Friday , August 19, 2005
WASHINGTON —The Pentagon is taking a hard look at the issue of whether a military intelligence group called Able Danger (search) had information that the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was in the United States more than a year before the United States.
Defense Department officials are going through nearly 200,000 documents to see what information they had about terrorist Mohammed Atta (search) and three of his co-conspirators, and what was done with that information.
Some intelligence analysts involved in Able Danger claim attempts were made to give the information to the FBI but the transfer never occurred. At least one analyst, Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer (search), claims that the Sept. 11 commission probing intelligence failures around the terror attacks was told of Able Danger's findings. But the commission denies that enough information about Atta was given that it would raise red flags or merit putting in its final report.
Sources close to the Pentagon review told FOX News that they've found no information so far to either support or refute the claims.
Shaffer and Rep. Curt Weldon (search), R-Pa., are the ones who have gone public with the Able Danger information.
But now, questions are being raised about Shaffer. His security clearance was suspended last year and he's on administrative leave from the Defense Department. Anonymous defense officials floated stories this week about Shaffer's security clearance and some of his alleged relationships — none of which have much to do with the Able Danger issue.
Shaffer's lawyer, Mark Zaid, said this week that Shaffer does not have documentation related to Able Danger because his security clearance was suspended in March 2004 for "petty and frivolous" reasons. They include a dispute over mileage reimbursement and a charges for personal calls on a work cell phone, Zaid said.
On Thursday, Shaffer was on Capitol Hill to brief staffers who work for Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A congressional source told FOX News that hearings could be in the cards this fall over Able Danger's findings and its omission from the Sept. 11 commission's report issued last year. Neither Specter's office nor Shaffer would confirm a plan for hearings.
"I think I can safely say that anyone who is involved in this project will do anything we can to [go to] the appropriate venue [to] present all the truth that we are aware of in the appropriate time and place," Shaffer told FOX News.
Shaffer said in an interview on FOX News' "Hannity and Colmes" Thursday night that he and a fellow officer — a Navy captain — briefed the commission on Able Danger's findings.
"The fact is this — they were told not once but twice," he said.
Shaffer conceded that during his own personal briefing of Sept. 11 commission staffers in Afghanistan in Oct. 2003, he didn't specifically name the terrorists. Instead, he detailed how Able Danger had uncovered information about three terror cells with the use of then-advanced data-mining techniques.
Shaffer also claims that Able Danger members were basically dissuaded from further investigating Atta because he was here as a foreign visitor. He said a two-star general above him was "very adament" about not looking further at Atta.
"I was directed several times [to ignore Atta], to the point where he had to remind me he was a general and I was not ... [and] I would essentially be fired," Shaffer told FOX News.
The former chairman of the Sept. 11 commission said in a telephone interview that he believes the onus is on the Pentagon to do a speedy evaluation of the claims by Shaffer and others that Atta and three other hijackers had been identified one year before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"The files are in the possession of the Defense Department, so really nobody else besides the administration can get to the bottom of it ... if there exists a file on Able Danger," said Chairman Tom Kean.
While making no judgment on the veracity of the claims, former commissioner Tim Roemer said inconsistencies are appearing between the story and the facts that the commission knows.
For one, Roemer asked how Able Danger got a photo of Atta in 2000 for its alleged chart of terrorists when he had not yet applied for a U.S. visa.
"If Atta's name is mentioned, you send off a host of fire alarms, neon lights, people's hair gets on fire and you're going to find out what that's all about. But you also need evidence, you can't just say here's my recollection of something I thought I saw in a notebook. You've got to say, 'Here is the chart,'" Roemer said.
Able Danger was not included in the final commission report because three separate commission requests did not yield Pentagon documents that could confirm that a military unit had identified any of the future hijackers, Kean said.
"We'll be mad as hell frankly if stuff was withheld from us. That would be terrible. So I, you know, until we have the answer from the administration, I don't think anybody is in a position to say something is true or not true," Kean said.
But Weldon said the commission is passing the buck.
"I'm not going to let them blame the Pentagon because the military officers that offered to brief them offered on two different occasions," he said.
Kean said the commission had initially been promised a statement from the Defense Department last week. Military officials are investigating the Atta allegations and combing through documents. Kean said congressional hearings could be helpful, but little can move forward until the Pentagon issues its findings.
FOX News' Greg Kelly and Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.