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Thursday, August 18, 2005

9/11 Panel's Leader Requests Quick Assessment of Officers - New York Times

9/11 Panel's Leader Requests Quick Assessment of Officers - New York TimesAugust 18, 2005
9/11 Panel's Leader Requests Quick Assessment of Officers
By PHILIP SHENON

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 - The chairman of the Sept. 11 commission called on the Pentagon on Wednesday to move quickly to evaluate the credibility of military officers who have said that a highly classified intelligence program managed to identify the Sept. 11 ringleader more than a year before the 2001 attacks. He said the information was not shared in a reliable form with the panel.

The chairman, Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, offered no judgment about the accuracy of the officers' accounts. But he said in an interview that if the accounts were true, it suggested that detailed information about the intelligence program, known as Able Danger, was withheld from the commission and that the program and its findings should have been mentioned prominently in the panel's final report last year.

"If they identified Atta and any of the other terrorists, of course it was an important program," Mr. Kean said, referring to Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian ringleader of the attacks. "Obviously, if there were materials that weren't given to us, information that wasn't given to us, we're disappointed. It's up to the Pentagon to clear up any misunderstanding."

In a statement last week, Mr. Kean and the vice chairman of the commission, Lee H. Hamilton, said that Able Danger, a computerized data-mining operation run from within the Defense Department's Special Operations Command, "did not turn out to be historically significant, set against the larger context of U.S. policy and intelligence efforts."

But Mr. Kean suggested Wednesday that the statement would need to be revised if information from officers involved in Able Danger proved to be true.

This week, an Army intelligence veteran, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, became the first officer associated with Able Danger to allow himself to be named publicly. Colonel Shaffer said that the project's analysts had identified Mr. Atta and three of the other hijackers by name by mid-2000.

The Sept. 11 commission has said that it received similar information in July 2004, only days before it issued its final report, from a Navy captain who was also involved in Able Danger. It said the captain's information was determined not to be "sufficiently reliable to warrant" additional investigation. The Navy captain has not been publicly identified.

The Pentagon has not disputed the accounts from Colonel Shaffer or the Navy captain. But it has withheld comment on Able Danger, saying it is gathering information about it.

Members of the Sept. 11 commission have disputed Colonel Shaffer's statements that he told commission staff members in October 2003 about the identification of Mr. Atta. The staff members have said they recall no mention of Mr. Atta's name in the meeting or in Pentagon documents that were later turned over.

Mr. Kean said he found it difficult to imagine they would have failed to follow up on any information about Mr. Atta. "The name Mohamed Atta was electric," he said.

Sept. 11 Advocates, a group led by five women from New Jersey and Connecticut whose husbands died in the attacks, said Colonel Shaffer's account was evidence that panel members "failed in their obligation to the American public and to those who lost their lives on 9/11."

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