soon afterward deleted from the document (“redacted”) because DOD lawyers were concerned about the propriety of DOD intelligence efforts that might be focused inside the United States.
They hang their hat on this whole “dated from Feb through Apr” bit here. Since the Colonel could not produce the chart as evidence, along with the fact that the dates don’t jive, they come to the conclusion that this whole thing is a fraud.
But the Colonel is not saying that the chart was made from Feb – Apr, 2000. Just that the material was dated on those dates. He could of seen this chart months later after it had been updated with photo’s. In fact Colonel Shaffer stated the chart was delivered during the summer of 2000. Look how the NYT’s first wrote about this story:
In the summer of 2000, the military team, known as Able Danger, prepared a chart that included visa photographs of the four men~~~
…He said that he delivered the chart in summer 2000 to the Special Operations Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., and said that it had been based on information from unclassified sources and government records, including those of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.~~~
…Mr. Atta arrived in Newark from Prague on June 3 that year .
So the chart is dated up to April of 2000 but not delivered until that summer. Is it not plausible that the visa photo’s were added as they came up on the radar?
Additionally, Scott Philpott has testified that Atta’s name was identified as belonging to AQ sometime in Jan/Feb of 2000. By name only, I’m sure they would be looking to get a photo by then.
Also, the contractor who made the chart, James Smith, stated that:
The former contractor, James D. Smith, said that Mr. Atta’s name and photograph were obtained through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. Mr. Smith said that he had retained a copy of the chart for some time and that it had been posted on his office wall at Andrews Air Force Base. He said it had become stuck to the wall and was impossible to remove when he switched jobs.
Andy McCarthy wrote a great piece about the 9/11 Commissions refusal to accept the second witness from Able Danger, Scott Phillpott, as legitimate based completely on the date they believe Atta entered the US:
The commission staff interviewed Phillpott right before its report was issued in July 2004. His version of events was rejected and deemed unworthy of mention even in a footnote. This seems to have been done in the absence of much follow-up investigation, such as speaking to other Able Danger members who could have corroborated Phillpott (at least one of whom now has). The rationale for the peremptory dismissal of Phillpott was that his version did not jive with the Atta timeline the commission had already settled on. That is, because the commission was certain Atta did not enter the U.S. until June 2000, it rejected a version that would have put him here five or six months earlier.
This calls to mind the commission’s rejection of the possibility that Atta left the U.S. to meet with an Iraqi intelligence officer, Ahmed al-Ani, in Prague on or about April 8, 2001. I’ve previously addressed this, here. The commission confidently concluded that Atta could not have been in Prague at the time because the FBI had placed him in Virginia as of April 4 when he was captured by a surveillance camera as he withdrew $8,000 from his bank account. The FBI has no eyewitness account for Atta’s whereabouts in the U.S. for a week, i.e., until April 11 when he was seen in Florida.
But a Czech witness claims to have seen Atta meeting with al-Ani in Prague on or about April 8. The commission, which never interviewed the witness, rejected this possibility, largely based on cell phone records showing that Atta’s phone was used in Florida on April 6, 9, 10, and 11. Those records, though, only establish that someone, not necessarily Atta, used the phone (like, say, his roommate and fellow hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi). Meanwhile, though al-Ani, the Iraqi, evidently denies meeting Atta, it has been reported that the Czechs have al-Ani’s appointment calendar and it says al-Ani was scheduled to meet on the critical day with a "Hamburg student" ? which is exactly how Atta identified himself when he applied for a visa.
And we also know that Atta had traveled to Prague before choosing on June 2, 2000 to stop there on the way to the U.S. rather than flying directly here from Hamburg. (It must be noted that reports of an earlier trip by Atta to Prague on May 31, 2000, which I relied on as more corroboration for the alleged April 2001 trip, were later discounted by the commission, convincingly, as based on mistaken identity. See Final Report, pp. 228 & 522 n.69.)
Significantly for present purposes, the commission also contended that Atta?s practice was to travel under his own name (Final Report at 229), and there is no indication of that in April 2001. But, of course, that Atta traveled under his own name at times (which he may have had good operational reasons for doing such as being able to back up his cover story of who he was), does not prove that he did not travel under aliases at times when he wanted his movements to be secret (which might well have been the case in April 2001 given the big cash withdrawal, which suggests a reluctance to pay expenses in a traceable way). You can only prove travel by an alias if you know what the alias is. And there is evidence that Atta used aliases ? both he and fellow plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh, for example, acquired false passports from a pair of Algerians, Khaled Madani and Moussa Laour.
The commission could, of course, be right. It’s quite possible Atta never went to Prague in April 2001. But the commission could also be dead wrong. And for present purposes, the point is: how sure can we be of its Atta timeline? The timeline based on which the commission insists Atta was not in the U.S. before June 2000, and based on which it rejected Phillpott, whose account has now been seconded.
Last February, during the Congressional Hearings on Able Danger, these same witnesses all testified that Atta was indeed identified prior to 9/11:
The Pentagon’s top intelligence official clashed repeatedly Wednesday with former operatives of the clandestine Able Danger program over how much the government knew about al-Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Much of the testimony focused on whether hijacking mastermind Mohammed Atta had been identified long before the tragedy.
In a rare public display of bitter disputes within the close-knit military intelligence community, three members of a computer data-mining initiative code-named "Able Danger" told Congress that the Sept. 11 attacks might have been prevented if law-enforcement agencies had acted on the information about al-Qaeda they unearthed.
“It shocked us how entrenched of a presence al-Qaeda had in the United States,” former Army Maj. Erik Kleinsmith told two subcommittees of the House Armed Services Committee.
J.D. Smith, a defense contractor who also worked on the Able Danger team, said he used Arab intermediaries in the Los Angeles area to buy a photograph of Atta. Smith said Atta’s photo was among about 40 photos of al-Qaeda members on a large chart that he personally delivered to Pentagon officials in 2000, more than a year before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Asked by Rep. Curt Weldon, a Republican from Pennsylvania, how certain he was that the chart contained Atta’s photograph, Smith responded that he kept a copy of the chart on the office wall.
“I’m absolutely certain,” Smith said. “I looked at it every day.”
But instead of highlighting all these facts we have the Los Angeles Times bringing up facts like:
Weldon, the focus of an unrelated Justice Department corruption probe, was defeated last month in his campaign for an 11th term in a suburban Philadelphia district that has a large GOP majority in voter registration.~~~
Weldon has relished the role of calling attention to national security threats he believes are being ignored by others in government. At times he has carried around a replica of a suitcase-size nuclear bomb to highlight terrorist nuclear dangers. He has also accused Iran of hiding Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Weldon’s rising legal troubles played a role in his reelection loss last month. It was disclosed last week that a federal grand jury had subpoenaed congressional records from Weldon’s office as part of an FBI probe aimed at determining whether he traded his influence to get lobbying business for his daughter Karen and others.
The House seat was won by Democrat Joe Sestak, a retired Navy vice admiral.
Yup, it’s all crazy because Weldon is a nut right?
But what do we really get out of this whole investigation? Do any of the eyewitnesses recant their stories? Were any holes poked in their stories? The answer to both of these questions is no. But because no original chart can be produced the DoD and the Senate both attempt to sweep this under the rug. Multiple people have come forward, some have done great damage to their careers, all to tell the truth about a program called Able Danger.
But no one wants to listen anymore. They want to ignore this and move on.
Especially Sandy Berger.
He stole and destroyed documents pertaining to the Clinton administration’s response to terrorism in 1999 and 2000. Kinda funny how that works out huh?