Able Danger Update
Senators Accuse Pentagon of Obstructing Inquiry on Sept. 11 Plot
By DOUGLAS JEHL
September 22, 2005
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 – Senators from both parties accused the Defense Department on Wednesday of obstructing an investigation into whether a highly classified intelligence program known as Able Danger did indeed identify Mohamed Atta and other future hijackers as potential threats well before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The complaints came after the Pentagon blocked several witnesses from testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a public hearing on Wednesday. The only testimony provided by the Defense Department came from a senior official who would say only that he did not know whether the claims were true.
But members of the panel, led by Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said they regarded as credible assertions by current and former officers in the program. The officers have said they were prevented by the Pentagon from sharing information about Mr. Atta and others with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
A Pentagon spokesman had said the decision to limit testimony was based on concerns about disclosing classified information, but Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said he believed the reason was a concern “that they’ll just have egg on their face.”
Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, accused the Pentagon of “a cover-up” and said, “I don’t get why people aren’t coming forward and saying, ‘Here’s the deal, here’s what happened.’ “
The Pentagon has acknowledged that at least five members of Able Danger have said they recall a chart produced in 2000 that identified Mr. Atta, who became the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11 plot, as a potential terrorist, but they have said that others with knowledge of the project do not remember that.
“Did we have information that identified Mohamed Atta?” said William Dugan, an assistant to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld for intelligence oversight, restating a question put to him. “I’ve heard the testimony presented, but I don’t know.”
Among those who testified about Able Danger was Representative Curt Weldon, Republican of Pennsylvania, who has mounted an aggressive campaign to call public attention to the program, which used computers to sift through volumes of unclassified data in an effort to identify people with links to Al Qaeda.
Another witness, Mark S. Zaid, a Washington lawyer, testified on behalf of two clients whom the Pentagon barred from speaking at the hearing. The clients, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, an Army Reserve officer, and J. D. Smith, a former contractor on the project, were in the audience.
Erik Kleinsmith, a former Army major who was involved in early stages of Able Danger, told the committee that, by April 2000, the program had collected “an immense amount of data for analysis that allowed us to map Al Qaeda as a worldwide threat with a surprisingly significant presence within the United States.” Mr. Kleinsmith said that his affiliation with the project ended about that time and that he had no recollection of information that identified Mr. Atta.
But Mr. Kleinsmith told the committee that he had been “forced to destroy all the data, charts and other analytical product” in compliance with Army regulations that prohibit keeping data related to American citizens and others, including permanent residents who have legal protections, unless the data falls under one of several restrictive categories.
Weldon: Atta Papers Destroyed on Orders
Congressman Says Pentagon Employee Was Ordered to Destroy Data Identifying Atta As a Terrorist
By DONNA DE
The Associated Press
Sep. 16, 2005 – A Pentagon employee was ordered to destroy documents that identified Mohamed Atta as a terrorist two years before the 2001 attacks, a congressman said Thursday.
The employee is prepared to testify next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee and was expected to identify the person who ordered him to destroy the large volume of documents, said Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa.
Weldon declined to identify the employee, citing confidentiality matters. Weldon described the documents as “2.5 terabytes” as much as one-fourth of all the printed materials in the Library of Congress, he added.
A Senate Judiciary Committee aide said the witnesses for Wednesday hearing had not been finalized and could not confirm Weldon’s comments.
Army Maj. Paul Swiergosz, a Pentagon spokesman, said officials have been “fact-finding in earnest for quite some time.”
“We’ve interviewed 80 people involved with Able Danger, combed through hundreds of thousands of documents and millions of e-mails and have still found no documentation of Mohamed Atta,” Swiergosz said.
He added that certain data had to be destroyed in accordance with existing regulations regarding “intelligence data on U.S. persons.”
Weldon has said that Atta, the mastermind of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and three other hijackers were identified in 1999 by a classified military intelligence unit known as “Able Danger,” which determined they could be members of an al-Qaida cell.
On Wednesday, former members of the Sept. 11 commission dismissed the “Able Danger” assertions. One commissioner, ex-Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., said, “Bluntly, it just didn’t happen and that’s the conclusion of all 10 of us.”
Weldon responded angrily to Gorton’s assertions.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable that a commission would say this program just didn’t exist,” Weldon said Thursday.
