Washington (CNSNews.com) - The top-secret, military intelligence unit known as "Able Danger" identified Mohammed Atta, the leader of the Sept. 11 hijackers, 13 times before the 2001 attacks, according to new information released Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees.
Able Danger has been identified by Weldon and team member Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer as an elite group of approximately two dozen individuals tasked with identifying and targeting the links and relationships of al Qaeda worldwide.
On June 27, 2005, Weldon said that Able Danger had offered in the year before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to share its intelligence with the FBI and to work with them to take down the New York City terrorist cell involving Mohammed Atta and two other 9/11 terrorists. Weldon said Clinton administration lawyers prevented the information from being shared with the FBI.
According to Weldon, the lawyers told Able Danger members, " [Y]ou cannot pursue contact with the FBI against that cell. Mohamed Atta is in the U.S. on a green card and we are fearful of the fallout from the Waco incident," a reference to the FBI's raid on the David Koresh-led Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Tex., in April 1993.
Media reports indicated that lawyers for Able Danger were concerned that sharing data with domestic law enforcement was illegal.
Weldon on Tuesday said that despite testimony indicating that Able Danger's data had been destroyed, he has discovered data still available. "And I am in contact with people who are still able to [do] data mining runs on pre-9/11 data," Weldon said. "In those data runs that are now being done today, in spite of what DOD (Department of Defense) said I have 13 hits on Mohammed Atta ..."
Weldon would not name the individual helping him obtain the Able Danger data.
As recently as two weeks ago additional Able Danger material was found in files at the Pentagon, Weldon said. "[A] general was present as the information was taken out of file cabinets ..."
The program and its pre-9/11 intelligence will be the subject of hearings Wednesday conducted by the Armed Services Committee. Most of the hearings will be open, but parts will be closed, Weldon said, due to witness fears of retaliation.
The witness list includes Dr. Steve Cambone, Eric Kleinsmith, J.D. Smith, Lt. Col. Shaffer, Commander Scott Philpot and Dr. Eileen Pricer.
Weldon also said his staff is still identifying additional witnesses. "At least one additional witness has come forward who just retired from one of the intelligence agencies, who will also testify under oath that he was well-aware of and identified Mohammed Atta's both name and photo prior to 9/11 occurring." Weldon said.
"Today and tomorrow, Lieutenant Colonel Shaffer will testify in his uniform under oath in spite of an aggressive effort by [Defense Intelligence Agency] bureaucrats to tarnish his image," Weldon said.
The congressman has detailed a "smear campaign," allegedly conducted by DIA officials against Shaffer.
The information provided by Shaffer contradicts the official conclusion of the 9/11 Commission, that U.S. intelligence had not identified Atta as a terrorist before the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.
Weldon also said that despite the fact that Dr. Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission has denied meeting with Shaffer, "irrefutable evidence" of a meeting will be presented at Wednesday's congressional hearing.
During a hearing Tuesday afternoon before the Subcommittee on National Security, Shaffer testified under oath that he met with Zelikow at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. According to Shaffer, Zelikow said: "What you said today is very important. We need to continue this dialog when you return to the U.S." Zelikow gave him his business card at the time, Shaffer said. It is not known whether the business card is the "physical evidence of that meeting" Weldon said would be presented at Wednesday's hearing.
Weldon also said that within days of the Able Danger story breaking in the New York Times, his office received a call from 9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick, assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration. In an interview after the press conference, Weldon told Cybercast News Service that Gorelick told a Weldon aide that the message was "extremely urgent." Weldon was in Pennsylvania at the time and Gorelick was on vacation in Cape Cod.
Gorelick reportedly told Weldon's staff to pass on to Weldon the following message: "I did nothing wrong." Weldon also said Gorelick later called the Senate Judiciary Committee staff twice with the same message.
During his press conference Weldon also said the Able Danger group warned officials from the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) that terrorists were likely to target an American platform in Yemen at the Port of Aden. This message was relayed two days before the USS Cole Navy destroyer was attacked by al Qaeda on Oct. 12, 2000. Seventeen sailors died and 40 were injured in the attack.
Navy Captain Scott Philpott, also affiliated with Able Danger, reportedly briefed the head of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Gen. Peter Schoomaker on the threat. Schoomaker is currently the chief of staff for the U.S. Army.
The USS Cole, which was headed to the Port of Aden to refuel, was never warned to stay away from the port, according to Weldon, who added that Able Danger had also warned CENTCOM two weeks prior to the USS Cole attack that there was massive terrorist activity in Yemen.
"I don't know what's going on. But I can tell you that this country needs to get to the bottom of who does not want the American people to know the facts leading up to 9/11; why the 9/11 Commission deliberately denied information to the commissioners ..." Weldon said.
He indicated that there were parties on both sides of the aisle who did not want the Able Danger issue to be pursued, and that he had been under unidentified pressure. Weldon would not elaborate.
"Was this an effort by both (Clinton and Bush) administrations to keep information from the American people about what was known before 9/11?" Weldon asked "If that's the case that is outrageous and wrong."
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