Sticking to, but not penetrating, the wall

The New York Times reports that “an active-duty Navy captain has become the second military officer to come forward publicly to say that a secret defense intelligence program tagged the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks as a possible terrorist more than a year before the attacks.” According to the officer, Captain Scott Phillpot, “Atta was identified by Able Danger by January-February of 2000.” Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer went public with this story last week, stating that analysts in the Able Danger project had been overruled by military lawyers, pursuant to the “wall” erected by the Clinton administration, when they tried to share the program’s findings with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2000 in hope of tracking down terror suspects tied to Al Qaeda.
In addition, James Smith, a former employee of a defense contractor, says he helped create a chart in 2000 for the Able Danger program that included Mr. Atta’s photograph and name. According to Smith, Atta’s name and photograph were obtained through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. Smith says he retained a copy of the chart for some time, posting it on his office wall at Andrews Air Force Base. Ironically, considering the apparent role of the Clinton administration’s wall in this story, Smith recalls that the chart became stuck to his wall at the air base, and was impossible to remove when he switched jobs.
The Defense Department is still saying that it’s been unable to validate the assertions made by Lt. Col. Shaffer, and now backed up by Captain Phillpott and Mr. Smith, about the early identification of Mr. Atta.
Via Captain’s Quarters.
JOHN adds: I’ve urged caution on this story because, when it first started to develop, it was based on anonymous sources. Now, as one Able Danger participant after another has come forward under his own name, the story is starting to take on real substance. There is all the difference in the world between a news story based on an anonymous leak, where there is no way to verify who the source is, whether he knows what he is talking about, and whether he is pursuing a political agenda, and what is developing now–real people, with no reason to fabricate, presenting themselves for questioning and accountable for what they say. In other words, I’m starting to get excited about the story. For a lot of reasons, but let’s start with this: if Mohammed Atta really was in the United States in early 2000, he was traveling under another name–big shock, right?–and the September 11 commission’s carefully constructed timetable under which, among other things, he couldn’t possibly have traveled to Prague to meet with an Iraqi intelligence agent in 2001, is shot to hell.
If the Able Danger story is true, it’s a whole new ball game, in more ways than one. And if I were Jamie Gorelick, I’d be quietly applying for Canadian citizenship.

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