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Context of 'August 9, 2005: New York Times Reveals Able Danger Unit that Identified Four 9/11 Hijackers Before Attacks'

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The Marienstrasse building.The Marienstrasse building. [Source: Associated Press]Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, al-Qaeda operatives Said Bahaji and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and others in the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell move into a four bedroom apartment at 54 Marienstrasse, in Hamburg, Germany, and some of them stay there until February 2001. Investigators will later believe this move marks the formation of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2002; New York Times, 9/10/2002] Up to six men at a time live at the apartment, including, at times, 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi and cell member Zakariya Essabar. Alshehhi moves out after the first month; it is unclear why. [New York Times, 9/15/2001] During the 28 months Atta’s name is on the apartment lease, 29 Middle Eastern or North African men register the apartment as their home address.
Surveillance of Bahaji - From the very beginning, the apartment is under surveillance by German intelligence, because of investigations into businessman Mamoun Darkazanli that connect to Bahaji. [Washington Post, 10/23/2001] The Germans also suspect connections between Bahaji and al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Bahaji is directly monitored for at least part of 1998, but German officials will not disclose when the probe began or ends. This investigation is dropped for lack of evidence (see (Late 1998)). [Associated Press, 6/22/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Bahaji moves out in July 1999 and gets married a few months later (see October 9, 1999). [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/29/2011]
Surveillance of El Motassadeq - German intelligence monitors the apartment off and on for months, and wiretaps Mounir El Motassadeq, an associate of the apartment-mates who will later be convicted for assisting the 9/11 plot, but apparently it does not find any indication of suspicious activity (see August 29, 1998). [Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002]
Surveillance of Zammar - Zammar, a talkative man who has trouble keeping secrets, does not live at the apartment, but he is a frequent visitor to the many late night meetings there. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 259-60; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002] He even lives in the apartment for a time in February 1999 (see February 1999). Zammar is the focus of an investigation that began in 1997 and continues until early 2000 (see March 1997-Early 2000). Interest in monitoring him increases in late 1998 (see October 2, 1998).
Surveillance of Atta - The CIA also allegedly starts monitoring Atta in early 2000 while he is living at the apartment, and does not tell Germany of the surveillance (see January-May 2000). Atta leaves Germany to live in the US in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000).
No Direct German Surveillance of the Apartment? - Yet, even though people like Zammar who frequently phone and visit the apartment are monitored, German officials will later claim that the apartment itself is never bugged. An unnamed senior German security official will later say that some surveillance of associated people gives “the impression that the people living there were fanatical believers. At the BfV [Germany’s domestic intelligence agency], we had to decide whether to ask permission to place a wiretap on the line at 54 Marienstrasse itself. We discussed this every day.” But he will claim that they ultimately decide they will not be able to get legal permission for a wiretap because there is no evidence that the apartment’s occupants are breaking any laws. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] This claim that the apartment was not directly monitored seems contradicted by reports that Bahaji was the target of a surveillance investigation when he was living in the Marienstrasse apartment in late 1998 (see (Late 1998)).
What Would More Surveillance Have Uncovered? - It will later be clear that investigators could have found evidence if they looked more thoroughly. For instance, one visitor will recall Atta and others discussing attacking the US. [Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002] 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is in Hamburg several times in 1999 and comes to the apartment. However, although there is a $2 million reward for Mohammed since 1998, the US apparently fails to tell Germany what it knows about him (see 1999). [Newsweek, 9/4/2002; New York Times, 11/4/2002] 9/11 Hijacker Waleed Alshehri also apparently stays at the apartment “at times.” [Washington Post, 9/14/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001] Remarkably, shortly after 9/11, the German government will claim it knew little about the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell before 9/11, and nothing directed it towards the Marienstrasse apartment. [Daily Telegraph, 11/24/2001]

