|Congressman Wants More Investigation into 9/11 Intelligence Failures
By Paige Kollock
VOA, Washington, D.C.
16 August 2005
Did Pentagon officials know about the September 11th, 2001, hijackers' ties to al-Qaida nearly a year before the terrorist attack? A United States Congressman, Curt Weldon, says ‘yes’ and claims the 9/11 Commission failed to include that critical information in its report.
Rep. Curt Weldon, a Republican Party member from Pennsylvania, is criticizing the Department of Defense for not sharing intelligence information about terror suspects with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He says the Pentagon failed to pass on key information about Mohammed Atta and three other hijackers prior to 9/11.
The congressman says, "It's obvious that if we would have taken those four al Qaida leaders, who were all killed in the attacks on 9/11, that were involved in those aircrafts, and if we were to have brought them in, and the FBI would have been allowed to thoroughly investigate them, I am convinced that holding them would have had an impact on 9/11, perhaps delayed it, perhaps stopped it."
According to Mr. Weldon, a classified U.S. Special Operations Command team called "Able Danger" was set up in 1999 to identify potential al-Qaida operatives. He says "Able Danger" had information about Mr. Atta and his ties to al-Qaida a year before the attacks took place.
Mr. Weldon says when it recommended that the information be passed on to the FBI, it was stopped by Defense Department lawyers who feared breaching privacy laws that protect U.S. citizens and foreigners who are legally in the U.S. -- which Atta was.
Mr. Weldon calls it a weak defense.
Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy for the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington DC, says Mr. Weldon has a point. "He makes a valid point in terms of the sharing of information back and forth, and that after the fact, it is easier to make the case that information should be shared in a more free fashion, than it was prior to 9/11."
Mr. Weldon is also criticizing the 9/11 Commission members for failing to include this information in their report, which came out on July 22, 2004, even though Professor Preble says the Commission had its reasons. "It was not matching up very well with a lot of the other info they were receiving. So it may be that, after the fact, the information turns out to have been correct, but it did not fit with the broader picture that they had painted."
In response to Mr. Weldon's complaints, a 9/11 Commission spokesman confirmed that it did have a meeting about Able Danger's identifying Atta with a military official 10 days before the report came out. However, the Commission said the information was not reliable enough to warrant revising its report.
Mr. Weldon has written a letter to the Commission asking it to explore the matter further, and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are looking into the issue as well.
WELDON RESPONDS TO OMISSION OF ABLE DANGER FROM 9/11 REPORT
WASHINGTON, D.C., Aug 12 - Today Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA), Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, released the following response to a statement by the former 9/11 Commission regarding the ABLE DANGER operation.
“ABLE DANGER was about linkages and associations of individuals identified with direct links to Al-Qaeda and not about dates and times.
To clarify, ABLE DANGER was a Department of Defense planning effort, tasked to Special Operations Command (SOCOM) by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). The task assigned to ABLE DANGER was to identify and target Al-Qaeda on a global basis and, through the use of cutting edge technology (data-mining, massive parallel processing, neural networking and human factors analysis) and enhanced visualization and display tools, present options for leaders (national command authority) to manipulate, degrade or destroy the global Al-Qaeda infrastructure.
The 9/11 Commission has released multiple statements over the past week, each of which has significantly changed - from initially denying ever being briefed to acknowledging being briefed on both operation ABLE DANGER and Mohammed Atta. The information was omitted primarily because they found it to be suspect despite having been briefed on it two times by two different military officers on active duty. Additionally, the 9/11 Commission also received documents from the Department of Defense on ABLE DANGER.
Despite their varied statements, two critical questions remain unanswered.
1) Why did the Department of Defense fail to pass critical information obtained through ABLE DANGER to the FBI between the summer and fall of 2000?
2) Why did the 9/11 Commission staff fail to properly follow-up on the three separate occasions when they received information on ABLE DANGER and Mohammed Atta?
I will continue to push for a full accounting of the historical record so that we may preclude these types of failures from happening again.”
