by Nicholas Levis
Sep 3, 2005
NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.
Mohamed Atta and three other alleged ringleaders of the 9/11 hijacking team were under surveillance by an elite US military intelligence program in the summer of 2000, a New York Times story of Aug. 9, 2005 revealed.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) broke the story to the Times after officers with knowledge of the Able Danger program contacted him. Two officers have since gone on record to say they once had Mohamed Atta in their sights. They claim a recommendation to round up Atta and what they termed his "Brooklyn Cell" (!) was rejected in the fall of 2000 by commanders at MacDill Air Force Base, supposedly on the advice of Defense Department lawyers. As of Sept. 2, the Pentagon says three additional people with knowledge of Able Danger have corroborated the story.
This dossier by Nicholas Levis rounds up Able Danger news reports to date, as well as analyses by various authors. The views expressed herein are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of 911Truth.org.]
The corporate media's Able Danger stories have the character of a "limited hangout," meaning that certain facts apparently embarrassing to the US government are promoted to create the appearance of disclosure--even as other, far more important and damaging matters are obscured or ignored. Chief among these is that Atta and his friends were known to the intelligence and law enforcement agencies of several countries, including the United States, long before Able Danger. Furthermore, the revelations make mincemeat of both the official FBI timeline of Atta's movements and of the 9/11 Commission's already spotty credibility.
10 Salient Points About Able Danger
1) In early 2000 the secret Able Danger program under the US Special Operations Command supposedly identified four men as Al-Qaeda operatives working in the United States. Their names were Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. The US government has named Atta as the overall ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers. Atta and al-Shehhi came to the United States from Germany in 2000 and at times lived together in Florida, where they attended the same flight schools. They have been named as the pilots of the two World Trade Center crash planes. They were members of the al-Qaeda "Hamburg Cell," which the government says also provided the alleged suicide pilot of Flight 93, Ziad Jarrah. Almidhar and Alhazmi are considered to have played an important role in organizing personnel for the attack, and are said to have been among the Flight 77 hijackers.
2) Able Danger used sophisticated electronic "data-mining" or "matrix" techniques to locate potential terrorists. But according to a former Pentagon contractor who worked on the program, James D. Smith, Able Danger obtained Atta's name and photograph from "a private researcher in California, who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East." (NYT, 8/23/2005) Who was this private reasearcher?
Atta's photo was added to a wall chart plotting "Brooklyn Cell" connections, which included the other three suspects so far named. The chart was ordered destroyed after objections from Defense Department lawyers, according to the officers who have come forward (Col. Anthony Shaffer and Capt. Scott Phillpott). But a spokesman for the Special Operations Command, of which Able Danger was a part, says "that 'we have negative indications' that destruction of such a chart was advised by military lawyers." (Reuters, 9/1/01) In that case, who did advise it, and why?
3) The original Times story contains a blanket statement that hides the most important facts of all: "The account is the first assertion that Mr. Atta, an Egyptian who became the lead hijacker in the plot, was identified by any American government agency as a potential threat before the Sept. 11 attacks."
This is the heart of the "limited hangout." The Times statement is false for at least two reasons:
- Already in September 2001, German authorities told their own press that the CIA had Atta and the Hamburg Cell under observation from Jan. to June 2000, while they were still in Germany. (This counts as an "assertion.") The German authorities say the CIA did not inform them of its activities, and that they only found out after the attacks. (See Berliner Zeitung, 9/24/01, archived as third article here, among many other German reports at that time.) According to the German authorities and the FBI, Atta received a travel visa from the US Consulate in Berlin in May, and first left for the United States via Prague in June 2000.
- How did the CIA get on Atta's tail in the first place? It could be because in March 1999, "German intelligence officials gave the Central Intelligence Agency the first name and telephone number of Marwan al-Shehhi, and asked the Americans to track him." And that is how the New York Times itself reported it ("C.I.A. Was Given Data on Hijacker Long Before 9/11," NYT Feb. 24, 2004). In late 1999, the CIA attempted to recruit Mamoun Darkazanli, an associate of the "Hamburg Cell" members. (Chicago Tribune, 11/16/2002, archived here.)
4) The exact same four names reportedly uncovered by Able Danger--Atta, al-Shehhi, Almidhar and Alhazmi--were also provided to the CIA on Aug. 23, 2001 by the Mossad, as part of a list of nineteen men the Israelis said were planning a terror attack in the United States (as reported in Der Spiegel and Die Zeit, Oct. 2002). Note that Israeli intelligence is known to have maintained a large spy ring in the United States, many of whom posed as art students in attempts to enter federal facilities. About 60 suspected "art students" were rounded up by US authorities before 9/11, and a similar number were arrested in the post-Sept. 11 crackdown. All were ultimately deported or released. (See Forward 3/15/02, Haaretz and Wayne Madsen's Israeli "art students" dossier, which includes the 60-page text of a suppressed DEA report on the spy ring.) Forward presents claims that the "Israelis in the United States [were] spying on a common enemy, radical Islamic networks suspected of links to Middle East terrorism."