Entity Tags: Mamoun Darkazanli, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Said Bahaji, Marwan Alshehhi, Central Intelligence Agency, Mohamed Atta, Mounir El Motassadeq, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Zakariya Essabar, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bundesamt fur Verfassungsschutz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to some reports, 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is put under surveillance by the CIA while living in Germany during this time. [Agence France-Presse, 9/22/2001; Focus (Munchen), 9/24/2001; Berliner Zeitung (Berlin), 9/24/2001] He is “reportedly observed buying large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently for the production of explosives [and/or] for biological warfare.” “The US agents reported to have trailed Atta are said to have failed to inform the German authorities about their investigation,” even as the Germans are investigating many of his associates. “The disclosure that Atta was being trailed by police long before 11 September raises the question why the attacks could not have been prevented with the man’s arrest.” [Observer, 9/30/2001] A German newspaper adds that Atta is able to get a visa into the US on May 18. According to some reports, the surveillance stops when he leaves for the US at the start of June. However, “experts believe that the suspect [remains] under surveillance in the United States.” [Berliner Zeitung (Berlin), 9/24/2001] A German intelligence official also states, “We can no longer exclude the possibility that the Americans wanted to keep an eye on Atta after his entry in the US.” [Focus (Munchen), 9/24/2001] This correlates with a Newsweek claim that US officials knew Atta was a “known [associate] of Islamic terrorists well before [9/11].” [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 pdf file] However, a congressional inquiry later reports that the US “intelligence community possessed no intelligence or law enforcement information linking 16 of the 19 hijackers [including Atta] to terrorism or terrorist groups.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002] In 2005, after accounts of the Able Danger program learning Atta’s name become news, newspaper accounts will neglect to mention this prior report about Atta being known by US intelligence. For instance, the New York Times will report, “The account [about Able Danger] is the first assertion that Mr. Atta, an Egyptian who became the lead hijacker in the plot, was identified by any American government agency as a potential threat before the Sept. 11 attacks”(see August 9, 2005) . [New York Times, 8/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Erik Kleinsmith.Erik Kleinsmith. [Source: C-SPAN]Maj. Eric Kleinsmith, chief of intelligence for the Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit, is ordered to destroy data and documents related to a military intelligence program set up to gather information about al-Qaeda. The program, called Able Danger, has identified Mohamed Atta and three other future hijackers as potential threats (see January-February 2000). According to Kleinsmith, by April 2000 it has collected “an immense amount of data for analysis that allowed us to map al-Qaeda as a worldwide threat with a surprisingly significant presence within the United States.”(see January-February 2000) [Fox News, 9/21/2005; New York Times, 9/22/2005] The data is being collected on behalf of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert, the J3 at US Special Operations Command, who is said to be extremely upset when he learns that the data had been destroyed without his knowledge or consent. [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] Around this time, a separate LIWA effort showing links between prominent US citizens and the Chinese military has been causing controversy, and apparently this data faces destruction as well (see April 2000). The data and documents have to be destroyed in accordance with Army regulations prohibiting the retention of data about US persons for longer than 90 days, unless it falls under one of several restrictive categories. However, during a Senate Judiciary Committee public hearing in September 2005, a Defense Department representative admits that Mohamed Atta was not considered a US person. The representative also acknowledges that regulations would have probably allowed the Able Danger information to be shared with law enforcement agencies before its destruction. Asked why this was not done, he responds, “I can’t tell you.” [CNET News, 9/21/2005] The order to destroy the data and documents is given to Kleinsmith by Army Intelligence and Security Command General Counsel Tony Gentry, who jokingly tells him, “Remember to delete the data—or you’ll go to jail.” [Government Executive, 9/21/2005] The quantity of information destroyed is later described as “2.5 terabytes,” about as much as one-fourth of all the printed materials in the Library of Congress. [Associated Press, 9/16/2005] Other records associated with the unit are allegedly destroyed in March 2001 and spring 2004 (see Spring 2004). [Associated Press, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005; Fox News, 9/24/2005]

