DIA pressures 9/11 whistleblower


ISN SECURITY WATCH (21/10/05) - A vocal Republican congressman is calling for a new investigation into what he says is a “witch-hunt” by defense chiefs against a 9/11 intelligence whistleblower, and has threatened to resign from Congress if the matter is ignored.

Representative Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania told the US House of Representatives on Wednesday that officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) were embarked on “an attempt to prevent the American people from knowing the facts about how we could have prevented” the 11 September 2001 attacks.

To do so, he said, they were engaged in “a grand effort to destroy the reputation” of the whistleblower, retired US Army Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony Shaffer. Weldon said the military wanted to “create scandalous accusations [...] to take away his health care benefits for his two kids because he is telling the truth.”

Shaffer has been stripped of his security clearance and placed on administrative leave by the DIA, while the agency investigates allegations about some US$160 worth of disputed expenses and charges that he received a commendation to which he was not entitled. Weldon said the agency was preparing to fire Shaffer, who worked there as a civilian after retiring from the uniformed military.

In June, the outspoken congressman made public Shaffer’s account of how a highly classified Pentagon data-mining project he worked on, codenamed Able Danger, identified the ringleaders of the 9/11 terror attacks as being linked to al-Qaida more than a year before they hijacked four planes and crashed them into US landmarks, killing nearly 3,000 people.

Weldon said the project had generated a chart showing the links between the various al-Qaida militants it had identified, which bore the name and likeness of Mohamed Atta - the plot ringleader - and of four of the other hijackers.

Defense officials, who say they carried out extensive enquiries, told reporters earlier this year that out of about 80 people who worked on or with Able Danger, five remembered Atta’s name or likeness on such a chart. But they added they had found no such chart, and no reference to it, and that huge quantities of data and documentation generated by the project had been routinely destroyed.

Publicly, officials say they have no reason to believe Shaffer and claim the others are lying.

Privately, they point out that Shaffer was what one called “a bit player” only peripherally associated with the project, and that there were a number of other well-known al-Qaida associates with similar names.

Weldon says there are a small number of senior officials at the DIA and elsewhere in the Pentagon trying to hide the fact that they ignored the Able Danger findings, blocked team members from passing their leads to the FBI, and then destroyed the project’s data.

“This is not about the DIA, this is not about the CIA - this is about CYA,” Weldon said on the floor of Congress, using an acronym for the practice of protecting one's behind.

“There is something outrageous at work here,” Weldon said. “Mr. Speaker, we could ignore this. I cannot. If it means I have to resign from this body, I will resign.”

After the speech, Weldon told reporters he had written to the inspector-general of the Department of Defense to ask for “an immediate formal inquiry, with people testifying under oath” into what he called “a clear witch-hunt” against Shaffer.

In a turn of events that clearly outraged Weldon, Shaffer said boxes of his personal effects, returned to him by the DIA earlier this month, contained both government property and classified documents.

“Sending classified material through the mail is a felony, and much more serious than any of these minor, trumped-up charges against [Shaffer],” Weldon said, adding that “I want the appropriate persons held accountable.”

A DIA spokesman told ISN Security Watch that the agency had indeed mailed Shaffer his personal effects from his workspace at the DIA. “We’re not aware of any classified material being included in that shipment,” said the spokesman. He had no immediate comment on any of Weldon’s other charges.

(By Shaun Waterman in Washington, DC)