In particular, a group of five Israelis arrested in New Jersey shortly after the September 11 attacks and held for more than two months was subjected to an unusual number of polygraph tests and interrogated by a series of government agencies including the FBI's counterintelligence division, which by some reports remains convinced that Israel was conducting an intelligence operation. The five Israelis worked for a moving company with few discernable assets that closed up shop immediately afterward and whose owner fled to Israel. (link)
A couple of the "art students" held Florida addresses just blocks away from Atta and al-Shehhi. Whether or not they were spying on the pair, the list provided to the CIA on Aug. 23, 2001 indicates Mossad was on the trail of the alleged 9/11 hijackers in advance of Sept. 11.
5) The Mossad's list may have been what finally prompted the CIA for the first time to place Almidhar and Alhazmi (but not Atta or al-Shehhi) on a general watch-list available to the FBI, in late August 2001. However, Almidhar and Alhazmi were under CIA surveillance no later than January 2000, when CIA asked Malaysian intelligence to spy on a purported al-Qaeda conference in Kuala Lumpur. (The official mythology long ago incorporated this as fact, e.g., see Frontline). The official story holds that "Hamburg Cell" member Ramzi Binalshibh also attended the Kuala Lumpur conference. He traveled from there back to Hamburg, where he supposedly convinced Atta & co. to tackle the operation codenamed "Big Wedding," i.e. 9/11. (The US government says purported 9/11 co-mastermind Binalshibh has been held in custody at undisclosed locations since Sept. 2002.)
6) Meanwhile, Almidhar and Alhazmi left the Malaysia conference via Thailand on their way to San Diego. There, they were met and helped out financially by Omar al-Bayoumi, a recipient of much largesse from the Saudi state and from the wife of the Saudi ambassador to the US. They spent two months living under the roof of long-time FBI informant Abdusattar Shaikh (whose name has been all over the press, although The 9/11 Commission Report pretends it's still a secret). Another coincidence, according to the official story. Though the CIA identified Almidhar and Alhazmi as al-Qaeda operatives involved previously in the bombing of the USS Cole, it did not place them on the watch-list until Aug 2001. Recently we've learned (from Newsweek, 6/20/2005) that a Jan. 2000 CIA directive to place them on the watch-list was intentionally blocked by an unnamed person at the CIA Counterterrorist Center. The current story on that is an operative told George Tenet and others at the CIA she had forwarded the alert as agreed to the FBI, without actually doing so.
7) The official FBI timeline of the alleged hijackers' movements holds that Atta entered the United States for the first time in June 2000. Yet many witnesses have said they dealt with him in the period from April to June 2000 (for one example, consider Johnelle Bryant's incredible story of Atta's attempt to get a loan from the Agriculture Department). Daniel Hopsicker uncovered much about Atta's early months in Florida indicating shady dealings, including many press accounts of witness statements verifying his presence in Florida before June 2000. Now we hear that Able Danger also tagged him as being in the United States months before June 2000. It's almost as though there were two Attas in the spring of 2000--an urban planning student finishing up the semester in Hamburg, and a party animal with drug connections in Florida.
8) The Kean-Hamilton 9/11 Commission received a briefing on Able Danger in advance of their report's July 2004 publication. This included the information that Atta & co. were specifically identified, which the ever-affable Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg at first denied and then admitted. (NYT, 8/11/2005) Able Danger was kept out of The 9/11 Commission Report, and the former Commissioners have been forced into a series of damage-control statements. Any credibility they had left is now a dead letter. (Interestingly, the Commission members on Aug. 30 summarily canceled two sessions of their laughable "9/11 Public Discourse Project," scheduled for Sept. 1 and 12, 2005.)
9) Curt Weldon is a hardline war supporter whose just-published book advocates an immediate attack on Iran. As the initial channel for the Able Danger revelations, he has attempted to give it all an anti-Clinton spin. This in turn is prompting Democrats to back away from the material. In fact, the Able Danger leakers may have approached other politicians before Weldon took up their cause. The facts they have revealed about a military intelligence program allow no simple anti-Clinton or anti-Bush interpretation. Able Danger was originally approved in 1998 by Clinton's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hugh Shelton, and "unceremoniously axed" in February 2001, at the beginning of the Bush administration. (PA Times Herald, 8/13/2005)
10) The fall 2000 decision to drop the "Brooklyn Cell" lead was made by as-yet unnamed military brass at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Florida, headquarters of Special Operations Command and Central Command. (The base is not far from the contemporaneous haunts of Atta and al-Shehhi.) The commander-in-chief of CENTCOM from July 2000 to July 2003 was Gen. Tommy Franks. The pretext for dropping the lead, that Defense Department lawyers were concerned about the civil liberties implications, is absurd on its face. None of the four men named as the "Brooklyn Cell" by Able Danger had green cards, as Weldon has claimed. And when did any US agency, before 9/11, refuse to pursue a potential terrorism case involving foreigners without green cards named as al-Qaeda operatives because of civil liberties concerns? There must be another reason why Able Danger was called off from its pursuit of the "Brooklyn Cell."
