Guest blogged by Joseph Cannon
The right continues to make disturbing use of the Able Danger story --- which holds that a secretive DIA unit had identified Atta well before 9/11.
Rush Limbaugh and a number of right-leaning newspapers have continued to spread the lie, first published in NewsMax, that Jamie Gorelick of the Clinton Justice Department somehow forced the DIA to refrain from sharing the unit's discoveries. John Podhoretz at National Review has also given respectful attention to this tale, although he has steered clear of the NewsMax spin.
Now CNN and other sources have given us a name for that mysterious DIA officer who told this tale to Representative Curt Weldon. Meet Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer:
Shaffer was part of the task force that supported Able Danger, an intelligence unit that was looking for al Qaeda terrorists.
The lieutenant colonel said Able Danger uncovered information in 2000 about lead hijacker Mohamed Atta by searching through public databases and looking for patterns.
Shaffer told CNN he had not come forward earlier because he believed there may have been a classified addendum to the commission's report or there might be some other reason why the information was not disclosed to the public.
These excerpts address one of the more important questions to arise out of this controversy. Were the commission members informed of Able Danger, or were they not? We've received about three different accounts so far.
Frankly, the amount of right-wing attention devoted to this matter is a little disturbing. It's not as though the right is doing to Shaffer what they did to Richard Clarke. My suspicions of a Rovian trick have begun to resurface.
Previously, I've made humorous reference to the fake Special Ops unit created in Wag the Dog. Now I'm not so sure how humorous that idea is.
Nobody else in the DIA has confirmed the existence of this unit, although we have been promised that documents and other confirmation will soon arrive. In early reports, DIA sources seemed mystified by the name "Able Danger." This fact may or may not be significant.
On the other hand, National Review anti-Kerry hatchet man Jim Geraghty blasted Congressman Weldon for making this story public. Other right-wing sites have also attacked the tale, claiming that Able Danger found nothng of importance. (!) This dichotomous reaction indicates that this story isn't following the usual trajectory of right-wing disinfo. G.O.P. propagandists usually have their scripts well-prepared ahead of time, and act in strict concert. Weldon's charges seem to have caught the right off-guard for a few days, until they figured out how to spin this one.
A pseudonymous blogger Captain V claims to have been a colleague of Shaffer's. The Captain does not voice any suspicion that these revelations are disinformation. (Then again, we don't even know this Captain's real name, so we don't exactly have solid confirmation here.) Neither --- and this is the significant point --- does he offer any aid to the "Blame Hillary" spinners:
There are other possible reasons for the directive to steer clear of Atta. The AP report of his mysterious September 5, 2001 visit to Jack Abramoff's SunCruz ship is, as noted earlier, suggestive.
However, another right-wing blog offered a running summary of an interview Shaffer gave to Tony Snow. Frankly, some of this stuff does have a propagandistic odor --- although I'm not sure whether the smell originates with Shaffer or with the blogger relaying the data. (Transcript, please!) Get a whiff for yourself:
So the CIA knew all about this unit, even though the rest of the DIA did not? That's interesting. Why didn't CIA tell the commission about Able Danger? Inter-agency rivalry is hardly new or surprising, of course.
Then we get to this telling nugget:
Many in the CIA have opposed the neocon plans. It's starting to look like the whole Able Danger story (whether true or false) will be used as a further excuse to clean out anyone at the Agency who insists on saying that he can see the Emperor's weener. Now check this out:
This is the same Dennis Hastert, who, according to Sibel Edmonds (the translator who dealt with the intercepts), took a bribe from the Turks. Surrrrrre he's going to "get to the bottom of it."
The interview also takes a few oblique swipes at Gorelick, even though no-one has (yet) made the absurd suggestion that DOD lawyers reported to a Justice Department second-in-command during the Clinton years.
Previously, we have noted that Clinton-era inter-agency cooperation on terrorism-related issues was much better than the right-wing propagandists would have you believe. Most of the cited episodes involved FBI-CIA cooperation.
The propagandists assert that Jamie Gorelick (whom they despise) somehow prevented the DOD lawyers from talking to the FBI, and that she did so to protect the terrorists' "civil rights." If so, then why did the CIA share info with the FBI on numerous occasions, as I've previously documented?
Here's another problem: According to this by Philadelphia newsman Gil Spencer, the original reports were inaccurate. Previously, we were told that the Able Danger team learned of Atta's whereabouts in September of 2000. Now, the date has been pushed back to 1999. Pushing the date back, of course, helps give the propagandists better excuse for heaping blame on Clinton. FIddle with the chronology as they may, nothing can change the fact that the FBI remained ill-informed on the identification during the first eight months of Bush's presidency.
Spencer writes: "If other Able Danger analysts come forward to back up what Shaffer says, the Pentagon is going to have a lot of explaining to do."
They're not the only ones. The official timeline compiled by the FBI --- the Bush-era FBI --- holds that Atta entered the country in June of 2000. Any eyewitness who placed him here earlier was crudely discounted.
The Able Danger revelation --- or claim --- now rewrites that history. Yet nobody in our media seems to notice the change!
And nobody blames the Bush Justice Department for getting this important story wrong. Instead, we hear the usual refrain: Blame Clinton...blame Clinton...blame Clinton... Whatever the truth of the original account, the matter has now become another tool for manipulating public perception.
Question: Would Shaffer have come forward unless the White House told him to do so?
A writer interested in espionage once told me that when an intelligence officer spills a few beans in the presence of reporters, his superiors usually don't throw the offender into the clink. (In the movies, the bean-spiller ends up on the wrong end of a sniper's rifle --- but that's just Hollywood.) Instead, the same wide-mouthed officer is told to continue talking to reporters. And he is given a script. The information in that script may or may not be accurate.
Was that writer well-informed? Come to your own conclusion. I merely ask that you keep his words in mind as further information about Able Danger becomes public.