The Sept. 11 commission knew military intelligence officials had identified lead hijacker Mohamed Atta as a member of al-Qaida who might be part of U.S.-based terror cell more than a year before the terror attacks but decided not to include that in its final report, a spokesman acknowledged Thursday.
Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the commission’s follow-up project called the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, had said earlier this week that the panel was unaware of intelligence specifically naming Atta. But he said subsequent information provided Wednesday confirmed that the commission had been aware of the intelligence.
The information did not make it into the final report because it was not consistent with what the commission knew about Atta’s whereabouts before the attacks, Felzenberg said.
The intelligence about Atta recently was disclosed by Rep. Curt Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees. The Pennsylvania Republican has expressed anger that the intelligence never was forwarded by the military establishment to the FBI.
The discourse project, Pentagon and at least two congressional committees are looking into the issue. If found accurate, the intelligence would change the timeline for when government officials first became aware of Atta’s links to al-Qaida.
According to Weldon, a classified military intelligence unit called “Able Danger” identified Atta and three other hijackers in 1999 as potential members of a terrorist cell in New York City. Weldon said Pentagon lawyers rejected the unit’s recommendation that the information be turned over to the FBI in 2000.
According to Pentagon documents, the information was not shared because of concerns about pursuing information on “U.S. persons,” a legal term that includes U.S. citizens as well as foreigners legally admitted to the country.
Felzenberg said an unidentified person working with Weldon came forward Wednesday and described a meeting 10 days before the panel’s report was issued last July. During it, a military official urged commission staffers to include a reference to the intelligence on Atta in the final report.
Felzenberg said checks were made and the details of the July 12, 2004, meeting were confirmed. Previous to that, Felzenberg said it was believed commission staffers knew about Able Danger from a meeting with military officials in Afghanistan during which no mention was made of Atta or the other three hijackers.
Staff members now are searching documents in the National Archives to look for notes from the meeting in Afghanistan and any other possible references to Atta and Able Danger, Felzenberg said.
Felzenberg sought to minimize the significance of the new information.
“Even if it were valid, it would’ve joined the lists of dozens of other instances where information was not shared,” Felzenberg said. “There was a major problem with intelligence sharing.”
Weldon on Wednesday wrote to Thomas Kean, chairman of the 9/11 commission, and Lee Hamilton, the vice chairman, asking for information to be sought that would look at why the information was not passed on by Pentagon lawyers to the FBI.
His letter also asks the commissioners to find out why the panel’s staff members did not pass the information about Able Danger onto commission members and provide full documentation.
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and his House counterpart, Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra, are looking into the issue.
On the Net:
9/11 Discourse Project: http://www.9-11pdp.org/