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Whitewashing the Protection of Terrorists on US Soil

Nafeez Ahmed

Exclusive: Well known Mid-East expert questions omission of "Able Danger" by 9/11 Commission

Exactly one year before 9/11, a highly classified US Army intelligence unit known as "Able Danger" had already pinpointed four of the 9/11 hijackers. Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Khalid Almidhar, and Nawaf Alhamzi were identified as members of a "Brooklyn" al-Qaeda cell on a detailed chart that included visa photographs. The Army unit was established by the Special Operations Command in 1999 by Gen. Hugh Shelton, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The startling revelations first surfaced in late June, from Congressman. Curt Weldon (R-PA), Vice-Chairman of the House Homeland Security and Armed Services Committees, citing at least three active military and intelligence officials. The story eventually made the New York Times headlines, thrice, the latest report on Tuesday quoting Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who was a liaison with the Able Danger unit at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Lt. Col. Shaffer gave on the record confirmation of the details revealed by Rep. Weldon, but further stated that Able Danger had scheduled three meetings in the summer of 2000 with the FBI's Washington field office to share the findings and recommend to "take out that cell."

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Those meetings were unilaterally cancelled by military lawyers at the Defense Department's Special Operations Command, and information sharing was blocked.

The stated reason? Apparently, Atta and his comrades were in the US on "valid entry visas" - the law, it was claimed, bars US citizens and green-card holders from being targeted for intelligence-collection operations. Although, this does not include visa holders, the law supposedly provided a disincentive for sharing intelligence with law enforcement. "We were directed to take those 3M yellow stickers and place them over the faces of Atta and the other terrorists and pretend they didn't exist," said another defense intelligence official.

Terrorists don't get and keep visas:

The explanation was disingenuous. "Mohammed Atta and his terrorist cohorts were clearly and factually established as Al-Qaeda functionaries of a foreign government [Taliban of Afghanistan] with Al-Qaeda itself being a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (DFTO)", noted Sean Osborne of the US Army's Program Executive Office - Command, Control, Communications Tactical (PEOC3T) within the Special Project Office (SPO).

"Designated terrorist's do not receive and retain 'green card' status, and any card so previously attained would have to be considered a priori fraudulent, null and void," Osborne stated.

In fact, there are 13 exceptions within Executive Order 12333 allowing intelligence-collection on US Persons and bona-fide green card-holders, including for Counterintelligence purposes, allowing for collection of against individuals reasonably suspected of involvement in international terrorism, as well as their associates.

Atta:

But all this is academic. Mohamed Atta was never a green-card holder. Worse still, he never had a valid entry visa. On the contrary, in January 2001, Atta was permitted reentry into the United States after a trip to Germany, despite being in violation of his visa status. He had landed in Miami on January 10 on a flight from Madrid on a tourist visa - yet he had told immigration inspectors that he was taking flying lessons in the US, for which an M-1 student visa is strictly required.

Essentially, Atta had entered the US three times on a tourist visa in 2001, although INS officials knew the visa had expired in 2000, and Atta had violated its terms by taking flight lessons. So Atta was illegal - and the Defense Department lawyers who blocked the FBI from accessing the Able Danger data were lying. So the question remains: why was the Able Danger report prevented by the DoD from circulating in the US intelligence community?

According to the 9/11 Commission report, Atta was not identified as a potential terrorist until after 9/11, and Almidhar and Alhamzi were only identified in late 1999 and 2000 by the CIA - but the FBI was apparently only notified in summer 2001. The Able Danger story demonstrates that the 9/11 Commission's narrative is false - reliable information that four al-Qaeda members were operating within a cell to plan a terrorist attack was available, but its circulation was inexplicably obstructed by the government.

The Able Danger story, however, is only the latest confirmation that the intelligence community had extensive information on many of the 9/11 hijackers years prior to 9/11.

The Miami Herald (6/7/02) reported that the National Security Agency had "monitored telephone conversations before Sept. 11 between the suspected commander of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks and the alleged chief hijacker." Anonymous NSA officials told the Herald that "the conversations between Khalid Shaikh Mohammed" - the operational mastermind of 9/11 - "and Mohamed Atta were intercepted", while Atta was in the US. How much was gleaned about the plot was not disclosed. But The Independent (9/15/02) reported that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed "received a telephone call from Mohammed Atta on 10 September", in which he gave Atta "the final approval to launch the strikes." Like Able Danger, these facts were also apparently considered "historically irrelevant" by the Commission.

Las Vegas is not a Muslim destination:

Other facts were also considered irrelevant by the Commission. For instance, the fact that numerous reports in the San Francisco Chronicle, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Los Angeles Times, and numerous other sources, confirmed from multiple eyewitnesses that the hijackers, including Mohamed Atta, had "engaged in some decidedly un-Islamic sampling of prohibited pleasures in America's reputed capital of moral corrosion," in Las Vegas and elsewhere - behavior that just doesn't quite fit with al-Qaeda's puritan salafist ideology of strict adherence to Islamic tenets.

More Terrorist Training:

Or the reports that emerged in Newsweek, the Washington Post, and the New York Times that at least "five of the alleged hijackers received training in the 1990s at secure US military installations", including Mohamed Atta who attended International Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

The US Air Force later argued that they "might not" be the same persons, due to some "biographical discrepancies" - which of course were never revealed to the public. When Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) tried to investigate, shocked at the possibility that Pensacola Naval Air Station could have hosted and trained Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, among others, he was told by the FBI - after several weeks - that they were trying to work through something "complicated and difficult."

Daniel Hopsicker, a former Producer at PBS Wall Street Week and investigative report at NBC News, decided to investigate. After pressing an official at the Defense Department, he was finally told: "I do not have the authority to tell you who attended which schools" - in other words, terrorists did train at secure US military installations, but who trained where is none of our concern. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that these people were, for reasons undisclosed, protected.

Attempts to silence Able Danger revelations:

Such facts have fallen into the memory hole. There is currently an active attempt to achieve the same results for the Able Danger revelations. The 9/11 Commission's attempts to explain its omission of the revelations from its final report were riddled with contradictions.

First the Commission completely denied any knowledge of Able Danger. Allegedly, the staff and panel members simply hadn't been told. When it became clear, from Weldon's military intelligence sources, that the Commission had been officially briefed on the Able Danger report, they relented, and claimed instead that they simply didn't take the material seriously, because it had already established that the hijackers had not been identified at that early time.

When this explanation started to falter, it was stated that the briefing made no mention at all of Mohamed Atta, and thus was not considered to be of value to the investigation.

The Whistleblower:

But Lt. Col. Shaffer has now come on public record confirming that he had personally "provided information about Able Danger and its identification of Mr. Atta in a private meeting in October 2003 with members of the Sept. 11 commission staff when they visited Afghanistan", according to the newspaper of record. Former Commissioners suddenly emerged to chorus the insistence that they had never been briefed so specifically about Able Danger, that the material was vague, and made no mention of Atta.

The backtracking and side-stepping of the now disbanded Commission hardly lends its position further credibility.


Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is author of four books, including:

The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism
The War on Freedom: How and Why America was Attacked, September 11, 2001
Behind the War on Terror : Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq

He is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development in London, and a Doctoral Candidate in International Relations at the University of Sussex, Brighton.

Originally published on Thursday August 18, 2005.

 


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