Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pentagon denies data program gave September 11 clues

Pentagon denies data program gave September 11 clues

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Wednesday said it found no evidence that a computer data-mining program it operated before the September 11 attacks uncovered information that could have thwarted the attacks if it had been acted on.

But a defense intelligence officer and two contractors who worked on the secret program told a congressional committee the secret data-mining operation called "Able Danger" revealed intelligence on September 11 mastermind Mohammed Atta and others that should have been a tip-off of the attacks.

Rep. Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican who has spearheaded a probe of whether intelligence from Able Danger was wrongly brushed aside, blasted the Pentagon's review as incomplete.

"It's the fact that people are going to have egg on their face" over what should have been done with the intelligence, Weldon said at a House of Representatives Armed Services subcommittee hearing.

Stephen Cambone, under secretary of defense intelligence, said he had a team conduct a broad review of the program that ended in 2000 and was a pilot for current data mining operations.

Cambone said the review found no charts with information on Atta, no evidence that the Defense Department deliberately withheld Able Danger information from the FBI, and no evidence that Able Danger information was destroyed inappropriately.

Weldon has brought forward people who worked on the program who said it produced charts with Atta's name and photograph, as well as identifying three other hijackers as al Qaeda members.

The subcommittee went into a closed session to hear from additional witnesses on the program.

Weldon said the program identified "hot spots" including Yemen before the bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole at a Yemen port, and New York and Hamburg, Germany, which had al Qaeda cells that were key in the September 11 attacks that killed 3,000 people.

Weldon also blasted the commission that probed the September 11th attacks for failing to pursue questions about the Able Danger program, saying its members "have done everything they can to not have this story be told."

Commissioners have said they have not seen charts or other evidence that Able Danger produced such key intelligence.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, a defense intelligence officer who worked on the program, told lawmakers that Phillip Zelikow, the commission's staff director, asked Shaffer to contact him about the program. But Shaffer said he later was told the commission had all the information it required and did not need to speak to him.

Cambone said the Pentagon turned over documents on the program to the commission.

Cambone said data from Able Danger were destroyed because of privacy laws as the program swept up large amounts of information, most of which was not relevant to foreign intelligence or terrorism.