Jewish World Review August 24, 2005 / 19 Av,
Misremembering the Defense Department's mega-gaffe?
Did a small intelligence group within the Defense Department
identify hijacker Mohammed Atta as a member of a terrorist cell operating in
the U.S. almost two years before he and 18 other terrorists killed 3,000
Americans? And if so, why didn't this explosive information make it into the
9/11 Commission report, which was supposed to be the definitive analysis on
the worst terrorist incident in American history? Depending on whom you talk
to, this story is either proof that the Clinton administration was asleep at
the switch while terrorists were planning their attacks during their tenure,
or it's a case of false memory syndrome. The Defense Department seems to be
leaning toward the latter explanation, reading between the lines of official
The controversy began earlier this summer when Rep. Curt Weldon,
R-Pa., vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, first made
public the allegations that a small unit within DoD, aptly named "Able
Danger," had identified Atta as a potential threat in early 2000 and tried
to pass the information on to the FBI but were prevented from doing so.
Weldon said he relied on information provided by people familiar with Able
Danger, including some who had seen a flowchart representing suspected Al
Qaeda cell members in the U.S. that included a picture of Mohammed Atta. To
make matters worse, Weldon's informants said that they had briefed the 9/11
Commission staff about Able Danger's findings prior to the release of the
Two men have come forward to say they were involved with Able
Danger, an Army reserve officer, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, and Navy Captain
Scott J. Phillpott. Both men confirm that the intelligence operation
identified Atta in early 2000. A third man, a contractor who worked on the
project, has also said that he actually possessed a copy of the chart
described by Rep. Weldon and others until last year, when he moved and could
not remove it because it had become stuck to the wall in his office at
Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland.
Stung by the assertion that the 9/11 Commission had ignored
important information, the now-defunct group's chairman, former Gov. Tom
Kean, called for a Pentagon investigation into what Able Danger uncovered
about Atta and others involved in the attacks of September 11, 2001. Now,
although Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita says the Defense Department will
continue to investigate the matter, he cast considerable doubt on whether
the story is credible. "We have not been able to find anything that would
corroborate the kind of detail Lt. Col. Shaffer and Congressman Weldon seem
to recall," DiRita told The Washington Times this week.
Jamie Gorelick was general counsel for the Clinton Defense
Department, and she was also someone whom many people blame for making it
more difficult for intelligence agencies to share information with law
enforcement when she was deputy attorney general under President Clinton.
But she had left the Clinton administration in 1997, long before Able Danger
was in operation, so I was wrong.
We may never know exactly what Able Danger discovered in early
2000, but we do know that there is plenty of blame to go around in missed
opportunities to prevent the horrible attack on this country. Let's hope
that in the future we spend less time pointing fingers and more time
ensuring it never happens again.
JWR contributor Linda Chavez is President of the Center for Equal Opportunity. Her latest book is "Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)