A little follow-up was clearly warranted on Able Danger

Summary

The CYA press release by Lee Hamilton and Thomas Kean on Able Danger reveals negligence on the part of the 9-11 Commission. The Commission staff should have done some easy, indeed trivial, follow-up on the testimony of the military officer who says he saw Mohammed Atta identified as part of a Brooklyn al Qaeda cell in the spring of 2000. Instead, the Commission did zero follow-up, because they had already reached their conclusions. The CYA press release is defensive in tone, and with good reason. The Commission staff did not do its job in this instance.

Discussion

This is an account (from the pdf press release) of the July 2004 meeting of members of the 9-11 Commission with the military officer who said he saw the Atta picture and identification with a Brooklyn al Qaeda cell:

The Commission decided to ignore the military officer because the INS had Atta arriving in the US on June 3, 2000 on a flight into Newark. This is a ridiculous basis on which to ignore the military officer’s testimony. As Mark Steyn says:

There was “no way” that Atta could have been in the United States except when the official INS record says he was? No INS paper trail, “no way” he could have got in?

Here’s one way just for a start. Forget the southern border, insofar as there is such a thing. Fact: On America’s northern border, no record is kept of individual visitors to the United States. All that happens is that a photo scanner snaps your rear license plate. The scanner is said to be state-of-the-art, which is to say, as one Customs & Border official told me, it’s “officially” 75 percent accurate. On the one occasion my own license plate was queried, it turned out the scanner had misread it. So, just for a start, without any particular difficulty, a friend of Mohammed Atta could have rented a car for him in Montreal and driven him down to New York — and there would be never be any record to connect him to the vehicle anywhere in the United States or Canada. Would al-Qaida types have such contacts in Montreal? Absolutely. The city’s a hotbed of Islamist cells and sympathizers.

Fact: The only Islamist terrorist attack prevented by the U.S. government in the period before 9/11 was the attempt to blow up LAX by Ahmed Ressam, a Montrealer caught on the Washington/British Columbia frontier by an alert official who happened to notice he seemed to be a little sweaty. A different guard, a cooler Islamist, and it might just have been yet another routine unrecorded border crossing.

The 9-11 Commission was clearly negligent in not, as a minimal first step, placing a phone call to the man who had created the “analyst notebook chart” and who, as a DOD contractor, would have been easily reachable. Such a bit of follow-up with that man or others who were in a position to corroborate or refute the allegation would have been trivial to do. In light of the allegation being about 9-11 ringleader Atta specifically, the Commission should have taken the minimal steps required, knowing that they had better not be overlooking any evidence surrounding that individual.

Instead, the Commission screwed the pooch.

The Commission’s press release is a classic CYA effort, relentlessly looking to discount the statements of the officer, and insisting very loudly that no other view is valid. Look how they try to play down Atta’s connections to New York:

“They spent little time in the New York area.” Well, that’s reassuring. That certainly proves there was no connection of Atta to a Brooklyn al Qaeda cell. And get a load of the next bit, where it’s all about the “documents” that the military officer didn’t have, and how he didn’t have all the answers about how the Atta connections had been made:

This is all BS, in our view. Here’s how we know. The Commission’s statement is full of excuses for why it did not do the most simple and logical thing in the world, which was to contact the DOD contractor identified by the military officer. If the Commission staff had done so, they would have trumpeted that all over the press release. Instead, the Commission staff was negligent, because they had already made their minds up. This is not to say that the conclusion reached by the staff of the 9-11 commission was necessarily wrong, only that they should have made a phone call or two based on the testimony of the military officer.

The CYA press release by the 9-11 Commission unfortunately leaves some rather unsightly butt cheeks exposed.

(HT’s: Michelle Malkin, Captain Ed, Tom McGuire, TKS)

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