Friday, September 22, 2006

Pentagon dismisses September 11 intelligence claims

Pentagon dismisses September 11 intelligence claims
By Kristin Roberts and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon's inspector general on Thursday dismissed claims that an Army intelligence unit code-named Able Danger uncovered data that could have thwarted the September 11 attacks, saying the allegations could not be substantiated.

"Able Danger team members did not identify Mohamed Atta or any other 9/11 hijacker," Acting Pentagon Inspector General Thomas Gimble wrote. "In fact, Able Danger produced no actionable intelligence information," Gimble said in the 71-page report to Defense Department officials.

The probe into claims made by former Able Danger members and their champion in Congress, Republican Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, also found unit members were not prohibited from sharing information with the FBI, as they had claimed.

Gimble's report also dismissed allegations that Defense Department officials retaliated against former Defense Intelligence Agency liaison officer Lt. Col Anthony Shaffer for his disclosures.

But the report was roundly criticized by Weldon and an attorney for Shaffer. Both disputed the findings and said the inspector general ignored testimony that backed Shaffer's statements.

"Acting in a sickening bureaucratic manner, the (inspector general) cherry picked testimony from witnesses in an effort to minimize the historical importance of the Able Danger effort," Weldon said. "I question their motives and the content of this report, and I reject the conclusions they have drawn."

Able Danger, disbanded in early 2001, was a data-mining operation that used state-of-the-art computer technology to glean information about international terrorism, specifically al Qaeda, from media reports, government data bases and other publicly available sources.


Former unit members and Weldon have held for more than a year that Able Danger discovered intelligence in 2000 on Atta and others that should have been a tip-off of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and led to the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

Shaffer has said Pentagon lawyers prevented the team from warning the FBI. Others associated with Able Danger, including the team's former leader, Navy Capt. Scott Phillpott, have made statements similar to Shaffer's.

According to the inspector's report, investigators interviewed four witnesses who claimed to have seen a chart depicting Atta and possibly other terrorists or "cells" involved in the attacks.

But they determined the witnesses' recollections were not accurate and that testimony varied significantly.

In addition, the inspector general concluded that the destruction of Able Danger documents was appropriate and complied with regulations and the data-mining program was not shuttered prematurely.

The probe also addressed Shaffer's claims that the Defense Department retaliated against him by revoking his access to classified information and his security clearance, effectively ending his career as an intelligence officer.

The inspector general said the action was not the result of Shaffer's public statements.

"We found that the action was based on misconduct by LTC Shaffer that was substantiated during an official (Defense Intelligence Agency inspector general) investigation taken together with other security-related issues," the report said.

Shaffer's attorney rejected the report's conclusions.

"The report seems to give more weight and credence to those who have changed their stories than those who have stayed consistent," said Mark Zaid. "Tony Shaffer's been the only one throughout the entire time who has stayed consistent with what he recalls he either knew personally or was told."

The inspector general began reviewing the case of Able Danger in late 2005 after written requests from several members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The inspector general's report follows an earlier exhaustive Pentagon search of tens of thousands of documents and electronic files related to the operation. That probe also failed to corroborate the claims.