Entity Tags: Able Danger, Eric Kleinsmith, Al-Qaeda, Land Information Warfare Activity, Mohamed Atta, Tony Gentry, Geoffrey Lambert

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert.
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert. [Source: Special Forces Command]Members of a US Army intelligence unit tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda have prepared a chart that includes the names and photographs of four future hijackers, who they have identified as members of an al-Qaeda cell based in Brooklyn, New York. The four hijackers in the cell are Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. The members of the intelligence unit, called Able Danger, present their chart at the headquarters of the US military’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa, Florida, with the recommendation that the FBI should be called in to take out the al-Qaeda cell. Lawyers working for SOCOM argue that anyone with a green card has to be granted the same legal protections as any US citizen, so the information about the al-Qaeda cell cannot be shared with the FBI. The legal team directs them to put yellow stickers over the photographs of Mohamed Atta and the other cell members, to symbolize that they are off limits. [Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/2005; Government Security News, 8/2005; New York Times, 8/9/2005; St. Petersburg Times, 8/10/2005; New York Times, 8/17/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer later says that an unnamed two-star general above him is “very adamant” about not looking further at Atta. “I was directed several times [to ignore Atta], to the point where he had to remind me he was a general and I was not… [and] I would essentially be fired.” [Fox News, 8/19/2005] Military leaders at the meeting take the side of the lawyers and prohibit any sharing of information about the al-Qaeda cell. Shaffer believes that the decision to side with the lawyers is made by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert (who had previously expressed distress when Able Danger data was destroyed without his prior notification (see May-June 2000)). He also believes that Gen. Peter Schoomaker, head of SOCOM, is not aware of the decision. [Government Security News, 9/2005]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Special Operations Command, Marwan Alshehhi, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi, Peter J. Schoomaker, Khalid Almihdhar, Anthony Shaffer, Able Danger, Geoffrey Lambert

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Global Objectives, a British banking compliance company, identifies fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers as high-risk people and establishes profiles for them. The hijackers are regarded as high-risk for loans because they are linked to Osama bin Laden, suspected terrorists, or associates of terrorists. The list of high-risk people maintained by Global Objectives is available to dozens of banks and the hijackers’ files contain their dates and places of birth, aliases, and associates. It is unclear which fifteen hijackers are considered high-risk. It is also unknown if any Western intelligence agencies access this database before 9/11. [Associated Press, 2/21/2002] According to the 9/11 Commission, US intelligence is only aware of three of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, and Khalid Almihdhar, before the attacks. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181-2] However, media reports will suggest US intelligence agencies may have been aware of another six: Ziad Jarrah (see January 30, 2000); Marwan Alshehhi (see March 1999 and January-February 2000); Mohamed Atta (see January-May 2000 and January-February 2000); and Ahmed Alghamdi, Satam al Suqami, and Hamza Alghamdi (see September 2000 and Spring 2001).

Entity Tags: Saeed Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, Waleed Alshehri, Nawaf Alhazmi, Ziad Jarrah, Wail Alshehri, Mohand Alshehri, Ahmed Alnami, Marwan Alshehhi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Hamza Alghamdi, Hani Hanjour, Mohamed Atta, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmed Alhaznawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Dr. Eileen Preisser testifies before a congressional briefing. Dr. Preisser was one of four analysts in the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) supporting Able Danger in late 1999 and 2000 (see Fall 1999). While her testimony remains classified, the next day, Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT) gives a brief summary: “In a briefing we had yesterday, we had Eileen [Preisser], who argues that we don’t have the data we need because we don’t take all the public data that is available and mix it with the security data. And just taking public data, using, you know, computer systems that are high-speed and able to digest, you know, literally floors’ worth of material, she can take relationships that are seven times removed, seven units removed, and when she does that, she ends up with relationships to the bin Laden group where she sees the purchase of chemicals, the sending of students to universities. You wouldn’t see it if you isolated it there, but if that unit is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, you then see the relationship. So we don’t know ultimately the authenticity of how she does it, but when she does it, she comes up with the kind of answer that you have just asked, which is a little unsettling.” [US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform. Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations, 10/12/2001] Note that according to some media accounts, the CIA monitored Mohamed Atta purchasing large quantities of chemicals in Germany in the spring of 2000 (see January-May 2000). Atta also sends a series of e-mails to the US in the spring of 2000, inquiring about flight school opportunities for himself and a “small group” of his associates (see January-March 2000). Dr. Preisser is apparently willing to testify about her role in how Able Danger uncovered Atta’s name, but in September 2005 she is prohibited from publicly testifying before Congress (see September 21, 2005).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Christopher Shays, Eileen Preisser