Pentagon officials said this month they had found three more people who recall an intelligence chart identifying Atta as a terrorist prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Two military officers, Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and Navy Capt. Scott Phillpott, have come forward to support Weldon’s claims.
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Intelligence team members ordered silent in 9/11 probe
By Shaun Waterman
UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL
September 21, 2005
Defense Department lawyers have blocked members of a data-mining intelligence team from testifying today before a congressional panel probing their claims that they identified the September 11 ringleaders as terrorists more than a year before the attacks.
The Senate Judiciary Committee sought testimony from several members of the team — code-named Able Danger — as part of an investigation into claims that the project identified Mohamed Atta and three of the other 18 hijackers as tied to al Qaeda in early 2000.
Mark Zaid, an attorney for Army Reserve Col. Tony Shaffer, said his client, a Defense Intelligence Agency liaison to the Able Danger team, was told in a letter not to testify.
The letter, which gave no reason for the order, was signed by the principal deputy general counsel for the Defense Intelligence Agency, Robert Berry.
Mr. Zaid said the team members “were told verbally that they would not be allowed to testify” and that the order was put in writing only with regard to his client at his request.
He said that the team leader, Navy Capt. Scott Philpott, civilian analyst James Smith and other members of the team had been denied permission to testify. A Judiciary Committee aide said panel staff members already have interviewed Capt. Philpott and Col. Shaffer.
No one at the Department of Defense or the Defense Intelligence Agency returned calls for comment yesterday.
Rep. Curt Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican who first put the Able Danger team in contact with journalists, was concerned about the order, his staff said.
“It is unfortunate that we’re trying to get answers … and the people who could help us get them are not going to testify,” said Russ Caso, the congressman’s chief of staff.
At the center of the Senate committee’s investigation is a computer-generated chart listing the names and connections of about 60 people thought to be linked to al Qaeda.
Capt. Philpott said that chart, produced in January or February 2000, bore the name and likeness of Atta and linked him to a Brooklyn mosque that has been a center of Islamic extremism for more than 20 years.
Capt. Philpott was the special operations officer who ran the effort, an intelligence-led initiative to use data mining on massive amounts of “open source” information culled from the Internet, purchased from credit rating bureaus or other data brokers, or by other means that remain classified.
Panel rejects assertion US knew of Atta before Sept. 11
By Devlin Barrett, Associated Press
September 15, 2005
WASHINGTON — Former members of the Sept. 11 commission yesterday dismissed assertions that a Pentagon intelligence unit identified lead hijacker Mohamed Atta as a member of Al Qaeda long before the 2001 attacks.
The former commissioners also criticized the government for not putting in place changes recommended last year in homeland security and emergency response. They pointed most notably to the failure to improve communication systems, which they said might have saved lives after Hurricane Katrina.
Representative Curt Weldon, Republican of Pennsylvania, had accused the commission of ignoring intelligence about Atta while it investigated the attacks. The commission’s former chairman, Thomas Kean, said there was no evidence anyone in the government knew about Atta before Sept. 11, 2001.
Two military officers, Army Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer and Navy Captain Scott Phillpott, contended that a classified military intelligence unit, known as ”Able Danger,” identified Atta before the attacks. Shaffer has said three other hijackers were identified, too.
Kean said the recollections of the intelligence officers cannot be verified by any document.
“Bluntly, it just didn’t happen and that’s the conclusion of all 10 of us,” said a former commissioner, former senator Slade Gorton, Republican of Washington.
Pentagon officials said this month that they could find no documents to back up the allegations.
According to Weldon, members of ”Able Danger” identified Atta and three other hijackers in 1999 as potential members of a terrorist cell in New York City. Weldon said Pentagon lawyers rejected the unit’s recommendation that the information be turned over to the FBI in 2000.
Weldon’s spokesman, John Tomaszewski, said no commissioners have met with anyone from Able Danger, ”yet they choose to speak with some form of certainty without firsthand knowledge.”
Separately, the former commissioners criticized Congress, saying it has not updated communications rules to help police, fire, and rescue personnel in a crisis such as Katrina. ”It is a scandal in our minds,” Kean said.
The commissioners also faulted state, local, and federal authorities responding to Katrina, contending that they did not have a clear chain of command, leading to some of the same confusion that plagued the Sept. 11 rescue effort.