A day or two ago, I posted a note of caution about the Able Danger scandal, and that note of caution has now turned into a full-fledged symphony — and some of us on the Right who have been making a big stink about this may have been had.
The 9/11 Commission has put out a very detailed memo defending itself that basically says Rep. Curt Weldon and the unnamed Navy officers who have made a big stink about Able Danger are stretching it bigtime. The basis of their charge is two-fold:
First, that 9/11 staffers met with folks in Afghanistan in 2003 who told them about Able Danger and that Mohammed Atta had been identified by that military-intelligence operation. Here’s what the commission says: “As with their other meetings, Commission staff promptly prepared a memorandum for the record. That memorandum, prepared at the time, does not record any mention of Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers, or any suggestion that their identities were known to anyone at DOD before 9/11. Nor do any of the three Commission staffers who participated in the interview, or the executive branch lawyer, recall hearing any such allegation.”
What’s more, in February 2004, commission staff members read Able Danger documents at the Pentagon: “None of the documents turned over to the Commission mention Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers. Nor do any of the staff notes on documents reviewed in the DOD reading room indicate that Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers were mentioned in any of those documents.”
That’s about as strong a denial as there can be, and it sounds credible to me.
The second part of the charge is that in July 2004, the Commission met with the unnamed Naval officer. Here’s its description of what happened: “
In early July 2004…the prospective witness was claiming that the project had linked Atta to an al Qaeda cell located in New York in the 1999-2000 time frame. Shortly after
receiving this information, the Commission staff’s front office assigned two staff
members with knowledge of the 9/11 plot and the ABLE DANGER operation to
interview the witness at one of the Commission’s Washington, D.C. offices….
“According to the memorandum for the record on this meeting, prepared the next day…, the officer said that ABLE DANGER included work on ‘link
analysis,’ mapping links among various people involved in terrorist networks.
According to this record, the officer recalled seeing the name and photo of
Mohamed Atta on an ‘analyst notebook chart’….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
Mohamed Atta to be a member of an al Qaeda cell located in Brooklyn.”
We now know that there were 60-odd names on that chart. Is it really plausible that this Navy officer specifically recalled the name “Mohammed Atta” and the image of his face? Especially since there is no documentary record to support his charge in Defense Department files, at least not in the files shown to the 9/11 Commission?
I submit there is good reason to believe the Navy officer may have been extrapolating because he was so upset to discover that the “data mining” operation he found out about wasn’t being properly shared with domestic law-enforcement agencies. And without more proof than a four-year-old memory that may have been faulty, the Commission was right to be skeptical about the value of this testimony.
As for Curt Weldon, remember that he’s trying to sell a book. It’s now up to him to put up or shut up. Can he or anyone else supply evidence stronger than the evidence presented to date about this that the Pentagon was in possession of Mohammed Atta’s name a year before the attacks? I doubt he can or he would have already.
UPDATE: Over at TKS, filed at almost exactly the same time as my report, the estimable Jim Geraghty comes to almost exactly the same conclusion I have.