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Support grows in Congress to allow testimony from 'Able Danger' on pre-9/11 intelligence

Larisa Alexandrovna

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Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) expects to secure a majority of House signatures in support of a letter calling upon Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to allow members of the former intelligence program “Able Danger” to testify publicly before Congress, RAW STORY has learned.

“Able Danger” was a Defense Department program that purportedly identified Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker on 9/11, over a year before the attack.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and Captain Scott Phillpot, the officers that led the program, have been ordered by the Pentagon not to discuss any information regarding their work. The program operated under the aegis of the United States Army Special Operations Command.

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Shaffer’s security clearances have allegedly been revoked by the Pentagon in what some say is retaliation after he came forward about the Able Danger program. The Pentagon, among other things, accused him of stealing pens.

Background

Able Danger, an open-source data-mining operation charged with identifying and targeting members of Al-Qaeda, was created in October 1999 upon the request of then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton.

The program made front page news and generated controversy in August in the wake of claims made by former members of the group that they had successfully identified Atta over a year prior to the attack. The operation also identified Marwan Al-Sheehi, the man believed to be the pilot of United Flight 175, which crashed into the South Tower; Nawaf Al-Hazmi, the man believed to be one of the hijackers of American Airlines flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon, and Khalid Al-Mihdhar, believed to have been involved in hijacking the same flight.

Charts, data and documentation from the program were destroyed in 2000 and 2004. The program itself was reportedly terminated in early 2001 after Able Danger liaison Lt. Col. Shaffer briefed General Shelton at one meeting and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Admiral Wilson, General Counsel Richard L. Shiffrin and then-Special Advisor to the Secretary of Defense, Stephen Cambone, at another. Cambone was later appointed by Douglas Feith to serve as Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.

During the final months of the Clinton administration, the officers say Able Danger made three attempts to present their findings to the FBI, each aborted by Pentagon lawyers. They also claim they raised alarm two weeks prior to the October 12, 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and that their warning never reached the ship.

On Sept. 25, 2001, just two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Weldon, Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) and Chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Emerging Threats Christopher Shays (R-CT) met at the White House with then-Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. Weldon initially said he showed Hadley a copy of one of the charts generated by Able Danger, and left it for Hadley to show to the President.

When asked about the meeting this past September, Hadley spokesman Frederick L. Jones II said, "Mr. Hadley does not recall any chart bearing the name or photo of Mohamed Atta."

Former 9/11 Commissioners, responding to a series of reports in the New York Times and elsewhere, varied their recollection of events a number of times before releasing a formal written statement saying that the program was "historically insignificant" and that they could find no evidence that the program had identified Atta.

There is no mention of Able Danger in the 9/11 Report.

Weldon expressed outrage at the Commission's failure to examine Able Danger at a press conference last Friday insisting that "there was a deliberate attempt to not have their story told to the American people. There has been nothing but denial and spin since the story broke in the first week of August. The Commission has no credibility on this issue whatsoever."

Shays told CQ Weekly Aug. 12, "If this wasn't reported by the Commission, what else wasn't reported?"

Pentagon identifies, gags 'witnesses'

An informal inquiry by the Pentagon identified several additional witnesses who confirmed that in fact the program had identified Atta and three other eventual 9/11 hijackers. Fully a third (5 of 15) core team members including the team's leader, Captain Scott Phillpott (set to take command of a Navy Destroyer in January,) have corrorobated the claims of Lt. Col Shaffer, insisting publicly and in interviews with Pentagon investigators that their data mining efforts yielded the names and photos of four of the 19 hijackers, including Mohamed Atta.

Just prior to their scheduled testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Sept. 21, Phillpott and Shaffer were given gag orders by Department of Defense.

Despite the loss of key witnesses, Sen. Specter held the hearing and heard from Weldon, Able Danger's legal counsel and a representative from the Department of Defense as well as senators expressing frustration and outrage over what they called a cover-up. A follow-up hearing was scheduled when it appeared the Pentagon had relented and would allow public testimony from Able Danger members. It was later canceled, with Specter citing a miscommunication between his office and the DoD. A source at Specter's office told RAW STORY the hearing will not be rescheduled before the close of the Senate session in December.

Mounting pressure on Secretary Rumsfeld

Pressure continues to mount for the Pentagon allow the Able Danger witnesses to testify. Last Friday, Weldon told CNN's Lou Dobbs he had secured 100 signatures from members of Congress calling upon Secretary Rumsfeld to allow the testimony of Able Danger team members. By Wednesday afternoon there were a total 150 signatories, including 90 Republicans and 60 Democrats. By 7 p.m., a press release posted on Congressman Weldon's website asserted that 202 members had signed.

Signatories include Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Inteliigence Jane Harmon (D-CA) and Katherine Harris (R-FL).

RAW STORY is told Weldon’s office expects to announce that they have secured the signatures of a majority of House members soon.

The letter follows.

#

The Honorable Donald Rumsfeld
Secretary
Department of Defense
Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301

Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:

We the undersigned are formally requesting that you allow former participants in the intelligence program known as ABLE DANGER to testify in an open hearing before the United States Congress. Until this point, congressional efforts to investigate ABLE DANGER have been obstructed by Department of Defense insistence that certain individuals with knowledge of ABLE DANGER be prevented from freely and frankly testifying in an open hearing. We realize that you do not question Congress's authority to maintain effective oversight of executive branch agencies, including your department. It is our understanding that your objection instead derives from concern that classified information could be improperly exposed in an open hearing. We of course would never support any activity that might compromise sensitive information involving national security. However, we firmly believe that testimony from the appropriate individuals in an open hearing on ABLE DANGER would not only fail to jeopardize national security, but would in fact enhance it over the long term. This is due to our abiding belief that America can only better prepare itself against future attacks if it understands the full scope of its past failures to do so.

On September 21, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary conducted a hearing on ABLE DANGER which Bill Dugan, Acting Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight, certified did not reveal any classified information. Congressman Curt Weldon's testimony at that hearing was largely based on the information that has been given to him by ABLE DANGER participants barred from open testimony by DOD. Their testimony would therefore closely mirror that of Congressman Weldon, who did not reveal classified information. Therefore we are at a loss as to how the testimony of ABLE DANGER participants would jeopardize classified information. Much of what they would present has already been revealed. Further refusal to allow ABLE DANGER participants to testify in an open congressional hearing can only lead us to conclude that the Department of Defense is uncomfortable with the prospect of Members of Congress questioning these individuals about the circumstances surrounding ABLE DANGER. This would suggest not a concern for national security, but rather an attempt to prevent potentially embarrassing facts from coming to light. Such a consideration would of course be an unacceptable justification for the refusal of a congressional request.

Sincerely,

/s

Originally published on Thursday November 17, 2005

 


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