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August 11, 2005
Rethinking Prague After Able Danger

The official line espoused (at least for the moment) by the 9/11 Commission for their omission of the Able Danger data-mining project that correctly identified Mohammed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers more than a year prior to 9/11 is that the data supplied by the Army AD intelligence information clashed with what the Commission "knew" about Atta's whereabouts. Spokesman Al Felzenberg told the media that although the Commission lied earlier about not being briefed on Able Danger, they disregarded it for this reason:

Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the commission's follow-up project called the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, had said earlier this week that 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.

The information did not make it into the final report because it was not consistent with what the commission knew about Atta's whereabouts before the attacks, Felzenberg said.

Felzenberg did not go into specifics. However, the only dispute about Atta's whereabouts in the days before 9/11 is whether Atta traveled to Prague in April 2001. Czech intelligence insisted -- in fact, still insists -- that Atta came to Prague on April 9th and met with Iraqi diplomat Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al Ani and a member of the Iraqi intelligence service. A meeting with the Iraqis so close to the mission would strongly indicate a connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, at least in terms of logistical support.

The Commission report insists that the meeting never occurred, and explained its reasoning on pages 228-9:

The FBI has gathered evidence indicating that Atta was in Virginia Beach on April 4 (as evidenced by a bank surveillance camera photo), and in Coral Springs, Florida on April 11, where he and Shehhi leased an apartment.On April 6, 9, 10, and 11,Attas cellular telephone was used numerous times to call various lodging establishments in Florida from cell sites within Florida.We cannot confirm that he placed those calls. But there are no U.S. records indicating that Atta departed the country during this period. Czech officials have reviewed their flight and border records as well for any indication that Atta was in the Czech Republic in April 2001, including records of anyone crossing the border who even looked Arab.They have also reviewed pictures from the area near the Iraqi embassy and have not discovered photos of anyone who looked like Atta. No evidence has been found that Atta was in the Czech Republic in April 2001.

All this does, of course, is tell us that Atta's phone got used during the time frame he supposedly traveled. As they say, anyone could have used that phone during his absence. They then run down their reasoning against that timing:

These findings cannot absolutely rule out the possibility that Atta was in Prague on April 9, 2001. He could have used an alias to travel and a passport under that alias, but this would be an exception to his practice of using his true name while traveling (as he did in January and would in July when he took his next overseas trip). The FBI and CIA have uncovered no evidence that Atta held any fraudulent passports.

KSM and Binalshibh both deny that an Atta-Ani meeting occurred. There was no reason for such a meeting, especially considering the risk it would pose to the operation. By April 2001, all four pilots had completed most of their training,and the muscle hijackers were about to begin entering the United States.

The available evidence does not support the original Czech report of an Atta-Ani meeting.

The Commission never took into account the following:

* Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and Binalshibh had given American intelligence disinformation; at the beginning of Chapter 7, the Commission dismisses KSM's assertions about a lack of AQ contacts in Southern California. Why rely on them here?

* If Iraq had a hand in 9/11, the Iraqis would have required Atta to travel using special cover when they met. The Iraqis would not have wanted the Americans to link Atta with Saddam. They certainly would have provided him a special passport and false identity for such a meeting; they had done the same with Ramzi Yousef, the 1993 WTC bomber, using Kuwaiti paperwork stolen during their 1991 invasion. In fact, no one is sure that Ramzi Yousef is his actual name.

* The purpose of the trip may have been to ensure that the "muscle hijackers" did get into the US safely, and to arrange for logistical and financial support to make that happen. It would have also given Atta an opportunity to finalize all plans before proceeding with the final phases of his mission.

* The reason that "[t]he available evidence does not support the original Czech report of an Atta-Ani meeting" could be that they left out the Able Danger evidence that might support it.

The insistence that Atta could never have been in Prague on April 9, 2001 despite the insistence of Czech intelligence to the contrary never stood on firm ground. With this new revelation about Able Danger and the immediate invocation of the Commission-approved Atta timeline, it becomes even less sure and more suspicious than ever.

If Able Danger supports Czech intelligence, which at the moment remains just speculation, it will prove tremendously explosive. The ramifications will affect not just the careers of the Commissioners and their staff, but a deliberate attempt to suppress Able Danger might well result in criminal prosecution. It will also force a recalculation of the war in Iraq and its place in the war on terror. The involvement of Jamie Gorelick on the Commission will once again cause people to ask why such a conflict of interest was allowed to occur -- only this time, Congress won't be able to avoid the answers.

Congress needs to hold public hearings to get to the bottom of these questions. The deliberate deceptions of the 9/11 Commission this week has set off alarms about their motives and preconceptions which may have seriously perverted our knowledge of 9/11 and the forces which stood behind the attacks -- by far the most complicated and well-coordinated al-Qaeda operation, before or since.

UPDATE: This picture, from a friend of mine who served in Iraq in 2003-4, shows that Saddam had no problem celebrating his delight in the mission's success, and The Anchoress reminds us that the Iraqi consulate in New York was the only one that didn't lower its flag after 9/11:

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 11, 2005 7:54 PM

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