Able Danger officals will testify before Congress

By Roxana Tiron

Rep. Curt Weldon’s (R-Pa.) months-long crusade is starting to pay off.

The Pentagon, after weeks of silence, will allow participants in an intelligence cell that a year before the Sept. 11 attacks may have identified some of the ringleaders to testify before Congress. Their testimony could shed light on information that the Sept. 11 commission did not include in its report.

The Pentagon’s decision came in response to a letter Weldon sent to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld requesting that the Pentagon allow the participants in the cell, known as Able Danger, to testify in open congressional hearings.

More than half of the House members signed Weldon’s letter, among them members of the GOP leadership such as Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.); Peter King (R-N.Y.), who chairs the Homeland Security Committee; Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee; and Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

In a Dec. 13 letter to Weldon, Gordon England, the acting deputy secretary of defense, said that the Department of Defense has been “consistent in its position to cooperate fully with appropriate committees of the Congress on the issue of Able Danger.”

In the letter obtained by The Hill, Gordon said that it is the department’s understanding that the Armed Services and Judiciary committees are satisfied with the Pentagon’s previous briefings on the topic and that the leadership of those committees “declined to have hearings.”

Nevertheless Gordon, replying at the behest of Rumsfeld, said that the Pentagon remains committed to supporting a further review of the Able Danger issue and “will accordingly be pleased to participate in any resultant hearings requested.”

Even though Weldon asked for open hearings on Able Danger, Pentagon officials are reluctant to agree to that suggestion.

“In our judgment, a closed hearing is preferable to better assure that classified information will not be inadvertently released, but we will work with the committees to arrive at an approach that is acceptable,” Gordon wrote.

So far, the officers involved in the intelligence cell have not been allowed to testify in the only hearing on the topic, which the Senate Judiciary Committee held in early fall.

Weldon has accused the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), a unit of the Pentagon, of trying to keep the information that the intelligence unit discovered under wraps.

The military revoked the security clearance of one of the officers, Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who was scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Pentagon said his clearance was revoked for a series of alleged violations of military rules, none of them related to whistle-blowing.

Pentagon officials also have refused to allow Navy Capt. Scott Phillpott, another officer with knowledge of the Able Danger findings, to testify.

“It is a great win,” said Weldon about the Pentagon’s Dec.13 response. “Gordon England played a great role. Now we will let the facts fall where they may.”

Weldon had been waging a war against the DIA almost single-handedly until last month when his colleagues started listening and decided they wanted to hear more.

Weldon blamed the “upper-level bureaucracy in the Pentagon” and not the department’s leadership for blocking the flow of information on the intelligence data-mining cell.

Now, Weldon said he is preparing for hearings that he wants to set up early next year.

“We are going to do what the 9/11 Commission should have done,” Weldon told The Hill. “I know all the Able Danger people and none of them were addressed by the 9/11 Commission.”

He said that the Sept. 11 commission, which was appointed to investigate the attacks and the intelligence failures involved in them, disregarded information it received from Able Danger members Tony Shaffer and Scott Phillpott.

Weldon said he believes that the DIA stifled crucial information about Mohammed Atta, who became the lead Sept. 11 terrorist, and then destroyed related documents.

Weldon has said he learned that the secret program known as Able Danger was put in place in 1999 and 2000 by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and by the general in charge of the Special Forces Command. It was devoted to uncovering key cells of al Qaeda globally, giving the military the capability to destroy those cells.

Weldon told The Hill earlier this year that he believes the DIA is carrying out a smear campaign against Shaffer, who spoke the truth about the cell.

House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) asked the Pentagon’s inspector general this fall to investigate why the DIA revoked Shaffer’s top security clearance.