Wednesday, August 17, 2005

'Able Danger'/Brick Wall

Officer: 'Able Danger' Stopped from Informing FBI

WASHINGTON - An Army intelligence officer said Wednesday he does not believe the 9/11 commission pressed hard enough for documentation of claims that military intelligence found a U.S.-based terrorist cell that included Mohamed Atta, who turned out to be the leader of the Sept. 11 attacks, prior to the terrorist strikes.

"I don't believe they ever got all the documents, but then again I don't think that they pressed properly to get all of the documents," Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer said on CBS' "The Early Show."

He says he was associated with a small intelligence unit, called "Able Danger," that had identified Atta and three of the other future Sept. 11 hijackers as al-Qaida members by mid-2000.

He said military lawyers stopped the unit from sharing the information with the FBI out of concerns about gathering and sharing information on people in the United States legally.

"What we were trying to do as good soldiers is we saw a threat, we recognized the fact that they were here in the United States and we felt we should do something even when the lawyers said we couldn't," Shaffer said.

"The problem was at the time the Special Operations Command is very secretive, quiet warriors," he said. "They like doing things quietly. I had to respect their wishes, to respect the sanctity of that information. What I tried to do was bring them together with the FBI so they could discuss this and take the appropriate action."

The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks left the Able Danger claims out of its official report and has since said it did not obtain enough information on the operation to consider it historically significant.

In an interview with Fox News Channel and The New York Times distributed Tuesday evening, Shaffer said the panel was not given all the information his team had gathered.

"I'm told confidently by the person who did move the material over that the 9/11 commission received two briefcase-size containers of documents," Shaffer said in the Fox News report. "I can tell you for a fact that would not be ... one-20th of the information that Able Danger consisted of during the time we spent."

Rep. Curt Weldon (news, bio, voting record), R-Pa., vice chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, has said the Sept. 11 commission did not adequately investigate the claim that four of the hijackers had been identified more than a year before the attacks.

Former commission chairman Thomas Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton said last week that the military official who made the claim had no documentation to back it up.

Shaffer rejected that remark. "Leaving a project targeting al-Qaida as a global threat a year before we were attacked by al-Qaida is equivalent to having an investigation of Pearl Harbor and leaving somehow out the Japanese," he said in the Fox interview.

In the Times account of the interview, Shaffer said he was "at the point of near insubordination over the fact that this was something important, that this was something that should have been pursued" in describing his efforts to get the evidence from the intelligence program to the FBI in 2000 and early 2001.



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