Earlier today, I wrote that the military officer claiming to have identified Mohammed Atta as an al Qaeda agent in advance of September 11 could not be considered credible unless and unless he steps forward and sheds his anonymity. Now he’s done just that:
[Lt. Col. Anthony] Shaffer said in an interview that the small, highly classified intelligence program known as Able Danger had identified by name the terrorist ringleader, Mohammed Atta, as well three of the other future hijackers by mid-2000, and had tried to arrange a meeting that summer with agents of the F.B.I.’s Washington field office to share the information.
But he said military lawyers forced members of the intelligence program to cancel three scheduled meetings with the F.B.I. at the last minute, which left the bureau without information that Colonel Shaffer said might have led to Mr. Atta and the other terrorists while the Sept. 11 plot was still being planned.
This is great. Now we can begin the process of getting to the bottom of this story. Col. Shaffer is prepared to take on the Sept. 11 commission:
Colonel Shaffer said he had decided to allow his name to be used in news accounts in part because of his frustration with the statement issued last week by the commission leaders, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton.
At this point, we have absolutely no way to know who is right about Able Danger and Mohammed Atta. But initial reactions from the commission are interesting:
A commission spokesman did not return repeated phone calls for comment. A Democratic member of the commission, Richard Ben Veniste, the former Watergate prosecutor, said in an interview today that while he could not judge the credibility of the information from Colonel Shaffer and others, the Pentagon needed to “provide a clear and comprehensive explanation regarding what information it had in its possession regarding Mr. Atta.”
“And if these assertions are credible,” he continued, “the Pentagon would need to explain why it was that the 9/11 commissioners were not provided this information despite request for all information regarding to Able Danger.”
As the Trunk likes to say: Stay tuned.