WELDON REJECTS 9/11 COMMISSION CLAIM THEY NEVER HEARD OF "ABLE DANGER"
WASHINGTON, D.C., Aug 10 - Today Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA), Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, sent the following letter to the Former 9/11 Commission Members, also known as the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, rejecting the Commission's claim that they were not briefed on "Able Danger".
In the letter, Congressman Weldon calls on the 9/11 Public Discourse Project to answer two fundamental questions:
#1) What lawyers in the Department of Defense made the decision in late 2000 not to pass the information from Able Danger to the FBI?
#2) Why did the 9-11 Commission staff not find it necessary to pass this information to the Commissioners, and why did the 9-11 Commission staff not request full documentation of Able Danger from the team member that volunteered the information?
Below is a copy of a letter sent by Congressman Curt Weldon to the Former 9/11 Commission members.
August 10, 2005
The Honorable Thomas H. Kean, Chairman
The Honorable Lee H. Hamilton, Vice Chairman
9/11 Public Discourse Project
One DuPont Circle, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Chairman Kean and Vice Chairman Hamilton:
I am contacting you to discuss an important issue that concerns the terrible events of September 11, 2001, and our country’s efforts to ensure that such a calamity is never again allowed to occur. Your bipartisan work on The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States shed light on much that was unclear in the minds of the American people regarding what happened that fateful day, however there appears to be more to the story than the public has been told. I bring this before you because of my respect for you both, and for the 9-11 Commission’s service to America.
Almost seven years ago, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999 established the Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction, otherwise known as the Gilmore Commission. The Gilmore Commission reached many of the same conclusions as your panel, and in December of 2000 called for the creation of a “National Office for Combating Terrorism.” I mention this because prior to 9/11, Congress was aware of many of the institutional obstacles to preventing a terrorist attack, and was actively attempting to address them. I know this because I authored the language establishing the Gilmore Commission.
In the 1990’s, as chairman of the congressional subcommittee that oversaw research & development for the Department of Defense, I paid special attention to the activities of the Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) at Ft. Belvoir. During that time, I led a bipartisan delegation of Members of Congress to Vienna, Austria to meet with members of the Russian parliament, or Duma. Before leaving, I received a brief from the CIA on a Serbian individual that would be attending the meeting. The CIA provided me with a single paragraph of information. On the other hand, representatives of LIWA gave me five pages of far more in-depth analysis. This was cause for concern, but my debriefing with the CIA and FBI following the trip was cause for outright alarm: neither had ever heard of LIWA or the data mining capability it possessed.
As a result of experiences such as these, I introduced language into three successive Defense Authorization bills calling for the creation of an intelligence fusion center which I called NOAH, or National Operations and Analysis Hub. The NOAH concept is certainly familiar now, and is one of several recommendations made by your commission that has a basis in earlier acts of Congress. Despite my repeated efforts to establish NOAH, the CIA insisted that it would not be practical. Fortunately, this bureaucratic intransigence was overcome when Congress and President Bush acted in 2003 to create the Terrorism Threat Integration Center (now the National Counterterrorism Center). Unfortunately, it took the deaths of 3,000 people to bring us to the point where we could make this happen. Now, I am confident that under the able leadership of John Negroponte, the days of toleration for intelligence agencies that refuse to share information with each other are behind us.
The 9-11 Commission produced a book-length account of its findings, that the American people might educate themselves on the challenges facing our national effort to resist and defeat terrorism. Though under different circumstances, I eventually decided to do the same. I recently published a book critical of our intelligence agencies because even after 9/11, they were not getting the message. After failing to win the bureaucratic battle inside the Beltway, I decided to take my case to the American people.