A Tommy Franks Detour
We'll detour here briefly to note that after Sept. 11, Gen. Franks oversaw both of the post-9/11 invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. This is the same Tommy Franks who raised the prospect of military rule in the United States in his notorious Dec. 2003 interview by Cigar Aficianado. After an oily paean to 200-plus years of constitutional democracy that sounds suspiciously like an obituary, Franks informed cigar consumers about
the potential of a weapon of mass destruction and a terrorist, massive casualty-producing event somewhere in the western world--it may be in the United States of America--that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass-casualty-producing event. Which, in fact, then begins to potentially unravel the fabric of our Constitution.
Of his activities on Sept. 11, Franks told Cigar Aficianado:
Kathy [Mrs. Franks] was with me. And we were headed to Pakistan for a visit with President [Pervez] Musharraf. We had stopped in Souda Bay, Crete, to get gas for the jet. Kathy and I had walked into a small market in this little town, because that's where one buys the best olives in the world. We went back to this little hotel. I was about to take a nap. There was a rap on the door. And I opened the door and one of my assistants said, "Turn on the television." I turned on the TV just in time to see the second tower strike. My wife would tell you that the first words out of my mouth were "Osama bin Laden." That's the first thing that I said. I got on the telephone, called back, talked to people in my headquarters, raced off to the jet, got back here on the 12th of September, talked to [Secretary of Defense] Don Rumsfeld, and we started planning for operations in Afghanistan.
Yes, someone at his base had blocked the investigation of Atta in 2000, but at least the first words out of his mouth on Sept. 11 were "Osama Bin Laden." And why was Franks on his way to see the Pakistani president? When did he and Rumsfeld really start planning for operations in Afghanistan? Let us recall that on Sept. 9, 2001 the National Security Council placed on Bush's desk a worldwide "gameplan to remove al-Qaeda off the face of the earth." This included a strategy to force the Taliban to hand over Bin Ladin under threat of military invasion. The US military deployments underway to South and Central Asia at the time were consistent with an operation against Afghanistan.
During the first few months of 2001, the US provided $125 million in aid to Afghanistan, while also pursuing covert diplomacy designed to get the Taliban to make peace with the Northern Alliance, stabilize the country, and allow the building of an oil pipeline. When the back-channel talks broke down in May, the negotiators delivered threats that the Taliban faced "a carpet of gold, or a carpet of bombs" by mid-October--exactly when the invasion occurred. As of September 9, all that was missing for a war in Afghanistan was a casus belli that the American people could unequivocally support. (See timeline of US preparations for the Afghanistan invasion prior to September 11.)
To review: German authorities fed the CIA information about the Hamburg cell. Without telling the Germans, the CIA independently observed the Hamburg cell in Germany, at least until Atta and al-Shehhi left for the United States. Once they were in the United States, Able Danger identified Atta and al-Shehhi and was blocked from passing their names to other agencies. The Mossad knew about them, and passed their names to the CIA. The CIA was on the tail of Almidhar and Alhazmi before they came to the US, and spied on them at the Kuala Lumpur conference that supposedly initiated the 9/11 attacks. That pair stayed in San Diego with an FBI informant, but the FBI says it didn't know. They were only put on the general watch-list in August 2001. On Sept. 11, the FBI immediately knew which flight schools to visit to pick up the trail of Atta & co. Finally, the FBI timeline suggests Atta was in two places at once in the spring of 2000.
No matter where Mohamed Atta went, someone was spying on him. But the official story would have us believe each of these surveillances was an isolated incident, and that the failure to stop 9/11 was due to a series of oddities, coincidences and close calls, with no pattern behind it all except for bureaucratic intransigence.
Now recall the long-known accounts of how FBI officials at the Islamic Radicals Unit prior to Sept. 11 actively obstructed and killed field investigations that could have led to the alleged 9/11 perpetrators. (See links to stories here.) Add in the stories of high-level foreign intelligence warnings from various countries, including specific information that the United States would be attacked using hijacked planes directed against prominent targets. Add the widespread knowledge that 9/11 was imminent among individuals who tried to warn the United States, and the reports of insider tradingbased on prior knowledge of the 9/11 events.
There is an explanation for these facts that is simpler than the official theory of luck for the hijackers and stupidity in government. The alternative hypothesis holds that a network ensconced within multiple US and allied foreign agencies was aware of the alleged 9/11 plotters' movements, and acted to protect them by blocking information flows and suspending investigations.
The motive may have been to shield a covert operation that was using the men, whether they knew about it or not. (A military spokesperson once said that five of the alleged 9/11 hijackers including Atta shared names with men who trained at US military bases, and in its subsequent denials the Pentagon provided no further clarification on who the trainees might have otherwise been.)
Or else the motive may have been to allow the 9/11 plot to succeed, as a necessary sacrifice to launch "The New American Century." Or else the motive was to protect the patsies and dupes who would later be blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks, if in fact the entire plot was orchestrated by elements within the US and allied government from the go.
The obvious possibility that the failures were intentional, and that the alleged hijackers were not just lucky but living under a protective veil, has never been raised by official investigations, the 9/11 Commission, or the corporate media. Why not?