Sept. 11 panel probes reports on hijacker IDs

WASHINGTON – Staff members of the Sept. 11 commission are investigating allegations from a GOP congressman that lead hijacker Mohamed Atta had been identified as a potential threat by a highly classified Defense Department program a year or more before the attacks occurred.

Commission officials confirmed a report in Thursday’s New York Times that two staff members interviewed a uniformed military officer, who claimed in July 2004 that a secret program called “Able Danger” had identified Atta as a potential terrorist threat in 1999 or early 2000.

Panel investigators viewed the claim as unlikely in part because Atta was not recruited as an al-Qaida operative until a trip to Afghanistan in 2000 and did not enter the United States until June of that year, officials said.

The interview of the military officer is among several related allegations made by Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., vice chairman of the Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, who has in recent weeks sought to publicize the claims of a former defense intelligence official about the Able Danger program.

The former intelligence official – according to interviews with Government Security News and other news organizations – has offered a version of events that is similar to, but more expansive than, the claims made by the military officer. The former intelligence official has said that he briefed Sept. 11 commission staffers on the Able Danger program during a trip in South Asia in October 2003.

The official said he told commission staffers during the trip that the program had identified Atta and three other future hijackers as part of an al-Qaida cell located in Brooklyn, N.Y., according to Weldon and news reports. The official and Weldon have also said Pentagon lawyers blocked sharing of the information on the suspected cell with the FBI or other U.S. agencies.

Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said this week that none of the four commission staffers who were present during the Asia trip briefing recall any mention of Atta or a terrorist cell. Felzenberg said the 2003 briefing focused generally on Able Danger, which officials have said relied heavily on computerized analysis of public data.

“The name ‘Atta’ or a terrorist cell would have gone to the top of the radar screen if it had been mentioned,” he said.

Felzenberg declined to comment Thursday on the July 2004 interview with the military officer, citing an ongoing commission investigation of the allegations that could be completed as early as today.

Weldon, who has championed the use of data mining as a valuable intelligence tool, first alleged that the Pentagon had identified Atta before the hijackings in a little-noticed speech on the House floor in June. He wrote in a letter to the Sept. 11 panel on Wednesday that its failure to fully investigate the claims “brings shame on the commissioners, and is evocative of the worst tendencies in the federal government that the commission worked to expose.”

Weldon recently published a book alleging that Iran, a predominantly Shiite Muslim country, is hiding Osama bin Laden, is preparing terrorist attacks against the United States and is the chief sponsor of the Sunni-led insurgency in Iraq. Many of the allegations are based on information from a source who has been discounted by the CIA as a fabricator.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Cars move across Edgewater Bridge toward Everett on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Edgewater Bridge redo linking Everett, Mukilteo delayed until mid-2024

The project, now with an estimated cost of $27 million, will detour West Mukilteo Boulevard foot and car traffic for a year.

Lynn Deeken, the Dean of Arts, Learning Resources & Pathways at EvCC, addresses a large gathering during the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new Cascade Learning Center on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, at Everett Community College in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New EvCC learning resource center opens to students, public

Planners of the Everett Community College building hope it will encourage students to use on-campus tutoring resources.

Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman announces his retirement after 31 years of service at the Everett City Council meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett police chief to retire at the end of October

Chief Dan Templeman announced his retirement at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. He has been chief for nine years.

Boeing employees watch the KC-46 Pegasus delivery event  from the air stairs at Boeing on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Boeing’s iconic Everett factory tour to resume in October

After a three-year hiatus, tours of the Boeing Company’s enormous jet assembly plant are back at Paine Field.

A memorial for a 15-year-old shot and killed last week is set up at a bus stop along Harrison Road on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Teen boy identified in fatal shooting at Everett bus stop

Bryan Tamayo-Franco, 15, was shot at a Hardeson Road bus stop earlier this month. Police arrested two suspects.

This photo provided by OceanGate Expeditions shows a submersible vessel named Titan used to visit the wreckage site of the Titanic. In a race against the clock on the high seas, an expanding international armada of ships and airplanes searched Tuesday, June 20, 2023, for the submersible that vanished in the North Atlantic while taking five people down to the wreck of the Titanic. (OceanGate Expeditions via AP)
A new movie based on OceanGate’s Titan submersible tragedy is in the works: ‘Salvaged’

MindRiot announced the film, a fictional project titled “Salvaged,” on Friday.

Mike Bredstrand, who is trying to get back his job with Lake Stevens Public Works, stands in front of the department’s building on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Bredstrand believes his firing in July was an unwarranted act of revenge by the city. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lake Stevens worker was fired after getting court order against boss

The city has reportedly spent nearly $60,000 on attorney and arbitration fees related to Mike Bredstrand, who wants his job back.

Chap Grubb, founder and CEO of second-hand outdoor gear store Rerouted, stands inside his new storefront on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Gold Bar, Washington. Rerouted began as an entirely online shop that connected buyers and sellers of used gear.  (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Used outdoor gear shop Rerouted finds a niche in Gold Bar

Seeking to keep good outdoor gear out of landfills, an online reselling business has put down roots in Gold Bar.

Naval Station Everett. (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Everett man sentenced to 6 years for cyberstalking ex-wife

Christopher Crawford, 42, was found guilty of sending intimate photos of his ex-wife to adult websites and to colleagues in the Navy.

Most Read