Rep. Weldon: Pentagon Report a 'Whitewash'

Kenneth R. Timmerman
Friday, Sept. 22, 2006

WASHINGTON -– Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., called a Pentagon report he had requested about pre-9/11 intelligence on al-Qaida operations in the United States "emphatically wrong" and a "whitewash," aimed at discrediting him as he faces the toughest re-election campaign of his career.

The report was leaked to the press on Wednesday, but Weldon was not briefed on its contents until Thursday afternoon, despite his instrumental role in requesting the investigation.

"What really upset me was they actually released information to the media before they even met with me or anyone else," Weldon told NewsMax on Thursday.

The report, conducted by the Pentagon Inspector General, investigated claims brought to Weldon's office by active duty military officers and other Defense Department officials about information they had developed on al-Qaida cells in the United States more than one year before the Sept. 11 attacks on America.

The data-mining operation was designated Able Danger, and the operation was run out of the U.S. Special Operations Command at Fort Belvoir, not far from the Pentagon. It was part of an experimental program to collect intelligence on terrorist networks and on illicit Chinese high-technology procurement efforts from open source material.

And that is why the program became such a threat, Weldon believes. "The database included information on Chinese procurement in the United States and the Clinton people didn't want this coming out, because there were a ton of Clinton names in there."

The Inspector General report confirmed information brought to Weldon by intelligence officials involved in the program that they had been ordered to destroy more than 2.5 terabytes of information in April/May 2000.

It also confirmed that the data was destroyed primarily because of the collection program on Chinese procurement activities in the United States, not because of al-Qaida.

That effort, which the report said "had parallels to the Able Danger mission," was known as the Joint Counterintelligence Assessment Group (JCAG).

The JCAG data runs were ordered in February 1999 by Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. John Hamre, the report stated, in reaction to "an active espionage operation by a hostile intelligence force."

Weldon said the Chinese procurement information included the names of former Defense Secretary William Perry and Condoleezza Rice, "because of their association with Stanford University, where the bulk of these students were acquiring this information."

The Pentagon report stated that the Able Danger data was destroyed along with the Chinese procurement information because of "concerns regarding the retention of data on United States persons that was collected" as part of the JCAG demonstration.

Several active duty intelligence officers told Weldon that Able Danger revealed the existence of five al-Qaida cells, including one in Brooklyn, as well as a chart with a photograph of Mohammad al-Atta, the lead hijacker on Sept. 11.

But the Pentagon report said that Able Danger never identified Atta by name. Weldon said that was "absolutely, emphatically wrong," and cited several witnesses who have testified before Congress, including individuals the Pentagon investigators either refused to question or said they were unable to reach.

Weldon also claimed, based on witness testimony, that Able Danger team-members were prevented from sharing information on the al-Qaida cells with the FBI prior to Sept. 11 by Pentagon higher-ups — information sharing that Weldon believes could have helped to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

"This is not Curt Weldon's story. This is the story of military officers who have risked their careers" to get their information to decision makers, he said.

The Pentagon report disputed claims by several witnesses at a congressional hearing this February, who testified that they had attempted to provide Able Danger information to the FBI, but were prevented from attending three scheduled meetings by their superiors at the Pentagon.

But it concluded that "Able Danger did not develop the type of intelligence information that would be actionable by law enforcement authorities," and said that the FBI had found no record of attempted meetings.

Weldon first learned of the data-mining capabilities of the Land Information Warfare Assessment Center (LIWAC) in 1997, when he was preparing to take a bipartisan congressional delegation to Vienna to meet a confident of Serbian President Slobodon Milosevic.

"I called George Tenet and asked him for a run on the Serbian we were meeting. He gave me three sentences the next day. Then I called the Army, and in a few hours, they gave me 10 pages. It was clear they had a capability we didn't have in the intelligence arena," Weldon said.

Weldon helped secure additional funds for LIWAC in 1999, and proposed it be expanded into a National Operations and Analysis Hub (NOAH) that would be available to all 32 U.S. government agencies using classified information.

In January 2003, President Bush announced the creation of the Terrorist threat Integration Center, which incorporates Weldon's original idea. Today it is known as the National Counter Terrorism Center, and is headquartered in a brand-new $700 million facility at undisclosed location outside Washington, DC.

Weldon is facing a tough challenge this November from Democrat Joseph A. Sestak, a retired admiral whose campaign supporters read like a "who's who" of the Clinton administration.

Among his campaign contributors are William J. Clinton, Madeleine Albright, former NSC advisor Sandy Berger, former political director John Podesta, and a host of Clinton White House aids including national security experts Rand Beers and Bob Bell, and terrorism analyst Daniel Benjamin.

Also contributing to the Sestak campaign were former CIA Director John Deutch, former Navy Secretary John Dalton, former National Security Advisor Tony Lake, and Daniel Poneman, a NSC official under President George H.W. Bush who stayed on during Clinton and now works for the Scowcroft Group, according to Federal Election commission records.

As of June 30, Sestak had raised $1.1 million dollars, much of it from Democratic Party PACs. Weldon had raised just over $1.4 million.

Allison Price, Sestak's spokeswoman, told reporters that Sestak was "very proud" of gaining support from the Clinton insiders, including Berger and Deutch, both of whom were convicted of mishandling classified documents after leaving office.

In 2004, Weldon won re-election in Pennsylvania's Seventh Congressional District with 59 percent of the vote. As of late August, political pundit Charlie Cook listed Weldon's seat as one of a dozen and a half "competitive" races, but projected he would win by 4.3 points.