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September 23, 2005
Able Danger Foxtrot V: The Pentagon Backstep

The Pentagon has reversed itself -- again -- in the Able Danger soap opera playing out in Washington DC. After agreeing to provide witnesses to the Senate Judiciary Committee, then forbidding them to testify on the eve of the hearings, the Pentagon now says it will allow all five Able Danger team members to provide public testimony on October 5th about the program:

The Defense Department on Friday reversed its earlier decision to bar key witnesses from testifying about just how much information the U.S. government had on the Sept. 11 hijackers before they led the attacks that killed 3,000 people.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has therefore scheduled a second hearing for next week on the formerly secret Pentagon intelligence unit called "Able Danger". ...

The Senate Judiciary Committee said in a statement Friday that the Pentagon now will allow five witnesses to testify. Among those are Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, Navy Capt. Scott Phillpott and defense contractor John Smith.

I wonder what happened to cause this change in attitude. It appears that the heavey-handedness of the last-minute change caused some problems even among those Senators inclined to support the White House, such as Arlen Specter. More likely, the Pentagon and White House may have underestimated the visibility that Able Danger has achieved over the past month.

We can surmise a couple of items from this reversal, especially given the hostility that Shaffer showed towards the Pentagon as a result of the initial cancellation. First, the gag order had little to do with ongoing operational security. It would take much more time than 72 hours to secure personnel and intelligence, and if the Pentagon still had those assets in operation, the witnesses would remain gagged. That means the Pentagon pulled the witnesses for some other reason.

Anyone want to guess what that reason might be? Whatever the reason, they have made clear that the Pentagon fears the truth coming out about Able Danger. Many have speculated that the program showed connections between the Clinton Administration and China, and that caused the Pentagon to hush up Able Danger. Perhaps, but that cannot explain the actions this week in pulling the witnesses off the stand at the last moment. The Clinton Administration has come and gone, and even a possible Hillary administration would come no sooner than almost four years from now.

The reason, therefore, has to involve people at the Pentagon right now. It seems to me that the Pentagon has the most to lose if speculation that it deliberately withheld cooperation from the FBI when it could have stopped 9/11 is true, and that it has to answer for the destruction of the materials if the witnesses testify as expected. Those decisions could involve high-ranking brass, such as Hugh Shelton (ret.) and Pete Schoomaker, and perhaps even Donald Rumsfeld. Or perhaps they just involve second-tier leadership - which is why the Pentagon decided to reverse itself after seeing the public reaction to the aborted hearing Wednesday.

October 5th should be pretty interesting. Expect to see three new names pop up, including Dr. Eileen Preisser, who seems to hold a central role in Able Danger and the analysis that found the terrorists a year before the attacks. If so, the 9/11 Commission will be the first casualty, but not the last. This story will not go away soon.

UPDATE: Corrected spelling of Dr. Eileen Preisser. The wrong spelling did lead me to this transcript the other day, so the mistake was not entirely unproductive.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 23, 2005 3:13 PM

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