The Corner

Does Lt. Col Shaffer Have An “Associative Memory”?

Interesting e-mail from reader B.G.: “I believe your skepticism regarding Lt. Col. Shaffer’s memory – ‘whether the otherwise obscure name of “Mohammed Atta” might have become part of their recollections after the fact because it became so famous’ – deserves your reevaluation.

“I would contend that whatever Shaffer knew about Mohammed Atta and the Brooklyn cell would have been reinforced in, and not ‘become part of,’ Shaffer’s memory on and in the days immediately after 9/11. Other elements of the story, such as having three meetings to transfer this information cancelled at the last minute, and the resulting feelings of frustration, would suggest that these inter-related memories were more strongly ingrained in his memory—at the time they occurred—than other things of which he was also aware. There’s also the issue of associative memory—Able Danger was engaged in linking information and as a liaison Shaffer undoubtedly understood the nature of its work—in that (if Shaffer indeed has a strongly associative memory) his conciously recallable memories would have expanded as he probed his memory for relevant information, after the stimulus of hearing Atta’s name and seeing his face immediately after 9/11.

“It would be worthwhile to ask Lt. Col. Shaffer if he has a visual memory. It has been my experience that many of those who do not have a visual memory (and they vary in the way the function) do not appreciate or understand the associative power that a person’s memory may possess. If Shaffer’s memory (and thinking) is visually based, it’s likely that he had a flood of associated memories triggered by seeing Atta’s face on TV after the 9/11 attack.”

If any of the radio talk-show hosts who will be interviewing Lt. Col. Shaffer today is reading this, it might make for an interesting question — does he have an associative memory? How can he be sure about Atta’s name when it was among a list of 60 others? Not to mention the other three hijackers he mentions?

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