Sunday, August 14, 2005

Danger Undisabled

Mark Steyn aptly distills the essence of recent revelations about Mohammed Atta and their implications for the politicized 9/11 Commission. “A body intended to reassure Americans that the lessons of that terrible day had been learned instead engaged in what at best was transparent politicking and collusion in posterior-covering and at worst was something a whole lot darker and more disturbing.
“The problem pre-9/11 was always political: that’s to say, no matter how savvy individual operatives in various agencies may have been, the political culture of the day meant that nothing would happen except a memo would get typed up and shoveled into a filing cabinet. Together with other never fully explained episodes – like Sandy Berger’s pants-stuffing at the national archives – the Able Danger story makes one thing plain: The problem is still political.”
Jack Kelly at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recapitulates the facts and draws even more explicit conclusions: “Able Danger was a military intelligence unit set up by Special Operations Command in 1999. A year before the 9/11 attacks, Able Danger identified hijack leader Mohamed Atta and the other members of his cell. But Clinton administration officials stopped them – three times – from sharing this information with the FBI.
“The problem was the order Clinton Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick made forbidding intelligence operatives from sharing information with criminal investigators. (Gorelick later served as a 9/11 commission member.)
“‘They were stopped because the lawyers at that time in 2000 told them Mohamed Atta had a green card’ – he didn’t – ‘and they could not go after someone with a green card,’ said Rep. Curt Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican who brought the existence of Able Danger to light.
“The military spooks knew only that Atta and his confederates had links to al-Qaida. They hadn’t unearthed their mission. But if the FBI had kept tabs on them (a big if, given the nature of the FBI at the time), 9/11 almost certainly could have been prevented.
“What may be a bigger scandal is that the staff of the 9/11 commission knew of Able Danger and what it had found, but made no mention of it in its report. This is as if the commission which investigated the attack on Pearl Harbor had written its final report without mentioning the Japanese.”
But in fact it is even worse than that. As Kelly continues, “When the story broke, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat from Indiana, co-chairman of the 9/11 commission, at first denied the commission had ever been informed of what Able Danger had found, and took a swipe at Weldon’s credibility:
“‘The Sept. 11th commission did not learn of any U.S. government knowledge prior to 9/11 of the surveillance of Mohamed Atta or his cell,’ Hamilton said. ‘Had we learned of it obviously it would have been a major focus of our investigation.’
“Hamilton changed his tune after the New York Times reported Thursday, and the Associated Press confirmed, that commission staff had been briefed on Able Danger in October 2003 and again in July 2004.
“It was in October 2003 that Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger stole classified documents from the National Archives and destroyed some. Berger allegedly was studying documents in the archives to help prepare Clinton officials to testify before the 9/11 commission. Was he removing references to Able Danger? Someone should ask him before he is sentenced next month.” So they should. But even this distinct possibility of collusion and coverup on a scale that would exceed Watergate pales beside the further implications.
“After having first denied that staff had been briefed on Able Danger, commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said no reference was made to it in the final report because ‘it was not consistent with what the commission knew about Atta’s whereabouts before the attacks,’ the AP reported.
“The only dispute over Atta’s whereabouts is whether he was in Prague on April 9, 2001, to meet with Samir al Ani, an Iraqi intelligence officer. Czech intelligence insists he was. Able Danger, apparently, had information supporting the Czechs.
“The CIA, and the 9/11 commission, say Atta wasn’t in Prague April 9, 2001, because his cell phone was used in Florida that day. But there is no evidence of who used the phone. Atta could have lent it to a confederate. (It wouldn’t have worked in Europe anyway.)
“But acknowledging that possibility would leave open the likelihood that Saddam’s regime was involved in, or at least had foreknowledge of, the 9/11 attacks. And that would have been as uncomfortable for Democrats as the revelation that 9/11 could have been prevented if it hadn’t been for the Clinton administration’s wall of separation.”
Let’s be explicit about this last point. Czech Intelligence has long had far greater competence and credibility than the hapless, gutted vestige CIA. And CIA’s tissue-thin arguments against the Czech reports have always read more like CIA CYA than considered analysis. In other words, there has always been a smoking gun to link Saddam Hussein to the events of 9/11 – not necessarily, to borrow the Commission’s phrase from another context, in an “operational control” relationship, but certainly at least in terms of knowledge, aiding and abetting. If further Able Danger revelations follow, there is a great deal more than a smoking gun.
Powerful people continue to play politics as usual (and worse) while America is at war – a war in which our freedom and our democracy are at stake. Even those whom we have trusted to learn the truth have obfuscated and prevaricated. As Kelly writes, “the 9/11 commission wrote history as it wanted it to be, not as it was.” But more than history is at risk. Our lives and freedoms are in peril. We must know the truth.

(For further background see also this post and this post from Captain’s Quarters, and this Dan Eggen article from the Friday Washington Post.)

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