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Sections of the Norman Transcript article (February 12, 2002).Sections of the Norman Transcript article (February 12, 2002). [Source: Norman Transcript]A former high-ranking CIA officer named David Edger says that the CIA had tracked “some of the people responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center” in Germany, but failed to stop them. Between 1997 and 2001, Edger was CIA station chief in Berlin, Germany, and thus directed CIA surveillance and infiltration attempts against the Hamburg cell of 9/11 hijackers, and other cells in Germany (see May 1997). In August 2001, Edger retired and moved to Oklahoma to teach (see August 2001), and on this day he makes some intriguing comments to the Norman Transcript, a newspaper in Norman, Oklahoma. According to the Norman Transcript: “Up until his appointment with [the University of Oklahoma] six months ago, Edger’s work with the CIA focused on terrorist groups in Germany. One of the three cells he was tracking included some of the people responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. He said although officers knew members of the cell and some of what they were doing, they had no idea that they would meet in London and go to different parts of the US, where they would learn to fly planes to crash into the World Trade Center. ‘In that case, we failed,’ Edger said.” [Norman Transcript (Oklahoma), 2/12/2002]
What Did the CIA Know? - While it is clear that the CIA was monitoring some members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell containing a few of the 9/11 hijackers (see December 1999 and Spring 2000), it is unclear just what it might have known of the hijackers in Hamburg before 9/11 (see January 31, 1999, March 1999, 2000, and September 2000-July 24, 2001). According to some reports, the CIA monitored 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta for six months in early 2000 (see January-May 2000).
Edger's Knowledge Remains a Mystery - Although Edger would seem to be in a prime position to know just what the CIA might have known about the hijackers and their Hamburg associates before 9/11, there are no signs he is interviewed by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry or 9/11 Commission. He also will not make any similar comments to any newspaper except for the obscure Norman Transcript.

