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August 11, 2005
9/11 Commission Changes Its Story -- Again (Updates And Bump To Top)

Another day, another story seems to be the containment strategy for the defunct and now discredited 9/11 Commission. The AP reports that the Commission's spokesperson, Al Felzenberg, now admits that the Commission knew full well that the secret Army program Able Danger had identified Mohammed Atta as an al-Qaeda operative along with three other men in Brooklyn, but left it out of their final report:

The Sept. 11 commission knew military intelligence officials had identified lead hijacker Mohamed Atta as a member of al-Qaida who might be part of U.S.-based terror cell more than a year before the terror attacks but decided not to include that in its final report, a spokesman acknowledged Thursday.

Al Felzenberg, who had been the commission's chief spokesman, said Tuesday the panel was unaware of intelligence specifically naming Atta. But he said subsequent information provided Wednesday confirmed that the commission had been aware of the intelligence. ...

Felzenberg said an unidentified person working with Weldon came forward Wednesday and described a meeting 10 days before the panel's report was issued last July. During it, a military official urged commission staffers to include a reference to the intelligence on Atta in the final report.

Felzenberg said checks were made and the details of the July 12, 2004, meeting were confirmed. Previous to that, Felzenberg said it was believed commission staffers knew about Able Danger from a meeting with military officials in
Afghanistan during which no mention was made of Atta or the other three hijackers.

Staff members now are searching documents in the National Archives to look for notes from the meeting in Afghanistan and any other possible references to Atta and Able Danger, Felzenberg said.

And so now we come back to the National Archives -- and October 2003. One of Sandy Berger's last visits to the Archives where he took highly classified material out the door with him was in October 2003, around the time that the Commission first heard about Able Danger. Does this start to sound just a little too convenient and coincidental?

Even without the possible Berger theft as part of the story, this constant shifting of the story underscores the massive credibility deficit that the Commission has now earned. First they never heard of Able Danger. Then, maybe a low-level staffer told them about the program but not the Atta identification. Next, the military met with the Commissioners but didn't specify the Atta identification. Now, we finally have confirmation that the Commission itself -- not just its low-level staff -- knew that military intelligence had identified Mohammed Atta as an al-Qaeda operative a year before 9/11. Instead of reporting it, the Commission buried it.

This points to some disturbing questions. It looks like the Commission decided early to pin blame on the intelligence community rather than the bureaucracy which stripped it of its ability to act in the interests of our security. Who benefited from that? Commissioner Jamie S. Gorelick. Who else stood to lose if the real story came out? The answer to that may well be the National Security Advisor who conducted a clumsy raid on the National Archives in the middle of the investigation.

Congress needs to take this up immediately.

Addendum: And Congress needs to get the Commission staffers the hell out of the National Archives until after Congress investigates this themselves. See The Anchoress for more thoughts and links surrounding Sandy Berger.

And please, let's remember what Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton had to say about this less than 48 hours ago:

"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."

This man and his fellow Commissioners have completely destroyed their credibility and that of their investigation.

UPDATE: Had some problems with "Able Danger", which came out Able Baker and Able Data. Must have been the lunchtime burger. Thanks to CQ reader New England Devil for the heads-up.

UPDATE II: Weldon sent a letter expressing his unhappiness with the earlier denials coming from the Commission, and he released it to the media:

Weldon said he was upset by suggestions earlier Wednesday by 9/11 panel members that it had been not been given critical information on Able Danger's capabilities and findings.

"The impetus for this letter is my extreme disappointment in the recent, and false, claim of the 9/11 commission staff that the commission was never given access to any information on Able Danger," Weldon wrote to former Chairman Gov. Thomas Kean and Vice-Chairman Rep. Lee Hamilton. "The 9/11 commission staff received not one but two briefings on Able Danger from former team members, yet did not pursue the matter.

"The commission's refusal to investigate Able Danger after being notified of its existence, and its recent efforts to feign ignorance of the project while blaming others for supposedly withholding information on it, brings shame on the commissioners, and is evocative of the worst tendencies in the federal government that the commission worked to expose," Weldon added.

Fox News Channel reported earlier that Weldon says the intelligence officers who conducted these briefings have expressed willingness and enthusiasm for testifying under oath and on the record about the information given to Commission staffers on both occasions. Also, they spoke to the officer involved in the October 2003 briefing who insists that Atta's name was brought to the Commission on that occasion.

This looks more and more like a political disaster for the Commission and those who sought to blame the intelligence community to save the bureaucracy, especially the administration that bottled up the Able Danger project in 2000.

UPDATE III AND BUMP: Tom Maguire sent me a note referencing a Redstate post that should get everyone's attention:

The Commissions objection to Able Dangers Mohammed Atta datapoint was:

"There was no way that Atta could have been in the United States at that time, which is why the staff didn't give this tremendous weight when they were writing the report," Mr. Felzenberg said. "This information was not meshing with the other information that we had."

There is always the distinct possibility that the other information is wrong and it certainly begs the question of how Able Danger was able to identify Mohammed Atta and ask to turn their evidence over to the FBI if he was not in the country.

But this is the second occasion in which the 9-11 Commission has pooh-poohed other evidence concerning Atta that didnt mesh with their desired storyline.

The elephant in the corner of the 9-11 Commissions report has always been the perfunctory way in which they dismiss the allegation that Atta met with the intelligence chief at Iraqs Prague embassy, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, on April 8-9, 2001. This meeting was discounted on the strength of Attas cell phone being used on April 6, 9, 10, and 11 and an ATM photo on April 11 and the fact that they cant find a record that Atta bought plane tickets with presumably any of the 63 drivers licenses the hijackers possessed.

The Prague story would not fit the preconception that the operation was carried out strictly by al-Qaeda without assistance of any other government. The dismissal of the Able Danger information is inexplicable without assuming that the Commission had decided in advance who was to blame.

The consistent denial of Atta meeting in Prague with Iraqi intelligence always stuck in the craw of those who followed the case closely. Czech intelligence insists to this day that Atta met with the IIS in Prague on those dates. However, the Commission finally decided not to endorse it (Chapter 7 of their report). Why? Because it would have implicated Saddam Hussein in the 9/11 attacks -- and provided another, more immediate reason to invade Iraq, just when half of the committee wanted to avoid any such conclusions.

With that in mind, the correlation between the deliberate dumping of the Able Danger data from the report makes more sense. If Able Danger identified Atta correctly, it could have corroborated the timeline that fits with Czech intelligence on Atta's visit. That meant that the Iraqis at least had contact with the local 9/11 mastermind, if not actively supported it.

Now, speculating a bit, who was it that cleaned out the National Archive along the same time frame as the first briefing of the Commission about Able Danger? Which campaign did he advise at the time of his mission to inspect the records? And on whose behalf did he ostensibly perform that mission?

This may cause a political meltdown the likes of which have never been seen before. If intelligence officers appear before Congress and name names, the domino effect could change Washington DC forever. Congress needs to act fast to ensure that no further damage occurs to the records.

UPDATE IV: John Podhoretz reaches the same conclusions at The Corner.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 11, 2005 7:50 PM

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