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September 1, 2005
Able Danger: Pentagon Finds Three More Witnesses

The naysayers of the 9/11 Commission took another blow to their credibility today when the Pentagon announced that three more Able Danger team members remember the identification of Mohammed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers a year before their terrorist attack. A briefing today gave the Pentagon a chance to reverse itself from a week ago, when spokesman Larry Di Rita strongly suggested that the two career officers who had come forward at risk of their careers either had faulty memories or ulterior motives:

Pentagon officials said Thursday they have found three more people who recall an intelligence chart that identified Sept. 11 mastermind Mohamed Atta as a terrorist one year before the attacks on New York and Washington. But they have been unable to find the chart or other evidence that it existed.

Last month, two military officers, Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and Navy Capt. Scott Philpott, went public with claims that a secret unit code-named Able Danger used data mining _ searching large amounts of data for patterns _ to identify Atta in 2000. Shaffer has said three other Sept. 11 hijackers also were identified. ...

They said they interviewed at least 80 people over a three-week period and found three, besides Philpott and Shaffer, who said they remember seeing a chart that either mentioned Atta by name as an al-Qaida operative or showed his photograph. Four of the five recalled a chart with a pre-9/11 photo of Atta; the other person recalled only a reference to his name.

The intelligence officials said they consider the five people to be credible but their recollections are still unverified.

The Pentagon's response gets curiouser and curiouser. It says it interviewed eighty people, but the program supposedly only used a dozen or so analysts. The nature of the program and its counterterrorist mission should mean that only need-to-know access should have been granted. The Pentagon goes out of its way to say that Able Danger comprised a core of 10 staffers headed by Captain Scott Phillpott to devise a strategy against transnational terrorism, "specifically al-Qaeda", and not limited in scope to a datamining project.

Yet they interviewed eighty people? They had an eight-to-one ratio of witnesses to a secret program as opposed to its staff? That seems more than just passingly strange. It almost sounds as if they wanted to swamp out the discovery that with three more witnesses recalling the identification of Atta, it adds up to more than half of the Able Danger project team. That sounds like rather strong corroboration of Shaffer, Phillpott, and Smith.

The next odd part of the Pentagon briefing relates to the lack of documentation. Their statement says that they have uncovered "negative indications" of any order to destroy Able Danger documentation, and that two more witnesses specifically recall a chart with Atta's picture and name on it. (The third only recalls the name, not the picture.) Yet the Pentagon says it has finished searching for any more Able Danger documentation, despite the fact that over half of its team testifies to its existence and that they have some evidence that they never ordered any destruction of the data. One would think at that point that the Pentagon, especially DISCO (the security-clearance agency), might take an interest in where the records went. According to their briefing, however, they have dropped the entire effort.

Something does not add up.

Besides that, however, this provides even more substantiation that the AD team did in fact identify the four al-Qaeda terrorists over a year before their attacks, and that the identification calls the 9/11 Commission timeline into serious question. Since the primary sources of that timeline spring from the testimony of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, we must again ask what gain the two 9/11 co-conspirators might have in misdirecting American intelligence on Atta's whereabouts.

At least two possibilities come to mind. They may have more cells in the US and needed to provide some misdirection to ensure that their cover stories hold up. That seems rather weak, especially since terror cells usually operate with enough separation that uncovering Atta should not have endangered any others. That leaves the possibility that KSM and Binalshibh needed to cover Atta's tracks not to protect other operatives but to protect their supporters. It would direct investigators into dead ends, leading them to believe that Atta and his team only worked with al-Qaeda leadership, who were only too eager to take full credit for the attacks.

AJ Strata and Tom Maguire have more, of course. Be sure to read their informative posts on this subject. Maguire, for instance, notes with considerable interest that the Pentagon claims that no "military lawyers" prevented Able Danger meeting with the FBI. He thinks that means that the Pentagon may have deferred the question to the Office of Intelligence Policy Review (OIPR) - the same agency addressed by Jamie Gorelick in her "wall" memo in 1995.

AJStrata, meanwhile, wonders why the Able Danger information never came out during the Richard Clarke and Sandy Berger testimony to the 9/11 Commission. After all, one of the primary complaints of the Commission regarding both administrations was a lack of focus on al-Qaeda, although both witnesses almost fell over themselves trying to prove that the Clinton Administration understood the nature of the threat. Here we have a program designed to strategize against AQ, and both have nothing to say about it to investigators? It brings into question yet again what handwritten notes may have existed on the copies of threat reports so conveniently "lost" by Berger after he purloined them from the National Archive.

So many dots, and so many connections -- and yet, so little effort by the Omission Commission and the Pentagon to connect them. Will Congress finally take an opportunity to ask why?

UPDATE: Captain V has some thoughts about how secret a program like Able Danger could have been with 80 people getting interviewed about it, as well as how secret any program can be.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 1, 2005 9:14 PM

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» The Video that Killed the Able Danger Star? from Macmind - Conservative Commentary and Common Sense
A reader "BurbankErnie" alerted me to the presence of this Memorandum dtd January 10th, 2003, from Senator "Leaky" Leahy to AG Ashcroft. The document is a request for confirmation of datamining currently being deployed by the JD, while disussing poss... [Read More]

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