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, David Edger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow.9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow. [Source: Jurist]Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, along with two members of the commission’s staff and an unnamed “representative of the executive branch,” meets at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan with three individuals doing intelligence work for the US Defense Department. [CNN, 8/17/2005; Sacramento Bee, 11/24/2005] Among these is Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which between fall 1999 and spring 2001 was tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world (see Fall 1999 and January-March 2001). According to Shaffer’s own later account, he gives the commission staff a detailed account of what Able Danger was, and tells them, “We found two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, to include [Mohamed] Atta.” At the end of the meeting, Philip Zelikow approaches him and says, “This is important. We need to continue this dialogue when we get back to the states.” [Government Security News, 9/2005] Following the meeting, Zelikow calls back to the 9/11 Commission’s headquarters in Washington to request that staff draft a document request, seeking information on Able Danger from the Department of Defense. [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 pdf file] According to Anthony Shaffer, “My understanding from talking to another member of the press is that [Zelikow’s] call came into America at four o clock in the morning. He got people out of bed over this.” [Government Security News, 9/2005] Shaffer subsequently tries contacting Philip Zelikow in January 2004 (see Early January 2004). After it is revealed in the press that the commission, which includes no mention of Able Danger in its final report, had been briefed on the unit, spokesmen for commission members will insist that while they were informed of Able Danger at this time, they were not informed that it had identified Mohamed Atta or any other hijackers as threats. [New York Times, 8/10/2005] Head commissioners Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton will later say in an official statement that a memorandum prepared by the commission staff after the meeting “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 [Defense Department] 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.” [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Mohamed Atta, US Department of Defense, Anthony Shaffer, 9/11 Commission, Able Danger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ten days before the 9/11 Commission releases its final report, a senior member of its staff, Dietrich Snell, accompanied by another commission staff member, meets at one of the commission’s Washington, DC offices with a US Navy officer who worked with a US Army intelligence program called Able Danger, which had been tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world. This officer, Captain Scott Phillpott, tells them he saw an Able Danger document in 2000 that described Mohamed Atta as part of a Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell. He complains that this information about Atta, and information about other alleged members of the Brooklyn cell, was deleted from the document soon after he saw it, due to the concerns of Department of Defense lawyers. However, despite having this meeting with Phillpott, and having met previously with an Army intelligence officer who was also involved with Able Danger (see October 21, 2003), the 9/11 Commission makes no mention of the unit in their final report. The commissioners later claim that Phillpott’s information “[does] not mesh with other conclusions” they are drawing from their investigation. Consequently, the commission staff conclude “that the officer’s account [is] not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation.” Able Danger is not mentioned in their final report, they claim, because “the operation itself did not turn out to be historically significant.” [Associated Press, 8/11/2005; New York Times, 8/11/2005; Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 pdf file; New York Times, 8/13/2005; Washington Post, 8/13/2005; New York Times, 8/22/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer additionally claims, “Captain Phillpott actually told the 9/11 Commission about the fact that Able Danger discovered information regarding the Cole attack.… There was information that Able Danger found that related to al-Qaeda planning an attack. That information unfortunately didn’t get anywhere either. So that is another clue that was given to the 9/11 Commission to say, hey, this [Able Danger] capability did some stuff, and they chose not to even look at that.” [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005]

Entity Tags: Able Danger, Mohamed Atta, US Department of Defense, Al-Qaeda, Anthony Shaffer, Scott Phillpott, 9/11 Commission, Dietrich Snell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A front page article in the New York Times reveals the existence of a highly classified military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which had identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers as likely members of an al-Qaeda cell operating in the United States more than a year before the attacks. [New York Times, 8/9/2005] Members of the unit had recommended that the FBI be called in to take out the cell, but Pentagon lawyers had blocked their request (see September 2000). The incident was first described in a June 2005 speech on the House floor by Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), and in an interview with Weldon around the same time in the Norristown Times Herald, neither of which had garnered much attention. [Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/2005; US Congress. House, 6/27/2005] Weldon, who is vice chairman of both the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee, claims he only recognized the significance of the incident after contacting members of the Able Danger unit during research for a book about terrorism. [New York Times, 8/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohamed Atta, Al-Qaeda, Able Danger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In response to new revelations about a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which allegedly identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks, Al Felzenberg—formerly the chief spokesman for the 9/11 Commission—acknowledges that a uniformed officer briefed two of the commission’s staff members about the unit in early July 2004 (see July 12, 2004). He also admits that the officer said the program had identified Mohamed Atta as part of an al-Qaeda cell in Brooklyn. This information was not mentioned anywhere in the commission’s final report. [New York Times, 8/11/2005] The existence of the Able Danger program was first revealed two days ago in an August 9 New York Times article (see August 9, 2005). In that article, the Times reported that Felzenberg had confirmed that an October 2003 briefing had taken place which did not include any references to Mohamed Atta or the Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell. But Felzenberg did not tell the newspaper about the July 2004 briefing, which apparently had provided the commission with far more details about the Able Danger program. [New York Times, 8/9/2005; New York Times, 8/11/2005] It is not clear who exactly in the commission was aware of the program. Former 9/11 Commissioners Tim Roemer and John Lehman say they were never briefed about Able Danger before the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report was published. [Government Security News, 8/2005 Sources: Curt Weldon]

