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August 22, 2005
Able Danger: Pentagon Can't Find Data

The Pentagon has provided its official response to the revelations made almost two weeks ago by Curt Weldon, Col. Tony Shaffer, and Able Danger staff that alleges that the US Army team had identified four of the 9/11 hijackers as possible al-Qaeda operatives a year before the attacks. According to spokesman Larry Di Rita, no one at the Pentagon can find that specific data:

The Pentagon has been unable to validate claims that a secret intelligence unit identified Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta as a terrorist more than a year before the attacks, a Defense Department spokesman said Monday.

Larry Di Rita said that some research into the matter continues, but thus far there has been no evidence that the intelligence unit, called "Able Danger," came up with information as specific as an officer associated with the program has asserted.

"What we found are mostly general references to terrorist cells," Di Rita said, without providing detail. ...

Di Rita said Pentagon researchers have found no evidence that Able Danger had Mohamed Atta's name. He said he was unsure whether the unit came up with the identities of the other three hijackers but then said that none of Shaffer's specific claims had been validated.

This doesn't tell us much we hadn't already guessed. The Pentagon has searched its archives and, as it says, came up with nothing specific. That doesn't mean it didn't exist at one time, however, nor does it mean it did. From the Pentagon's perspective, proving a negative to anyone's satisfaction is terrifically difficult, especially since it took this long for them to issue even this weak denial. From the tone of the language and their statement that they will continue to investigate the program, it sounds like they know they have not seen the entire data set for Able Danger.

All this does is provide a place marker for the controversy, and allow Congress to step in and make a few demands. First, Congress should request that the DoD allow those Able Danger team members who took part in the August 8th questioning to publicly reveal themselves and their part in the program, without fear of retribution. They should do this in an open hearing before the House Intelligence Committee (or Armed Services), or their counterparts in the Senate. They can certainly reveal the results of their investigations in public without necessarily revealing the techniques; if Congress feels the necessity to understand the latter, they can hold that portion of the hearings in camera.

In the absence of definitive answers from the Pentagon, we need to understand the Able Danger program and its results from the people who produced them. The 9/11 Commission failed to follow up with the Pentagon properly on this point. Let's not do the same thing now.

UPDATE: If Congress needs some idea of what to ask, they can check with Jack Kelly at Irish Pennants.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 22, 2005 5:31 PM

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