Able Danger Blog

Click here to order Triple Cross in paperback now

Monday, February 20, 2006

Bloggers talk with Mark Zaid

If you have not already heard, from AJ Strata, Mark Coffey, Bluto, Captain Ed, or Vi, we had a conference call with Tony Shaffer's attorney Mark Zaid tonight. I did not post a general notice inviting anyone interested to participate because I wanted everyone to get a chance to ask a question - which we all got. Actually, Mark stayed on the line a full hour and sounded like he would have stayed longer. If you can afford to do so, please consider sending him a check for his and Roy Krieger's pro bono work on behalf of the Able Danger witnesses using the mailing address on the right.

If you are interested in participating in the next blogger conference call, please email me at CONTACT at ABLEDANGERBLOG.COM with your name and a link to your blog. Congressman Weldon is also interested in holding a conference call with bloggers, and I would like to hear from bloggers who are interested in participating.

Now, as for tonight's call. I think we all learned some new things and got some new ideas. Mark Zaid pointed out two things in particular bloggers can help do. One was the financial support to help he and Roy Krieger keep up their pro bono work. The other is to help keep the pressure on and demand answers to unanswered questions. Who was the federal contractor that supplied the photo of Atta? Why can't they be located? Who sent the "armed federal agents" who seized all of the LIWA materials in Spring 2000? How could there not be a record of that? Why won't Philip Zelikow or Dieter Snell talk about their decision not to mention Able Danger?

Instead of going through the call question by question, I'll just do the "meta" blogging thing, and blog about other people blogging about the call.

I'm not sure who posted first, but I'll start with AJ. He points out that Mark said the DIA tried to stop Tony from testifying in uniform. Unbelievable. That might explain why he was referred to as "Mr. Shaffer" instead of "Lt. Col. Shaffer" on the official schedule for the hearing - which Weldon strongly objected to at the hearing. AJ also mentions how Captain Ed brought up the NSA story, but Mark Zaid had not heard of any connections being made with Able Danger. I think we should start making those exact connections, because the same undue deference to people with any link to the US is responsible for both the NSA scandal and the failure of Able Danger. The last major point AJ makes is one that I agree with completely - although I think we had several of these revelations last week, but the media wasn't paying attention.

What this story needs is some revelations that solidify the possibility Able Danger, if left alone, had a very good chance of stopping 9-11. The story that will bring in the press and the Congress is the scandal of a CYA effort by skittish political appointees that ended up deleting national security data that could have stopped 9-11.

Mark Coffey offers the following, which I also agree with:

Zaid found the open session ‘quite disappointing’, particularly the poor turnout. Zaid also stated that the complexity of the case seems to have left most of the attendees behind, and he decried the superficial level of knowledge (only three attendees were in the closed session, as well, according to Zaid’s undisclosed sources).

Interestingly, as with the September hearing, the hearing room itself was packed. It was just the members of Congress who were in poor attendance. Apparently, only Weldon, McKinney, and Saxton even bothered to stay for the closed session Wednesday.

Zaid said the feeling was that the hearing was a farce that appeared to be intended to placate Weldon. Zaid also said he was puzzled by the behavior of the FBI, who were formerly cooperative about acknowledging and following up on meetings that were attempted with several principals and seem to have gone through a sudden chill....

I want to conclude, however, with my own question, and an explanation of why the answer helped to quiet some of my skepticism. I asked, roughly, what the ideal outcome for Zaid would be, aside from obviously serving the interests of his clients.

Zaid responded that, of course, one desired outcome is to get Shaffer’s security clearance back and clear his name on the personnel matter, but the other outcome is that Able Danger be reconstituted. I find that very illuminating. These are not whistleblowers in the conventional sense, who have discovered wrongdoing and seek to stop it. Rather, these are people who are convinced that they were involved in something very worthwhile, something that may have, conceivably, prevented 9/11 in a perfect world, but more importantly, something that could prevent future attacks of a similar nature, that they feel was wrongly shut down by the higher-ups.

He also mentions "there was an alleged discovery related to China and a high government official (supposedly Rice) that caused the plug to be pulled on data-mining operations of this sort." However, some other names have been mentioned. According to Shane Harris of National Journal:

“I heard they turned up Hillary Clinton,” the official said. The experiment was not continued.

Bluto agreed on several points, and added the following:

Mr. Zaid was quite forthcoming, but unfortunately, more questions were raised than answered, and I got the impression that the hearings are a pro forma exercise that will probably shed little light on the Able Danger program. He described the conduct of the hearings as "very disconcerting" and said that the Representatives involved displayed "very superficial knowledge" of the Able Danger saga....

The biggest question I have is this: why isn't the mainstream media all over this story? It stinks to high heaven of coverup. NBC can provide nightly coverage of the Katrina aftermath for five months, but a story that has profound implications for national security doesn't rate thirty seconds?

Mr. Zaid was very diplomatic when I asked him about the lack of media attention, praising Fox News, the New York Times and Chris Matthews of MSNBC, but the fact is that a story isn't real to most of America until they hear it on the network news.

I'll have more on this later. In the meantime, you could do worse than write your Representatives to demand a real investigation, and maybe stop by the Able Danger Blog to make a donation to Colonel Shaffer's legal fund.

Captain Ed makes several key points here:

As Zaid points out, the lack of press almost certainly results from the committee members themselves; the only thing that Republicans and Democrats have in common these days is a desire to push Able Danger out of sight. The FBI also appears to have gotten the same disease as the two parties. The FBI, which once acknowledged that several attempts occurred to have meetings between its agents and the Able Danger team now denies that any such contacts occurred.

I have not performed much better, to be fair. Other issues have pushed Able Danger off of my radar screen, and even Zaid noted that no explosive developments have arisen from the story in weeks. Nonetheless, the above bloggers have done an excellent job in maintaining some interest in the story. The conference call gave me an opprortunity to pick the thread back up and start pressing Congress for more hearings. Zaid thinks that three or four more committees may conduct hearings on the matter, and the DoD Inspector General is expected to issue a report on AD sometime in May. Zaid believes that an unclassified summary will be part of that, but if it isn't, he will take action to get a declassified summary released.

I agree with Ed about the only thing that Democrats and Republicans seem to have in common these days. Neither Democratic or Republican leadership seems interested in going back into what happened before 9-11, because they don't think it serves their interests. Never mind that the Able Danger team can demonstrate it's in America's insterests. If it's not clear how you can score political points, it's not worth it. That's our job, as bloggers: To make it in their interests to get interested in Able Danger and start looking into how we can prevent the next attack on America.

UPDATE: On that note, Pierre Legrand, offers the best introduction to Shaffer's written testimony that I have seen:

First of all if you have not been following the Able Danger saga please go right now and read Lt Col Tony Shaffer's testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. In that document you will find a clear and concise explanation of just exactly how screwed up our Government is when confronted by its own errors. You will find a story about how we had the 9/11 Hijackers dead to rights, long before 9/11. You will know that this cuts right across partisan lines and truly is a story that both sides can find both comfort and alarm to think about late at night. This is a story of how the Government truly works away from the harsh glare of the Mainstream Media's childish simplification of the battles inside of the Government. Inside the document Lt Col Shaffer names names and lets us know who the hero's are and who are the villains. Not politely but with the passion of a person who feels bewildered by the idiocy raging around him. This is not the work of a disgruntled Government employee that is seeking to embarrass a politician or party but the work of a Patriot trying to protect his country.

Curt from Flopping Aces had to pull a double shift, but wishes he could have been there. I don't think he's the only one looking forward to our next chance to talk.