Entity Tags: Curt Weldon, Mohamed Atta, Al Felzenberg, 9/11 Commission, Able Danger, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Former leaders of the 9/11 Commission, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, release a statement saying that panel staff members have found no documents or other witnesses that support allegations that hijacker Mohamed Atta was identified by a secret Pentagon program, known as Able Danger, before the 9/11 attacks. The existence of Able Danger first received wide public attention a few days before by the New York Times (see August 11, 2005). According to the commissioners, “The interviewee had no documentary evidence” to back up his claims and “the Commission staff concluded that the officer’s account was not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation.” [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 pdf file; Washington Post, 8/13/2005]

Entity Tags: Thomas Kean, Lee Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A US Army intelligence officer comes forward, saying he was involved with a secret military intelligence unit, which had identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers by mid-2000. He says the unit, called Able Danger, had tried to meet with agents at the FBI’s Washington field office that summer to share its information, but was prevented from doing so by military lawyers (see September 2000). Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who served as a liaison officer between Able Danger and the Defense Intelligence Agency, is the first military officer associated with Able Danger to publicly acknowledge his involvement with the unit. Shaffer says that, had they been allowed to alert the FBI to Mohamed Atta being in the US, they might have been able to prevent 9/11. [New York Times, 8/17/2005; Guardian, 8/18/2005; New York Post, 8/18/2005] A week prior to Shaffer’s coming forward, Able Danger was brought to the public’s attention in a New York Times front page article (see August 9, 2005). Shaffer says he met privately with staff from the 9/11 Commission in Afghanistan in October 2003, and explicitly mentioned Atta as a member of the “Brooklyn” al-Qaeda cell (see October 21, 2003).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Able Danger, 9/11 Commission, Anthony Shaffer, FBI Washington Field Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Several individuals come forward and corroborate claims made about a military intelligence unit called Able Danger that, by mid-2000, allegedly identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers. Days previously, a US Army intelligence officer called Anthony Shaffer made claims about the unit (see August 17, 2005). On August 22, Scott J. Phillpott, an active-duty Navy captain who managed the Able Danger program for the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command, comes forward and corroborates Shaffer’s claims. He says, “My story is consistent. Atta was identified by Able Danger in January-February of 2000.” Phillpott states that he was the officer who met with staff from the 9/11 Commission in July 2004, and told them about the program (see July 12, 2004). [New York Times, 8/22/2005] Claims about the program are further corroborated when a former employee of a defense contractor who says he worked on the technical side of the unit, also comes forward. James D. Smith, who worked for Orion Scientific Systems [Times Herald (Norristown), 9/22/2005] , states that in 2000 he helped create a chart for Able Danger. He says, “I am absolutely positive that he [Atta] was on our chart among other pictures and ties that we were doing mainly based upon [terror] cells in New York City.” [Fox News, 8/28/2005] Furthermore, the Pentagon admits that they have found three others, apart from Anthony Shaffer and Scott Phillpott, associated with Able Danger who assert that the program identified Mohamed Atta as an al-Qaeda suspect inside the US more than a year before 9/11. An official says that the five individuals associated with the program (including Shaffer and Phillpott) were all considered “credible people,” and that four of them recalled a photo of Mohamed Atta accompanying the chart they produced. [Reuters, 9/1/2005] Eleven people ran Able Danger. [Bergen Record, 8/14/2005] The Pentagon interviewed a total of 80 people who had some kind of association with the Able Danger program. [New York Times, 9/1/2005]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Mohamed Atta, Able Danger, Anthony Shaffer, Al-Qaeda, US Department of Defense, Scott Phillpott, James D. Smith

