Pentagon probes treatment of 'Able Danger' officer

By David Morgan
Wed Nov 9, 2005 7:32 PM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon inspector general is investigating the Defense Intelligence Agency's treatment of an Army colonel who was the first to claim publicly that the government knew about four September 11 hijackers long before the 2001 attacks, officials said on Wednesday.

Among the issues under review is whether the DIA revoked the security clearance of Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer last September in retaliation for repeated comments he made in the media about a military intelligence team code-named Able Danger, sources familiar with the case said.

Revelations about Able Danger, a small data-mining operation that ended in 2000, have reignited debate about whether the United States could have prevented the attacks on New York and Washington that killed 3,000 people and prompted the U.S. war on terrorism.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the inspector general began reviewing Shaffer's case after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld received a written request on October 20 from Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Armed Services.

Shaffer and his attorney met with officials from the inspector general's office on Wednesday.

Shaffer came forward in August with claims that Able Danger had identified September 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta and three other hijackers as al Qaeda members in early 2000. But he said Pentagon lawyers prevented the team from warning the FBI.

Others associated with Able Danger, including the team's former leader, Navy Capt. Scott Phillpott, have since made similar statements. But an exhaustive Pentagon search of tens of thousands of documents and electronic files related to the operation failed to corroborate the claims.

Officials with House and Senate intelligence oversight committees have also said there is little substantiating evidence.

U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican who has championed Able Danger and other data-mining projects, told reporters on Wednesday that Able Danger also uncovered evidence of a threat to U.S. interests in Yemen two days before the 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole, which killed 17 sailors.

Weldon, who attributed his information to Phillpott, said the Able Danger team passed along the warning through proper channels but no word of danger ever reached the Cole.

"They sent it up but they don't know what happened," Weldon said. "That's part of what needs to be investigated."

Meanwhile, Shaffer's attorneys say their client is in danger of losing his job because the DIA has accused him of obtaining a medal under false pretenses, improperly showing his military identification while drunk and stealing ink pens.

Shaffer's supporters, including Weldon, say the charges are trumped up.

Weldon and Shaffer attorney Mark Zaid both said the DIA recently returned Shaffer's personal effects from his office but mistakenly included several classified documents and another employee's mail.

"There are several inconsistencies between the DIA and LTC Shaffer concerning the facts," Hunter said in his letter to Rumsfeld. "The committee also has concerns with certain aspects of how the DIA has handled this matter."

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