In recent years, a reliable source that I refer to as “Ali” began providing me with detailed inside information on Iran’s role in supporting terror and undermining the United States’ global effort to eradicate it. I have forwarded literally hundreds of pages of information from Ali to the CIA, FBI, and DIA, as well as the appropriate congressional oversight committees. The response from our intelligence agencies has been underwhelming, to put it mildly. Worse, I have documented occasions where the CIA has outright lied to me. While the mid-level bureaucrats at Langley may not be interested in what I have to say, their new boss is. Porter Goss has all of the information I have gathered, and I know he is ready to do what it takes to challenge the circle-the-wagons culture of the CIA. And Pete Hoekstra, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is energized as well. Director Goss and Chairman Hoekstra are both outstanding leaders that know each other well from their work together in the House of Representatives, and I will continue to strongly support their efforts at reform.
All of this background leads to the reason I am writing to you today. Yesterday the national news media began in-depth coverage of a story that is not new. In fact, I have been talking about it for some time. From 1998 to 2001, Army Intelligence and Special Operations Command spearheaded an effort called Able Danger that was intended to map out al Qaeda. According to individuals that were part of the project, Able Danger identified Mohammed Atta as a terrorist threat before 9/11. Team members believed that the Atta cell in Brooklyn should be subject to closer scrutiny, but somewhere along the food chain of Administration bureaucrats and lawyers, a decision was made in late 2000 against passing the information to the FBI. These details are understandably of great interest to the American people, thus the recent media frenzy. However I have spoken on this topic for some time, in the House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, on the floor of the House on June 27, 2005, and at various speaking engagements.
The impetus for this letter is my extreme disappointment in the recent, and false, claim of the 9-11 Commission staff that the Commission was never given access to any information on Able Danger. The 9-11 Commission staff received not one but two briefings on Able Danger from former team members, yet did not pursue the matter. Furthermore, commissioners never returned calls from a defense intelligence official that had made contact with them to discuss this issue as a follow on to a previous meeting.
In retrospect, it appears that my own suggestions to the Commission might have directed investigators in the direction of Able Danger, had they been heeded. I personally reached out to members of the Commission several times with information on the need for a national collaborative capability, of which Able Danger was a prototype. In the context of those discussions, I referenced LIWA and the work it had been doing prior to 9/11. My chief of staff physically handed a package containing this information to one of the commissioners at your Commission’s appearance on April 13, 2004 in the Hart Senate Office Building. I have spoken with Governor Kean by phone on this subject, and my office delivered a package with this information to the 9-11 Commission staff via courier. When the Commission briefed Congress with their findings on July 22, 2004, I asked the very first question in exasperation: “Why didn’t you let Members of Congress who were involved in these issues testify before, or meet with, the Commission?”
The 9-11 Commission took a very high-profile role in critiquing intelligence agencies that refused to listen to outside information. The commissioners very publicly expressed their disapproval of agencies and departments that would not entertain ideas that did not originate in-house. Therefore it is no small irony that the Commission would in the end prove to be guilty of the very same offense when information of potentially critical importance was brought to its attention. The Commission’s refusal to investigate Able Danger after being notified of its existence, and its recent efforts to feign ignorance of the project while blaming others for supposedly withholding information on it, brings shame on the commissioners, and is evocative of the worst tendencies in the federal government that the Commission worked to expose.
Questions remain to be answered. The first: What lawyers in the Department of Defense made the decision in late 2000 not to pass the information from Able Danger to the FBI? And second: Why did the 9-11 Commission staff not find it necessary to pass this information to the Commissioners, and why did the 9-11 Commission staff not request full documentation of Able Danger from the team member that volunteered the information?
Answering these questions is the work of the commissioners now, and fear of tarnishing the Commission’s legacy cannot be allowed to override the truth. The American people are counting on you not to “go native” by succumbing to the very temptations your Commission was assembled to indict. In the meantime, I have shared all that I know on this topic with the congressional committee chairmen that have oversight over the Department of Defense, the CIA, the FBI, and the rest of our intelligence gathering and analyzing agencies. You can rest assured that Congress will share your interest in how it is that this critical information is only now seeing the light of day.
Member of Congress
Fred F. Fielding
Jamie S. Gorelick
John F. Lehman
Timothy J. Roemer
James R. Thompson
See also: August 12, 2005
Kean-Hamilton Statement on ABLE DANGER