i>(NOTE: This entry guest blogged by Joseph Cannon)Two separate sources have revealed startling new information about Mohammed Atta. Taken separately, these revelations are disturbing. Taken together, they could prove explosive.
As I write, the mainstream media is starting to carry the first of these revelations, but seems chary of the second. Let's start with the big news:
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee has revealed that a specialized unit of the DIA, code-named ABLE DANGER (which was being run by the Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida) had identified Mohammed Atta and other terrorist associates weeks before the presidential election of 2000. Atta was photographed and named as a member of al Qaida.
Although the unit had recommended action against Atta and the cell, a DOD lawyer allegedly nixed the idea, arguing that green card holders deserved the same privacy rights as American citizens. Almost needless to say, this argument is highly questionable.
Representative Weldon learned about his operation earlier this year. (I've called his office to find out exactly when, but have yet to hear back from his communications director.) Weldon's source was a former intelligence officer who has requested anonymity in news accounts. This story was first covered by Government Security News and was later carried by the New York Times. (See also here and here.)
According to the NYT, the office requested anonymity because "he did not want to jeopardize political support and the possible financing for future data-mining operations by speaking publicly."
If true, his reasoning indicates that Washington has become a very bizarre place indeed. The successful identification of Atta proved the value of "data mining;" the problem was the refusal by DIA higher-ups to act upon the information. Why would discussion of a success story jeopardize future funding for similar operations?
Which brings us back to the fundamental question: Why did higher-ups at the DOD refuse to share the information with the FBI?
DoD lawyers may also have been reluctant to suggest a bold action by FBI agents after the bureau's disastrous 1993 strike against the Branch Davidian religious cult in Waco, TX, said Weldon and the intelligence officer.
This explanation seems particularly dubious when we recall the publicity given to pre-9/11 al Qaida attacks.
Partisans, such as yours truly, may suspect that presidential politics might have played a role. The 2000 campaign was underway; conceivably, Bush supporters within the DOD may have felt uneasy at the prospect of handing the outgoing Clinton administration a last-minute "win" against Osama bin Laden. Of course, this theory does not explain why the Bush administration took no action against Atta between inauguration and 9/11.
Another key question: Why was this information kept secret from the independent commission looking into the 9/11 tragedy? Although committee members were made aware that ABLE DANGER existed, they were not told about the identification of Atta.
Answers to these posers might lurk within the folds of the second story about Atta to come out in recent days....