WASHINGTON – A second military officer has publicly backed claims by a military intelligence officer that a Pentagon unit named "Able Danger" (search) identified lead Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta (search) in early 2000 as a security risk.
Navy Capt. Scott Phillpott (search) told FOX News in a statement Monday evening that the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks was identified as someone with ties to known terrorists. Phillpott, a 22-year active duty serviceman, would not provide more detail, except to say that he is going through the proper channels at the Department of Defense.
"I will not discuss this outside of my chain of command. I have briefed the Department of the Army, the Special Operations Command and the office of (Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence) Dr. Cambone as well as the 9/11 Commission. My story has remained consistent. Atta was identified by Able Danger in January/February 2000," he wrote.
Phillpott is a decorated officer who briefed the Sept. 11 commission in July 2004 before its final report was issued. His statement appears to back up claims first brought forward by Rep. Curt Weldon (search), R-Pa., who has led the charge on this story.
Weldon's claims also seem to be backed up by a defense contractor who says he worked on Able Danger and for the first time has offered an explanation of how Atta's name surfaced in the investigation. J.D. Smith told FOX News that he coordinated the information sources, reported to the government on the project's spending and generated some of the charts, including the "Al Qaeda Global Map" that had Atta's name on it. He added that he saw Atta's photo during the unit's investigation.
Smith said one way the unit came to know Atta was through Omar Abdul Rahman (search), part of the first World Trade Center (search) bomb plot in 1993. Smith said Able Danger used data mining techniques — publicly available information — to look at mosques and religious ties and it was, in part, through the investigation of Rahman that Atta's name surfaced.
The Sept. 11 commission determined in its report that intelligence agencies did not learn of Atta until after the attacks happened. The claims by Phillpot and Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer (search) contradict that. They say that Pentagon lawyers prevented the sharing of the information with the FBI because Atta was in the country legally.
In a statement to FOX News, Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita said he is not certain the Pentagon can substantiate the claims made by the officers.
"There appear to be more memories than there is information to substantiate those memories. We're reviewing the matter carefully, but thus far have not found what it is these handful of individuals seem to remember," he said.
DiRita also suggested on Monday that Phillpott and others should have documentation to back up their claims. But two sources who worked on Able Danger told FOX News that it was a classified project and it would be illegal for them to retain documents for personal use.