CNN - Publicly identifying himself for the first time, a former member of a classified Pentagon intelligence unit elaborated on what he claims were attempts he made to share information about potential al Qaeda operatives in the United States before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims he alerted the FBI in September 2000 about the information uncovered by the secret military unit "Able Danger," but he says three meetings he set up with bureau officials were allegedly blocked by military lawyers, according to Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., who has set up interviews for Shaffer.
Last week, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the chairman and vice-chairman of the now-defunct 9/11 Commission, said in a statement that Able Danger "did not turn out to be historically significant, set against the larger context of U.S. policy and intelligence efforts that involved (Osama) bin Laden and al Qaeda."
Shaffer has refused to reveal his identity up until now. Weldon has discussed in the past week the allegations of the blocked meetings.
Shaffer and Weldon allege there was information developed in September 2000 by the Able Danger unit identifying Mohamed Atta as a potential al Qaeda operative in the United States.
They have said the information was developed from "open source" public material, but have not provided any details.
Weldon told CNN on Tuesday Shaffer set up the meetings with FBI officials at the time, but they were all canceled because lawyers for the Special Forces unit -- of which Able Danger was a member -- were allegedly concerned military authorities could not legally share information with domestic law enforcement about potential terror suspects in the United States.
"I was at the point of near insubordination over the fact that this was something important, that this was something that should have been pursued," Shaffer told The New York Times in Wednesday's editions.
Since the allegations gained renewed media interest last week, military officials have said they were looking into Shaffer's allegations and refused to comment further.
Shaffer also met with the 9/11 Commission when it was investigating the government failures that preceded the terror attacks.
After criticism from Weldon and others saying the panel erred in not including these allegations in its final report, Kean and Hamilton issued the statement last week.
Shaffer has identified himself now because "he wants to set the record straight," Weldon told CNN.
In their joint written statement, Kean and Hamilton said the 9/11 Commission first became aware of Able Danger on Oct. 21, 2003, when then-executive director Philip Zelikow and two staffers met at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan with three individuals doing intelligence work for the Defense Department.
One of the intelligence officers urged the commission to look into Able Danger and complained that Congress had "ended a human intelligence network he considered valuable."
Kean and Hamilton said the official memorandum from that meeting does not mention that Atta's name or any of the other hijackers' names were brought up during the conversation.
According to The New York Times, Shaffer claims he participated in the October 2003 meeting.
Separately, Kean and Hamilton said a senior 9/11 Commission staffer met with a "U.S. Navy officer employed at DOD who was seeking to be interviewed by commission staff in connection with a data mining project on which he had worked."
But they said the officer's "account was not sufficiently reliable" to include in the final report.
That meeting, they said, took place on July 12, 2004, when the commission's final report was already well into the final stages -- the final report was released on July 22.
The meeting included the senior commission staff member, another staffer, the Navy officer and another Defense Department representative.
According to the official record of the meeting, the officer "recalled seeing the name and photo of Mohammed Atta on an 'analyst notebook chart' assembled by another officer," Kean and Hamilton said.
"The officer being interviewed said he saw this material only briefly, that the relevant material dated from February through April 2000, and that it showed Mohammed Atta to be a member of an al Qaeda cell located in Brooklyn," the joint statement said.
"The officer complained that this information and information about other alleged members of a Brooklyn cell had been soon afterward deleted from the document because DOD lawyers were concerned about the propriety of DOD intelligence efforts that might be focused inside the United States."
But the officer "could not describe what information had led to this supposed Atta identification. Nor could the interviewee recall, when questioned, any details about how he thought a link to Atta could have been made by this DOD program in 2000 or any time before 9/11," the statement said.
Kean and Hamilton said Pentagon "documents had mentioned nothing about Atta, nor had anyone come forward between September 2001 and July 2004 with any similar information."
"Weighing this with the information about Atta's actual activities, the negligible information available about Atta to other U.S. government agencies and the German government before 9/11, and the interviewer's assessment of the interviewee's knowledge and credibility, the Commission staff concluded that the officer's account was not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation."
The commission did seek information about the covert operation, eventually resulting in the meeting with the Navy officer in July 2004, they said.
Although the final report did not mention Able Danger by name, the information the commission received about it "contributed to the commission's depiction of intelligence efforts against al Qaeda before 9/11."
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Able Danger man identifies himself