hopperbach


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Pentagon says we can't handle the truth

Able Danger has just gotten very interesting again. The New York Times reports that on the eve of the scheduled Senate hearings on the data-mining program, the Pentagon has suddenly stepped in to silence some of the key players:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20 - The Pentagon said today that it had blocked a group of military officers and intelligence analysts from testifying at an open Congressional hearing about a highly classified military intelligence program that, the officers have said, identified a ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks as a potential terrorist more than a year before the attacks.

The announcement came a day before the officers and intelligence analysts had been scheduled to testify about the program, known as Able Danger, at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Bryan Whitman, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement that open testimony about the program "would not be appropriate - we have expressed our security concerns and believe it is simply not possible to discuss Able Danger in any great detail in an open public forum." He offered no other detail on the Pentagon's reasoning in blocking the testimony.

Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the committee, said he was surprised by the Pentagon's decision because "so much of this has already been in the public domain, and I think that the American people need to know what happened here."

Mr. Specter said in a telephone interview that he intended to go ahead with the hearing on Wednesday and hoped that it "may produce a change of heart by the Department of Defense in answering some very basic questions."

Two military officers - an active-duty Navy captain and a reservist Army lieutenant colonel - have said publicly in recent weeks that they were involved with Able Danger and that the program's analysts identified Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian-born ringleader of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, by name as a potential terrorist by early 2000.

They said they attempted to share the information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the summer of 2000, more than a year before the terrorist attacks, but were blocked by Defense Department lawyers. F.B.I. officials, who answer to the jurisdiction of Senator Specter's committee, have confirmed that Defense Department abruptly canceled meetings in 2000 between the bureau's Washington field office and representatives of the Able Danger team.

The Pentagon has said that it has interviewed three other people who were involved with Able Danger and who said that they, too, recalled the identification of Mr. Atta as a terrorist suspect. But Defense Department investigators said they could find no documentary evidence to back up the assertion; they acknowledged that much of the information might have been routinely destroyed.

Mr. Specter said his staff had talked to all five of the potential witnesses and found that "credibility has been established" for all of them.

"There are quite a few credible people who are prepared to testify that Mohamed Atta was identified long before 9/11," he said. "Now maybe there's more than one Mohamed Atta. Or maybe there's some mistake. But that's what we're trying to find out."

Mr. Whitman, the Pentagon spokesman, said that in place of members of the Able Danger team, a senior defense official would be sent to the Wednesday hearing to discuss "what the law and policies are on domestic surveillance and to provide some insights about information-sharing between agencies."


Not a good PR move on the Pentagon's part. This will only intensify the appearance that they are protecting someone and the abruptness of this clampdown will likely have the unintended consequences of re-awakening a story that had almost died. Still, there may not be much that can be done at this point.

But, we have to remember that Rep. Curt Weldon is on the case and had been among those scheduled to testify in these hearings. Safe to say he has no intentions of letting go of the matter any time soon and I'm sure he'll do whatever he can to get the facts out. I am still convinced that a copy of the famous "Atta" chart will make an appearance in the near future.



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