By Joseph Cannon on 8/10/2005, 8:09pm PT  

Guest-blogged by Joseph Cannon

UPDATE: As you read the piece below, keep in mind the report by Laura Rozen here. Weldon was peddling claims about the Iranian "threat," using information derived from a poor source. I do not think that this fact necessarily discredits what Weldon has to say about ABLE DANGER, since that story has a different source --- one which the New York Times interviewed directly, and apparently found credible.

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 paying much attention to 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. This argument strikes me as 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. He has met with journalists for Government Security News and 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."

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 more fundamental question: Why did higher-ups at the DOD refuse to share the information with the FBI?

"We were directed to take those 3M yellow stickers and place them over the faces of Atta and the other terrorists and pretend they didn't exist," the intelligence officer told GSN.

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 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. Why the secrecy?

Answers to these posers might lurk within the folds of the second story about Atta to come out in recent days...

This is the scandal few want to discuss, although a part of the story has made its way onto Talking Points Memo.
Atta, we should note, plays no role in the story under discussion there.

(What follows may seem like a diversion from our main story, but bear with me. We'll get back to Atta in a minute.)

The focus is on that notoriously shady Republican wheeler-dealer/lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whom Tom Delay considers one of his "closest, dearest friends." (For further background on Abramoff, you can't do much better than this TPM Cafe page.)

Josh Marshall draws our attention to this excerpt from an April 26, 2005 Miami Herald article, which reads like something out of Elmore Leonard:

In 2000, [Gus] Boulis sold [casino boat company] SunCruz to a partnership of Washington-based businessmen, including Jack Abramoff, the now infamous lobbyist who was surreptitiously funneling Indian casino millions to key congressmen, including the supposedly anti-gambling Republican leader, U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay. A congressional inquiry revealed that Abramoff, then vice chairman of SunCruz, used SunCruz casino money to bring staffers of key Republican congressional leaders to the 2001 Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, Boulis claimed that Abramoff and Adam Kidan had shorted him $23 million. There were reports of fisticuffs between Boulis and Kidan. Kidan took out a restraining order to keep Boulis away.

The restraining order became moot on Feb. 6, 2001, when Boulis was gunned down in a mob-style hit. The murder was never solved.

SunCruz, meanwhile, foundered into bankruptcy. Abramoff sued Kidan for the $60 million he claimed the deal cost him.

I cite this story to establish the links between Abramoff, powerful Republicans, and a milieu which will remind most readers of The Sopranos.

Casino ships are largely unregulated; by definition, they operate largely outside the borders of the United States. Boulis, the unfortunate previous owner of SunCruz, was under investigation for using his operation as a front for money laundering and other illegal activities.

Another party involved in money laundering was Osama bin Laden and his associates.

On September 26, 2001, Associated Press writer Vickie Chachere reported that FBI agents probing Atta's connections had turned their attention to SunCruz casinos --- then owned by Abramoff:

SunCruz Casinos has turned over photographs and other documents to FBI investigators after employees said they recognized some of the men suspected in the terrorist attacks as customers... Names on the passenger list from a Sept. 5 cruise matched those of some of the hijackers...

Since Abramoff used SunCruz to provide services to Republicans (we may safely presume that the Super Bowl junket wasn't the only occasion), I'd very much like to see that September 5, 2001 passenger manifest. Who was on the boat with the terrorists?

Several sources have noted that al Qaida operatives had a strange penchant for haunting casinos --- and few investigators believe that their purpose was gambling. For example, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on November 4, 2001 that Atta and two other 9/11 terrorists took mysterious side trips to Las Vegas, in June and August; FBI investigators suspected that they may have been involved in the passing of counterfeit bills.

The Toronto Star of September 20, 2002 reported that members of al Qaida were arrested in Buffalo, New York, for participation in a money laundering scheme centered at the Casino Niagara.

We have excellent reason to suspect that a similar scheme prompted Mohammed Atta to hop aboard Jack Abramoff's SunCruz ship.

If --- and based on the current state of evidence, we must stress the word "if" --- if further evidence links Mohammed Atta to G.O.P.-friendly shady operators, then many lingering questions may find an answer. Among those questions: Why was the ABLE DANGER team told to steer clear of Atta?