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August 10, 2005
9/11 Commission Acknowledges Briefing On Able Danger

Tomorrow's New York Times reports that members of the 9/11 Commission reversed themselves and now acknowledge being briefed on the Army's data mining project, Able Danger, prior to the publication of their report to the American people. After over 24 hours of denying that anyone had told the Commission about the secret project, their spokesman now says that commission officials met with a uniformed officer who told them about the identification of Mohammed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers in 2000, over a year prior to the attacks:

The Sept. 11 commission was warned by a uniformed military officer 10 days before issuing its final report that the account would be incomplete without reference to what he described as a secret military operation that by the summer of 2000 had identified as a potential threat the member of Al Qaeda who would lead the attacks more than a year later, commission officials said on Wednesday.

The officials said that the information had not been included in the report because aspects of the officer's account had sounded inconsistent with what the commission knew about that Qaeda member, Mohammed Atta, the plot's leader. ...

The briefing by the military officer is the second known instance in which people on the commission's staff were told by members of the military team about the secret program, called Able Danger.

The meeting, on July 12, 2004, has not been previously disclosed. That it occurred, and that the officer identified Mr. Atta there, were acknowledged by officials of the commission after the congressman, Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, provided information about it. ...

Al Felzenberg, who served as the commission's chief spokesman, said earlier this week that staff members who were briefed about Able Danger at a first meeting, in October 2003, did not remember hearing anything about Mr. Atta or an American terrorist cell. On Wednesday, however, Mr. Felzenberg said the uniformed officer who briefed two staff members in July 2004 had indeed mentioned Mr. Atta.

First we hear that no such meeting occurred. After that, the Commission says one might have occurred in October 2003 but that no one remembered it. Now we find out that the Commission had two meetings where the heard about Able Danger and its identification of Mohammed Atta, including one just before they completed their report. Instead of saying to themselves, "Hey, wait a minute -- this changes the picture substantially," and postponing the report until they could look further into Able Danger, they simply shrugged their shoulders and published what they had.

Why? Able Danger proved that at least some of the intelligence work done by the US provided the information that could have helped prevent or at least reduce the attacks on 9/11. They had identified the ringleader of the conspiracy as a terrorist agent, even if they didn't know what mission he had at the time.

What does that mean for the Commission's findings? It meant that the cornerstone of their conclusions no longer fit the facts. Able Danger showed that the US had enough intelligence to take action -- if the government had allowed law enforcement and intelligence operations to cooperate with each other. It also showed that data mining could effectively identify terrorist agents.

So what did the Commission do? It ignored those facts which did not fit within its predetermined conclusions. It never bothered to mention Able Danger even one time in its final report, even though that absolutely refuted the notion that the government had no awareness that Atta constituted a terrorist threat. It endorsed the idea of data mining (which would die in Congress as the Total Information Awareness program) without ever explaining why. And while the Clinton policy of enforcing a quarantine between law enforcement and intelligence operations came under general criticism, their report never included the fact that the "wall" for which Commission member Jamie S. Gorelick had so much responsibility specifically contributed to Atta's ability to come and go as he pleased, building the teams that would kill almost 3,000 Americans.

And when confronted with this revelation this week, the Commission lied about their knowledge of the program and attempted to impugn Rep. Curt Weldon's integrity instead. Here's what Lee Hamilton, one of the Commission's co-chairs, had to say just yesterday on the topic:

"The Sept. 11 commission did not learn of any U.S. government knowledge prior to 9/11 of surveillance of Mohammed Atta or of his cell," said Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. "Had we learned of it obviously it would've been a major focus of our investigation."

The Able Danger project team tried three times, Fox reports, to give the information on Atta to the FBI in 2000. Each time, administration attorneys blocked their efforts:

Weldon said that in September 2000, the unit recommended on three separate occasions that its information on the hijackers be given to the FBI "so they could bring that cell in and take out the terrorists." However, Weldon said Pentagon lawyers rejected the recommendation, arguing that Atta and the others were in the country legally so information on them could not be shared with law enforcement.

"Lawyers within the administration and we're talking about the Clinton administration, not the Bush administration said 'you can't do it,'" and put post-its over Atta's face, Weldon said. "They said they were concerned about the political fallout that occurred after Waco ... and the Branch Davidians."

The Commission spent yesterday claiming that the Pentagon never briefed them again on anything about Able Danger after the October 2003 meeting, saying in the Fox report that they pursued the documents from the Pentagon on the program -- and that they received them, which the Pentagon confirms. Oddly, the words "Able Danger" appears nowhere in their final report despite the documents being in their hands. And now we have the Pentagon practically begging them on July 12, 2004, to put the Able Danger and the Atta information into the report, and the Commission refusing to do so.

Someone needs to answer questions, in front of Congress this time and not some pass-the-buck commission that tried to bury Able Danger the first time. Who made the decision to bury Able Danger? Why?

One fact we know for sure now: the Commission report has no credibility whatsoever. What else got left out because of inconvenience? Until we have officials with some accountability look into the evidence instead of a panel comprised of people like Gorelick who have axes to grind and actions to minimize, we will never get a clear, factual look at the performance of our intelligence services and the constraints put on them by bureaucrats more interested in political correctness than in national security. (Fox link via The Anchoress and Dr. Sanity)

UPDATE, 5:43 AM: Interestingly, the New York Times changed its headline overnight from "9/11 Commission's Staff Ignored Military's Early Identification of Chief Hijacker" to "9/11 Commission's Staff Rejected Report on Early Identification of Chief Hijacker". Nothing else changed in the story except the headline. Did the Times feel uncomfortable with the clearly accurate first headline and want to attract less attention in the blogosphere?

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 10, 2005 10:36 PM

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