Able Danger Blog

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Goldstein Strikes Back

In our conference call with Congressman Weldon, he told us that he had embarassed Steve Goldstein of the Philadelphia Inquirer in a speech at a national press event, by explaining that he had offered Steve the Able Danger story, but Steve turned him down. Then when it showed up on the front page of the New York Times three days in a row, the Philadelphia Inquirer had to run the New York Times byline, instead. Well, Steve hasn't bothered to look into the story much since then either, but that hasn't stopped him from declaring that the Able Danger story is now "unraveling".

From today's issue of the Philadephia Inquirer:

But Weldon's story, which unleashed a wave of national media attention as well as probes and congressional hearings, is unraveling.

He now says that he's not sure the chart had a picture of Atta, as he has sometimes maintained, and that he has been relying on the memory of an intelligence analyst who helped produce it.

Weldon has always explained that he is telling the stories of the intelligence analysts who produced the charts. He did not produce the chart himself. Two of them have now testified before Congress, under oath, that they saw the name and photo of Mohamed Atta on that chart. That would seem to add to the credibility of the story - not unravel it - but hey, I guess I'm not the professional journalist.

From Tony Shaffer's sworn testimony:

Late September 2001. Eileen Preisser calls me for coffee and tells me she has something she needs to show me. At coffee she shows me a chart she had brought with her – a large desk top size chart. On it she has me look at the ‘Brooklyn Cell’ – I was confused at first – but she kept telling me to look – and in the “cluster” I eventually found the picture of Atta. She pointed out (and I recognized) that this was one of the charts I LIWA had produced in Jan 2000, and had a sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach – I felt that we had been on the right track – and that because of the bureaucracy we had been stopped – and that we might well have been able to have done something to stop the 9/11 attack. I ask Eileen what she plans to do with the information/chart – she tells me that she does not know but she plans to do something.

Last week of September 2001. I am on my normal afternoon run from the Pentagon to the Lincoln Memorial – and I receive a call from Dr. Preisser. She tells me “you’ll never guess where I am” – she tells me about sitting in the outer office of Scooter Libby and the fact that she, Congressman Curt Weldon, Congressman Chris Shays and Congressman Dan Burton are going in to brief Steven Hadley on the Atta chart. I am both amazed and satisfied that the Atta information and our work on ABLE DANGER had been provided to proper government leadership and fully expected that the ABLE DANGER team might even be reconstituted. It was not.

From JD Smith's sworn testimony:

SMITH: I have two people presently that have contacted my counsel, who are willing to sign affidavits. There are others that work in the intelligence community who choose not to partake of this.

WELDON: But they also saw it?

SMITH: They also saw it.

WELDON: How sure are you that it was Mohammed Atta's name and picture?

SMITH: I'm absolutely certain. I used to look at it every morning.

WELDON: You looked at it every morning. So it wasn't a one time deal?

SMITH: No, sir.

WELDON: And was that the chart you think that was given to me that I gave to the White House?

SMITH: Yes, sir. It was.

WELDON: And you're aware that when I gave that chart to the White House, Dan Burton, the chairman of the Government Ops Committee, was with me and stated to the New York Times, that he actually showed the chart to Steve Hadley and explained the linkages?

SMITH: Yes, sir.

WELDON: You're aware of all that?

SMITH: Yes, sir. I am.

Not content with passing off spin as news, now Goldstein attacks Weldon:

But often Weldon's nightmare scenarios seem little more than daydreams.

That was the case last year when he said a source told him that the Iranian government had set in motion a plot to crash hijacked planes into the Seabrook reactor in New Hampshire. The CIA quickly debunked the story, saying Weldon's source was unreliable.

This has nothing to do with Able Danger. Finally, they return to the subject, with a few haphazard attempts to debunk the story without bothering to do any research:

The fact that Phillpott and Shaffer were of relatively high rank and held responsible positions added weight to the allegations.

But problems soon began to develop with the story.

The 9/11 commission said its executive director, Philip Zelikow, and three others had met with Shaffer at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where he was on assignment, in October 2003 as part of its probe. Contradicting Shaffer, the 9/11 commission said that during this meeting, he never mentioned that Able Danger had identified Atta and other hijackers before the plot, the commission said.

Commission members now believe it is a case of mistaken identity, because military data-mining programs before 9/11 produced charts with the names and pictures of other al-Qaeda members who were not part of the plot, but whose names and pictures resemble Atta's.

Other senior government officials and key players in the 9/11 aftermath also have raised questions about Weldon's account. A source familiar with a Senate Intelligence Committee probe of the issue said that committee had turned up no documentation to support Weldon's story.

No documentation to support "Weldon's story"? What kind of false generalization is that? How about sworn congressional testimony from Stephen Cambone that supports "Weldon's story":

WELDON: Dr. Cambone, do you agree in your assessment — or your team here — that the Able Danger team identified five hotspots, what they called hotspots, which would include Malaysia, Mauritania, Hamburg, Germany, New York and Aden, Yemen?

CAMBONE: Yes, there’s said to be that sort of designation of places, to include the Brooklyn cell issue.

Or this guy testifying to warnings before the attack on the USS Cole:

WELDON: And I would also ask you, Dr. Cambone, have you, in fact, talked to any of the witnesses about information that Able Danger had relative to the Port of Aden in Yemen, two weeks and two days before the attack on the USS Cole?

CAMBONE: I did not, but my colleague did.

CHOPE: Sir, in the days preceding 12 October 2000, which was the day the Cole was attacked in Aden harbor, one of the intelligence analysts assigned to the Able Danger effort began to get what he calls gut feel that things were going awry in Yemen; he didn't have any hard intelligence.

He asked then Commander Scott Philpot if that could be briefed at a high level briefing that took place on 10 October, during a VIP visit to the Garland facility, and it was.

Needless to say, Steve Goldstein is not interested in all this. He concludes:

Even so, the story has survived, reflecting the adage that it is impossible to prove that something didn't happen.

"How do you prove that pink elephants did not dance along your backyard last night?" said one frustrated former member of the 9/11 commission staff. "It would seem to me that if you are making an allegation, the burden of proof is on the person making the charges."

It would also appear that it's impossible to get a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter to investigate a story themselves, instead of attacking the Congressman who tries to get them to look into it.