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December 25, 2006

Panel: Able Danger Group Did Not ID Mohammad Atta

Ah, well.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has rejected as untrue one of the most disturbing claims about the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes — a congressman's contention that a team of military analysts identified Mohamed Atta or other hijackers before the attacks — according to a summary of the panel's investigation obtained by The Times.

The conclusion contradicts assertions by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) and a few military officers that U.S. national security officials ignored startling intelligence available in early 2001 that might have helped to prevent the attacks.

In particular, Weldon and other officials have repeatedly claimed that the military analysts' effort, known as Able Danger, produced a chart that included a picture of Atta and identified him as being tied to an Al Qaeda cell in Brooklyn, N.Y. Weldon has also said that the chart was shared with White House officials, including Stephen J. Hadley, then deputy national security advisor.

But after a 16-month investigation, the Intelligence Committee has concluded that those assertions are unfounded.

"Able Danger did not identify Mohammed Atta or any other 9/11 hijacker at any time prior to Sept. 11, 2001," the committee determined, according to an eight-page letter sent last week to panel members by the top Republican and Democrat on the committee.

...

The panel said it found "no evidence" to support claims by military officers connected to Able Danger that Defense Department lawyers prevented the team's analysts from sharing their findings with FBI counter-terrorism officials before the attacks.

Nor was the alleged chart or any information developed by Able Danger improperly destroyed at the direction of Pentagon lawyers, the panel concluded — a charge that had stoked claims of a cover-up.

...

Able Danger was the unclassified name given to a program launched in 1999 by the U.S. Special Operations Command as part of an effort to develop military plans targeting the leadership ranks of Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.

Military analysts assigned to the effort did create charts with pictures of Al Qaeda operatives whose identities were known publicly at the time, the committee found. But the committee concluded that none of those charts depicted Atta, and that the claims of Weldon and others may have been caused by confusion.

One of the charts, titled "The Al Qaeda Network: Snapshots of Typical Operational Cells Associated With UBL [Usama bin Laden]," was attached to the letter sent to committee members last week by Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the panel's leaders.

"One of these individuals depicted on the chart arguably looked like Mohammed Atta," the committee concluded. "In addition, the chart contained names of Al Qaeda associates that sound like Atta, as well as numerous variations of the common Arab name Mohammed."

The committee also suggested that officials' memories may have been clouded by the flurry of charts and photographs of Atta that surfaced after the attacks. The panel noted that a defense contractor that produced the chart at the center of the controversy subsequently created a follow-up chart, after the attacks, that did include Atta.


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