Did Pentagon officials know about the September 11th, 2001, hijackers' ties to al-Qaida nearly a year before the terrorist attack? A United States Congressman, Curt Weldon, says ‘yes’ and claims the 9/11 Commission failed to include that critical information in its report.
Rep. Curt Weldon, a Republican Party member from Pennsylvania, is criticizing the Department of Defense for not sharing intelligence information about terror suspects with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He says the Pentagon failed to pass on key information about Mohammed Atta and three other hijackers prior to 9/11.
The congressman says, "It's obvious that if we would have taken those four al Qaida leaders, who were all killed in the attacks on 9/11, that were involved in those aircrafts, and if we were to have brought them in, and the FBI would have been allowed to thoroughly investigate them, I am convinced that holding them would have had an impact on 9/11, perhaps delayed it, perhaps stopped it."
According to Mr. Weldon, a classified U.S. Special Operations Command team called "Able Danger" was set up in 1999 to identify potential al-Qaida operatives. He says "Able Danger" had information about Mr. Atta and his ties to al-Qaida a year before the attacks took place.
Mr. Weldon says when it recommended that the information be passed on to the FBI, it was stopped by Defense Department lawyers who feared breaching privacy laws that protect U.S. citizens and foreigners who are legally in the U.S. -- which Atta was.
Mr. Weldon calls it a weak defense.
Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy for the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington DC, says Mr. Weldon has a point. "He makes a valid point in terms of the sharing of information back and forth, and that after the fact, it is easier to make the case that information should be shared in a more free fashion, than it was prior to 9/11."
Mr. Weldon is also criticizing the 9/11 Commission members for failing to include this information in their report, which came out on July 22, 2004, even though Professor Preble says the Commission had its reasons. "It was not matching up very well with a lot of the other info they were receiving. So it may be that, after the fact, the information turns out to have been correct, but it did not fit with the broader picture that they had painted."
In response to Mr. Weldon's complaints, a 9/11 Commission spokesman confirmed that it did have a meeting about Able Danger's identifying Atta with a military official 10 days before the report came out. However, the Commission said the information was not reliable enough to warrant revising its report.
Mr. Weldon has written a letter to the Commission asking it to explore the matter further, and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are looking into the issue as well.