Note: This post originally ran during the Christmas holiday, and is being repeated for those who may have missed it.
The Able Danger story has come to an end, at least for the moment, as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has dismissed claims made by former Rep. Curt Weldon and members of the AD team about their data before 9/11. The SSIC says that the claim that the AD effort had identified Mohammed Atta resulted from a confusion of names and that the effort actually identified none of the 9/11 attackers not already known to intelligence agencies (h/t CQ reader LEJ):
The Senate Intelligence Committee has rejected as untrue one of the most disturbing claims about the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes — a congressman’s contention that a team of military analysts identified Mohamed Atta or other hijackers before the attacks — according to a summary of the panel’s investigation obtained by The Times.
The conclusion contradicts assertions by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) and a few military officers that U.S. national security officials ignored startling intelligence available in early 2001 that might have helped to prevent the attacks.
In particular, Weldon and other officials have repeatedly claimed that the military analysts’ effort, known as Able Danger, produced a chart that included a picture of Atta and identified him as being tied to an Al Qaeda cell in Brooklyn, N.Y. Weldon has also said that the chart was shared with White House officials, including Stephen J. Hadley, then deputy national security advisor.
But after a 16-month investigation, the Intelligence Committee has concluded that those assertions are unfounded.
“Able Danger did not identify Mohammed Atta or any other 9/11 hijacker at any time prior to Sept. 11, 2001,” the committee determined, according to an eight-page letter sent last week to panel members by the top Republican and Democrat on the committee.
I and many others have documented the efforts of Weldon and AD team members Tony Shaffer and Scott Philpott. The latter two men put their military careers on the line with their statements that positively asserted Atta had been identified prior to 9/11. It is difficult to see how they would have benefitted from becoming whistleblowers by insisting on this point even after Shaffer essentially got fired from his job by losing his security clearance. Philpott and Shaffer both insisted that they had discussed this with the 9/11 Commission, which the panel at first denied and then retracted, claiming that the program had little significance to their efforts.
So what does the SSIC say happened? The AD unit made charts of known AQ members, one of which bore a superficial resemblance to Atta. The profusion of names and aliases, along with the usual confusion of transliterating Arabic names, led to even more confusion on the point. Essentially, the SSIC says that Able Danger did not produce anything not already known to the intelligence community, and that Weldon is wrong about Hadley seeing Atta’s name on the chart after 9/11.
This still leaves plenty of questions. Why did the House Intelligence Committee meet with Able Danger lead analyst Dr. Eileen Preisser a month after the 9/11 attacks, a meeting that apparently is still classified? What happened to Shaffer’s materials between his initial contact with Philip Zelikow and his subsequent attempt to inform the 9/11 Commission? None of these issues get adequately addressed by the “confusion” answer. Either Shaffer is a fool or a liar, and that makes Philpott one of the two as well — and no one has ever come up with a convincing argument for the latter choice.
Hopefully, the full report will be declassified to determine how the SSIC reached its conclusions.