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Former members of the 9/11 Commission dismiss recent allegations regarding a secret military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which had been set up in 1999 to bring together information about al-Qaeda. Several former members of the unit have come forward claiming the program identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks (see August 17, 2005; August 22-September 1, 2005). The 9/11 Commission has been criticized for not mentioning Able Danger in its final report. In response, its former chairman, Thomas Kean, claims there is no evidence that anyone in the government knew about Mohamed Atta before 9/11, and there are no documents that verify the claims made by former members of the unit. However, the Pentagon has recently confirmed that documents associated with Able Danger were destroyed in accordance with regulations about gathering intelligence on people inside the US. Another former commissioner, Slade Gorton, says, “Bluntly, it just didn’t happen and that’s the conclusion of all 10 of us.” But a spokesman for Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), who helped bring to light the existence of the program, says that none of the commissioners met with anyone from Able Danger, “yet they choose to speak with some form of certainty without firsthand knowledge.” [Associated Press, 9/15/2005; Fox News, 9/16/2005] The commission’s claim that no one in the US knew about Mohamed Atta before 9/11 is further contradicted by reports stating that the CIA had been tracking him while he was still in Germany, early in 2000 (see January-May 2000). And soon after 9/11, Newsweek reported US officials stating that Atta “had been known as [an associate] of Islamic terrorists” well before 9/11. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Able Danger, Thomas Kean, Slade Gorton, Curt Weldon, 9/11 Commission, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


Mark Zaid.
Mark Zaid. [Source: C-SPAN]Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, has his security clearance revoked. [Government Executive, 9/21/2005; Times Herald (Norristown), 9/22/2005] Shaffer alleges that Able Danger identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks (see August 17, 2005). Shaffer’s lawyer, Mark Zaid, states, “I specialize in security clearance cases.… Based on years of experience I can say categorically that the basis for the revocation was questionable at best.” [US Congress, 9/21/2005] Shaffer is due to testify two days later in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee investigating Able Danger, though he is subsequently prohibited from doing so by the Defense Department (see September 21, 2005). His security clearance had been suspended 18 months previously (see March 2004).

Entity Tags: Mark Zaid, Anthony Shaffer, Able Danger, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Sen. Arlen Specter.
Sen. Arlen Specter. [Source: C-SPAN]The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), holds a public hearing to investigate an intelligence program called Able Danger, to explore allegations that it identified Mohamed Atta and three other hijackers more than a year before 9/11, and to learn why the Pentagon disbanded it and destroyed the information it had gathered. [Government Computer News, 9/21/2005; New York Times, 9/21/2005; United Press International, 9/21/2005] The committee is seeking testimony from several former Able Danger members. Among these are Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, Navy Captain Scott Phillpott, Dr. Eileen Preisser, and civilian analyst James D. Smith; all but Preisser have recently come forward with allegations about the unit (see August 17, 2005; August 22-September 1, 2005). However, the day before the hearing, Defense Department lawyers ordered them and other former Able Danger members not to testify. [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005; United Press International, 9/21/2005] Shaffer says in an interview, “I was told by two [Defense Department] officials today directly that it is their understanding that [Defense Secretary Rumsfeld] directed that we not testify…” [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005] The Defense Department’s only reason for doing so, offered by a spokesman, is that they have “expressed [their] security concerns and believe it is simply not possible to discuss Able Danger in any great detail in an open public forum open testimony of these witnesses.” [New York Times, 9/21/2005] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter says, “That looks to me like it may be obstruction of the committee’s activities, something we will have to determine.” He complains that the Pentagon only delivered hundreds of pages of documents related to Able Danger late on the eve of the hearing, leaving no time for committee staff to review the material. [Reuters, 9/21/2005] Furthermore, the Pentagon’s representative at the hearing, William Dugan, admits that he has very limited knowledge of Able Danger. Specter tells him, “You were sent over—perhaps with the calculation you wouldn’t have the information.” [Associated Press, 9/21/2005; Government Computer News, 9/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Scott Phillpott, Mohamed Atta, US Department of Defense, William Dugan, James D. Smith, Eileen Preisser, Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, Able Danger, Donald Rumsfeld, Anthony Shaffer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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