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Monday Morning Intelligence and the NY Times with Kool Aid - 15

Jim Geraghty over at National Review summerizes "what we know" about the Able Danger story.

"Able Danger existed. Its mission was to seek out al-Qaeda cells. Tony Shaffer was the program’s liaison with the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, and that he was not one of the team’s intelligence analysts. Shaffer said there were eleven members of Able Danger; so far, nothing has contradicted this statement."

Ok, yet at the same time nothing outside of Schaffer and the witnesses so far has collaborated his/or their statements. Where's the beef? Where is the "paper"?

"Shaffer claims they discovered Atta and three other would-be-hijackers in 2000. Captain Phillpott, who managed the program for the Pentagon's Special Operations Command, makes the same allegation. James Smith claims he, too, was involved in creating this mysterious chart that included Atta that year."

Admittedly, I've giving this a little more credibility as we have an active flag officer going public now. He would be really risking his cookie dough if he was running cover and/or just flat out lying. But again, "Where is the chart?"

"The Pentagon has yet to confirm any of this with anything on paper.

It’s tough to ignore that Shaffer’s account makes the Pentagon look terrible; not pursuing a lead on an al-Qaeda operative because of the doubts about the legal ramifications of military intelligence collecting data on American citizens. (Of course, the hijackers were not U.S. citizens.) We can wonder about how eager the Pentagon would be to find the paperwork that would verify claims that they made legal errors in 2000 that may have cost nearly 3,000 lives; but right now we have no evidence that there’s some hidden cache of files that would verify these claims."

Another "sticky" problem, although at this point (new administration), there would be no reason for the Pentagon to really "coverup" this up. None of this "Able Danger" stuff happened "current" watch, and in Washington, the "Blame Game" is the rule. The Pentagon really has nothing to lose by "putting it all out on the table now", rather than take the chance of being found out laer. So now or later the Pentagon would have a lot more to lose by "withholding" information. Which is why I think if there were anything to this story (evidence), you would have seen it by now.

"The Gorelick “wall” is a bit of a side issue for now. (First let’s figure out exactly what Able Danger knew, when it learned it, and how the process of trying to contact the FBI went.) On the one hand, as a Justice Department official, Gorelick’s directives should not have been seen as the last word at William Cohen’s Department of Defense. On the other hand, as Ed and William Tate noted, her infamous memo was also directed to the DOJ Counsel of Intelligence Policy and Review, which advises the Attorney General, CIA, FBI, the Department of Defense and State on “questions of law, regulation, and guidelines as well as the legality of domestic and overseas intelligence operations.” In other words, both that memo and the attitude from the top made the priorities clear in the Clinton administration: Don’t foul up our prosecutions by using inadmissible intelligence gathered by foreign sources. In many cases, that is wise policy – you don’t want a criminal or terrorist walking free because the prosecutor was relying on inadmissible evidence. But the problem is, that puts a higher priority on a clean prosecution than arresting these guys before they commit their criminal act. If the act is counterfeiting, that’s not such a big deal. But if the act is crashing airliners into skyscrapers, then any court case is moot."

"The 9/11 Commission claims Shaffer never told them about Able Danger spotting Atta and the other hijackers in 2000; he claims he did. Phillpott told them about Able Danger and these findings in July 2004; they consulted the documentation they had received and concluded that there wasn’t much to Phillpott’s claims and that AD was “not historically significant.” In retrospect, the Commission’s dismissal of this after a routine consultation of the files turned over from DOD, instead of talking to someone who was actually involved with the program, appears… what’s the word I’m looking for here…. Um… boneheaded."

I've got no problem with the commission's response (or lack of it) initially to the story. However I do think it's kind of telling that they are coming out with barrels blazing to a point. Yeah, this could be their "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" moment, but I rather think it signals that they are confident that there is simply no evidence to back the up the story at this point.

"One cannot help but wonder about other cases where the Commission dismissed what interviewees were telling them, because it wasn’t supported in the files turned over by various agencies and bureaucracies.

More than one reader has reminded me of my peak moment of skepticism, and taken the opportunity to accuse me of being “all over the map” on this story.

Let’s recall that at that moment of supreme skepticism, 1) None of Weldon’s sources had come forward; 2) Weldon had generated no paperwork to support his allegations; 3) he appeared to be backtracking in the Time magazine article and 4) he was moving on to other shocking, unsupported allegations about Iran planning U.S. troops in Iraq with chemical weapons.

The good news is, three of Weldon’s sources have come forward, and he’s stopped talking about other shocking allegations. He says Time got the story wrong. It would still be nice to see some supporting paperwork about what Able Danger found – that infamous chart, a memo, a summary of findings, data tables, whatever, something from 2000 to indicate this isn’t just a bunch of well-meaning guys misremembering things."

I asolutely agree.

"Some days we have been getting new information that indicates Shaffer and Weldon are on the right track; some days we are getting new information that urges skepticism, or Shaffer changes his story a bit and people wonder how reliable his memory (or second-hand information) is. Shaffer and these two new witnesses don't seem crazy, and if they're lying or making this up, they are ruining their careers. On the other hand, the lack of any supporting documentation — and the oddities of this story, like the chart being stuck on the wall, or no one in government saying anything about this until now — should give one pause.

I think it’s safe to say that we still have a long way to go with this story."

Again, agreed.


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