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September 22, 2005
Able Danger: Hide In Plain Sight?

The Pentagon has decided to play games with the Able Danger story, virtually confirming the worst suspicions of just about everybody by first acknowledging that five of its team members recall identifying Mohammed Atta as a potential AQ terrorist a year prior to the attacks, and then forbidding these five witnesses from telling the Senate Judiciary Committee about the program. The only thing that Donald Rumsfeld has accomplished with this strategy is to introduce real bipartisanship to the Judiciary Committee, which broadly scolded the DoD for pulling the witnesses from the hearing at the last minute:

The complaints came after the Pentagon blocked several witnesses from testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a public hearing on Wednesday. The only testimony provided by the Defense Department came from a senior official who would say only that he did not know whether the claims were true.

Five men and women in a highly-classified program, a status one only reaches by faithful and excellent service, tell the DoD that the program identified al-Qaeda's lead terrorists over a year prior to the attacks, and they're not sure whether it's true? That may be the most pathetic spin I've heard yet on Able Danger. If almost half the analysts in an intelligence group such as Able Danger cannot be trusted to remember something as significant as that, then the Pentagon has more problems than anyone realizes.

A Pentagon spokesman had said the decision to limit testimony was based on concerns about disclosing classified information, but Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said he believed the reason was a concern "that they'll just have egg on their face."

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, accused the Pentagon of "a cover-up" and said, "I don't get why people aren't coming forward and saying, 'Here's the deal, here's what happened.'"

Biden, as usual, speaks with equal disingeniuty. He understands perfectly well, at least in general, why the DoD won't produce the witnesses. It has little to do with specific intelligence exposure. After all, if the Senators want to discuss how the identifications worked, they would gladly go into closed session for that testimony. What the Committee and the rest of us want is open testimony about what they found in relation to 9/11 and the known hijackers, who they identified, what they did with that information -- and who insisted on covering it up, both at the Pentagon and on the 9/11 Commission.

None of that comes under the heading of national security -- it falls into the category of covering some high-ranking ass.

Another reason for the sudden bipartisanship is the timeline of events, especially with the sudden stealth mode of Rumsfeld et al. The identification of the AQ operatives came in 2000, and the initial destruction of the data came in April 2000, as Eric Kleinsmith testified. That would tend to point to the Clinton Administration as an obstructor. However, the program continued, allegedly predicting the USS Cole attack three weeks before it happened. Shaffer kept extensive files until February 2004, when they mysteriously disappeared after a dispute over a cell-phone bill with the DoD. That sequence happened on Bush's watch, and so does this ill-thought brinksmanship with the Senate.

The American people suffered the worst attack on our soil four years ago. We deserve answers about how that attack could have been prevented. The Pentagon has five witnesses that speak directly to that issue who have been prevented from speaking to the representatives of the people. Arlen Specter needs to subpoena those five witnesses, all of the senior officers in the chain of command for Able Danger, and Donald Rumsfeld himself to answer for why the Pentagon will not cooperate. Four years of hiding Able Danger is long enough.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 22, 2005 6:37 AM

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