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August 16, 2005
The Able Danger Fox Trot

A lot of fancy stepping has occurred in the week since the first revelations of the Able Danger data-mining program at the Pentagon. After Douglas Jehl first broke the story in the mainstream media, the Commission first denied ever hearing about anything that identified Atta as an al-Qaeda operative and the existence of Able Danger. They then acknoweledged hearing about Able Danger but nothing about any identification of Atta, with specific denials coming from co-chairs Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean. Within hours, that changed to recognition of the Atta identification coming up in a July 2004 briefing that occurred as the report was being finalized, giving them little opportunity to check out the data. Finally, the Commission generated a breathtakingly detailed rebuttal for a subject on which they had attempted to deny any foreknowledge only days earlier.

The 9/11 Commission didn't come alone to the dance, either. Curt Weldon, whose speech kicked off this headspinning story, backtracked himself on some key details. That led pundits like John Podhoretz and Jim Geraghty to engage in some highly-understandable walkback, reverse walkback, and re-walkback as the media played ping-pong on which sources suffered the most damage to credibility.

Today the Washington Times adds itself to the dance card, finding another Pentagon source for Able Danger which corroborates Jehl and Weldon on their initial story (via Andy McCarthy at The Corner):

Pentagon lawyers, fearing a public-relations "blow back," blocked a military intelligence unit from sharing information with the FBI that four suspected al Qaeda terrorists were in the country prior to the September 11 attacks, after determining they were here legally, a former Defense Department intelligence official says.

Members of an intelligence unit known as Able Danger were shut out of the September 11 commission investigation and final report, the official said, despite briefing commission staff members on two occasions about the Mohamed Atta-led terrorist cell and telling them of a lockdown of information between the Defense Department and the FBI.

The intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Pentagon lawyers "were afraid of a blow back" -- similar to the public's response to the FBI-led assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, which left more than 70 people dead -- and decided to withhold the information from the FBI.

This source also took part in the October 2003 briefing but not the July 2004 attempt by another naval officer attached to the DoD at the time. The source who spoke to Audrey Hudson for this article also attempted to rebrief the Commission in January 2004, according to Hudson, but they refused to meet with him. Staff members told the intelligence agent, "We don't need to meet with you."

McCarthy notes something else interesting about the Times article. Hudson reports that the Pentagon's official response to Able Danger says that they can find no reference in their files to an Atta-led terrorist cell in the US before 9/11 -- other than a few intelligence analyses that mention his name. Really? Which intelligence analyses would those be, and where did they originate and when? Most of all, why aren't they part of the final report from the 9/11 Commission?

This story has not yet run its course, not by a long shot. Something strange has been going on with Able Danger. Either it did a much better job identifying terrorists than anyone wants to acknoweledge, or it uncovered something else that no one wants to release. Either way, Congress needs to start hauling people into the open and start asking for sworn testimony on this program and exactly how much the Commission knew about it.

UPDATE: CQ reader Lauri S. tells me that the Fox Report will feature an interview with an Able Danger officer tonight at 6 pm CT. Catherine Herridge will speak with a Lt. Col. named "Tony", a 22-year veteran. If I get more on this, I'll post it here.

UPDATE II: Laura Rozen reveals that "Tony" is Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer:

He served in a liaison capacity between Able Danger and the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa, Florida, and he flew into Afghanistan with special ops in a boots on the ground capacity. ... It's still a bit vague as to what exactly on Atta and the "Brooklyn cell" the Able Danger team came up with, but Shaffer did tell Spencer that the Able Danger team briefed then Special Ops commander, now Army Chief of Staff Pete Schoomaker on their findings. Shaffer also told Spencer that he had met with Pentagon intel czar Stephen Cambone in the E-ring today about the Able Danger issue, so clearly the Pentagon is paying attention.

Weldon's sources are moving into the open on their own. That sounds like a positive development, but we'll know more about it after the interview tonight. (via John Podhoretz, who is no wimp, folks -- just a guy who feels justifiably irritated when sources start waffling.)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 16, 2005 12:00 PM

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The situation regarding top secret Pentagon data mining operation known as Able Danger is at the moment, confused – to say the least. On the one hand, you have Rep. “Crazy” Curt Weldon backtracking on the story as his main source &... [Read More]

Tracked on August 16, 2005 12:43 PM

» Monday Morning Intelligence and the NY Times with from Macmind - Conservative Commentary and Common Sense
Ask and ye shall receive: Per Captain's Quarters - the Washington Times has yet more on the Able Danger story: [Read More]

Tracked on August 16, 2005 3:29 PM

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...“Based on what we’re learning-- and not learning-- about Atta, we’re fairly certain he employed numerous doubles, had some sort of invisibility cloak, and may have quite possibly been a shape-shifter.”... [Read More]

Tracked on August 16, 2005 6:10 PM

» The Gorelick Wall & Sandy Berger, Update VI from Flopping Aces
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When last we visited the Able Danger disaster, the 9/11 Commission was reeling, its credibility disintegrating like the face of Walter Donovan after drinking from the wrong grail, and the Clintonoids' deflection of their culpability for allowing the ... [Read More]

Tracked on August 16, 2005 10:59 PM

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