Former Director Freeh and Congressman Weldon respond to 9/11 Commission Co-Chairs on Able Danger
What did the 9/11 Commission know and when did they know it? That’s what I want somebody with subpoena power to ask about Operation Able Danger.
Or, as former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said to me today, “Why is the 9/11 Commission talking about hurricanes and tunnels and all these other things when it looks like they may have missed the single most important fact with respect to September 11th?”
Freeh was answering my request for a response to comments made by Lee Hamilton and Tom Kean on Meet the Press, yesterday.
And he said much more. But first some background.
Operation Able Danger was a intelligence data mining process that – according to several of its participants – identified Mohamed Atta well in advance of 9/11 as a potential bad guy in this country to do bad things. One of those individuals, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, has told me that in the summer of 2000, government lawyers, using an information sharing argument, prevented Able Danger representatives from getting the information about Atta to the FBI.
“We didn’t make it to the FBI, and that was the problem,” he told me. “We had information initiated by the Army. It was what they call ‘open source’ information which suggested that some of those bad guys, including Atta and three of his associates, were themselves associated with the Brooklyn cell. That was information that the lawyers said, ‘ah, they are here legally’, and put stickies over their faces.”
Stickies? He’s talking about the yellow things, the post-it notes.
In other words, the response of government lawyers to the identification by Able Danger of Mohamed Atta, was to put a post-it note over his face, literally taking him off of the government radar screen.
Fast forward two years after 9/11, Shaffer was in Afghanistan in service to his country. His work in the field of human intelligence operations would earn him a bronze star. While he was in Afghanistan, the word went out that the 9/11 Commission was coming to town, and anyone with information about events of significance pre-9/11 should make themselves known. He did - to no less than the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow. He told me that he told Zelikow about Able Danger and Atta.
“My bottom line to them was that through a data processing exercise, we were able to identify two of the cells which conducted the 9/11 attack to include Atta.”
One would think that the revelation about Atta would have been one of the most significant aspects of the work of the 9/11 Commission. Instead, it was not even mentioned in the 664-page final book report.
Congressman Curt Weldon has appropriately been on the warpath asking why the 9/11 Commission was silent about Able Danger. And he wants to know what happened to the chart that was presented in the Summer of 2000, the one that got the “stickies”.
Weldon is not the only one asking questions. So too is Louis Freeh, who wrote a widely circulated Wall Street Journal article on the subject last month.
Yesterday, Tim Russert asked the 9/11 Commission co-chairs to respond to Freeh.
Lee Hamilton told Russert: “Look, we looked at Able Danger very, very carefully. We do not think there was anything there of great significance. Now, something could come out in the future. I don't know. But in Mr. Freeh's article he did not present any new evidence at all. Our investigators were informed about Able Danger. We requested all of the documents relating to Able Danger. We reviewed these documents. We had investigators meet with some of these people in Afghanistan and other places. The bottom line is that they can furnish no documentary evidence to support their charges that they had a chart, for example, with Mohamed Atta's name on it.”
Tom Kean agreed.
“We had an awful lot of people coming forward, 50 or 60, saying they saw Mohamed Atta here, they saw Mohamed Atta there; they had this and that. There was absolutely no evidence to back this up. There still isn't any evidence to back it up. If people want to look into it, they're welcome to. We still haven't seen the evidence to indicate it. We saw every file. The Pentagon denies it. They say they haven't gotten any information.”
Today, I had the opportunity to ask former Director Freeh to respond. He was very direct.
“We had given the Commission the mandate of looking at any and all relevant information to figure out what happened with respect to September 11: why did it occur, what law enforcement, intelligence, government, and private agencies had a stake in that or input into it, and come up with the definitive report to explain to the American people and the world, our take and our evaluation of the evidence with respect to 9/11. Not even a footnote in the report was about Able Danger when we have two very credible military intelligence experts - these aren’t day loaders – who say that Atta was identified a year prior to September 11th at least by name, and maybe by photo, and more importantly, that they gave this information to the 9/11 Commission staff members ten days before final report’s release, and yet not a footnote and not a reference. In hindsight, when confronted with this, somebody on behalf of the Commission said this was ‘historically insignificant’. Well, the Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating this, the question is why didn’t the 9/11 Commission investigate it?”
Freeh called the words of Hamilton and Kean a “silly response”.
And he underscored that the Able Danger participants who have come forward “are not informants or criminals who have to prove their case. They are intelligence officers who had that job to perform.”
“I take exception to this notion that it was fully investigated. The longest period of time they had was 10-days. That was what they had. How could you fully investigate, with all due respect to Mr. Hamilton who is not an investigator, a fact of that potential significance within ten days?” wondered Freeh.
“As for me reviewing new evidence, that is not my job. It was the 9/11 Commission job to go out and not only find, but to fully and fairly evaluate evidence, and how could they do that in ten days, it is ridiculous,” Freeh continued.
While I was interviewing Director Freeh, Congressman Curt Weldon called. He was much more blunt.
“Lee Hamilton has just lied to the American people. They did NO investigation.”
Somebody ask the Howard Baker question, please.