WASHINGTON – Aides to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (search), R-Pa., are actively discussing scheduling a hearing on "Able Danger" and the larger issue of information-sharing between the Pentagon and the FBI, FOX News has confirmed.
Able Danger (search) is the code name for a military-intelligence unit that apparently learned a year before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that lead hijacker Mohamed Atta (search) and other terrorists were already in the United States.
One of the central Able Danger claims — that military lawyers blocked the sharing of the Atta information from the FBI in the late summer and early fall of 2000 — will be a focus of the committee if a hearing takes place, FOX News has confirmed.
Though no date has been set for any hearings, Specter sent a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller on Wednesday asking the agency to provide to the committee "all information and documents it has in connection with Able Danger, Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer, Captain Scott Philpott or any other persons having any connections with Project Able Danger, including, but not limited to, e-mail communication, notes, phone message slips, memos or any other supporting documentation."
Specter also asked Mueller to make available FBI agent Xanthig Mangum to meet with his staff. Mangum is reported to have corresponded in 2000 with Shaffer, who helped run Able Danger's mission and has offered to testify on its findings, about scheduling a meeting between Able Danger and FBI staffs. No meeting ever took place.
Shaffer, Philpott and another analyst involved with Able Danger have recently gone public with their findings, saying they were discouraged from looking further into Atta, and their attempts to share their information with the FBI were thwarted because Atta was a legal foreign visitor at the time.
"This story needs to be told. The American people need to be told what could have been done to prevent 3,000 people from losing their lives," said Rep. Curt Weldon (search), R-Pa.
Weldon drew attention to Able Danger by speaking about it on the House floor and publicly calling for the Sept. 11 commission to explain why the intelligence information wasn't detailed in its final report.
Shaffer and Philpott claim that in October 2003 they told commission staffers of the presence of Al Qaeda operatives in the United States in 2000.
The Pentagon has been looking into what it knew and when it knew it, but spokesman Larry DiRita on Monday said defense officials have not been able to verify the Able Danger claims so far.
"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. At a certain point, we'll decide we have looked long enough and welcome anyone else coming forward with additional information," the Pentagon said in a statement.
A Pentagon spokesman confirmed Thursday that the department has interviewed both Shaffer and Philpott as part of its investigation.
But Weldon on Thursday urged the Pentagon not to issue any more statements on Able Danger until its findings are complete.
Weldon said in a statement that doing so "might give the unfortunate impression that its results are predetermined."
The congressman said he spoke to DiRita on Wednesday and that "he was backpedaling left and right," claiming he was misquoted about the status of the search.
"There's something very sinister going on here that really troubles me," Weldon told FOX News on Thursday, blasting the Sept. 11 commission (search) for not taking the claims more seriously. He said some panel members were trying to smear Shaffer and Able Danger.
"What's the Sept. 11 commission got to hide?" Weldon asked. "The commission is trying to spin this because they're embarrassed about what's coming out. In two weeks with two staffers, I've uncovered more in this regard than they did with 80 staffers and $15 million of taxpayer money."
Sept. 11 commission Chairman Thomas Kean recently told FOX News that the panel is waiting for a response from the Pentagon. Until then, the commission has stood by its work, maintaining that no documents they received from the military backed up the Atta claims.
Weldon added that at least five people on the federal payroll will testify under oath about the validity of the Able Danger intelligence.
According to Weldon, the FBI in September 2000 set up meetings with special operations officers on three separate occasions to transfer the Atta and Al Qaeda (search) information, but the transfers never took place.
Weldon said not only was Specter planning hearings on Able Danger, but that he also spoke with House Speaker Dennis Hastert about focusing more attention on the matter.
"When this is over, the Sept. 11 commission is going to have egg all over their face," he said.
FOX News' Catherine Herridge, Molly Hooper and Liza Porteus contributed to this report.