9/11 Commission Rejected Able Danger Report

9/11 Commission’s Staff Rejected Report on Early Identification of Chief Hijacker (NYT | RSS)

The Sept. 11 commission was warned by a uniformed military officer 10 days before issuing its final report that the account would be incomplete without reference to what he described as a secret military operation that by the summer of 2000 had identified as a potential threat the member of Al Qaeda who would lead the attacks more than a year later, commission officials said on Wednesday.

The officials said that the information had not been included in the report because aspects of the officer’s account had sounded inconsistent with what the commission knew about that Qaeda member, Mohammed Atta, the plot’s leader. But aides to the Republican congressman who has sought to call attention to the military unit that conducted the secret operation said such a conclusion relied too much on specific dates involving Mr. Atta’s travels and not nearly enough on the operation’s broader determination that he was a threat.

The briefing by the military officer is the second known instance in which people on the commission’s staff were told by members of the military team about the secret program, called Able Danger. The meeting, on July 12, 2004, has not been previously disclosed. That it occurred, and that the officer identified Mr. Atta there, were acknowledged by officials of the commission after the congressman, Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, provided information about it. Mr. Weldon has accused the commission of ignoring information that would have forced a rewriting of the history of the Sept. 11 attacks. He has asserted that the Able Danger unit, whose work relied on computer-driven data-mining techniques, sought to call their superiors’ attention to Mr. Atta and three other future hijackers in the summer of 2000. Their work, he says, had identified the men as likely members of a Qaeda cell already in the United States.

In a letter sent Wednesday to members of the commission, Mr. Weldon criticized the panel in scathing terms, saying that its “refusal to investigate Able Danger after being notified of its existence, and its recent efforts to feign ignorance of the project while blaming others for supposedly withholding information on it, brings shame on the commissioners, and is evocative of the worst tendencies in the federal government that the commission worked to expose.”

Quite odd. Ultimately, of course, a commission has to achieve some consensus on what it deems “credible” information; one hopes that they simply did not believe the Able Danger tips passed that threshhold.

The alternative explanation, that they were engaged in some sort of political coverup, is dubious. Not only were the commission members selected (with a couple notable exceptions) for their reputations for integrity but they were picked on a bipartisan basis. To the extent that this information reflected unfavorably on the Clinton administration, one would think several of the Republican members would have been happy to see it come to light.

Michelle Malkin, Kevin Drum, Ed Morrissey, Cori Dauber, Juliette Ochieng, Rusty Shackleford, and others weigh in as well.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    From my understanding of the interviews I’ve heard with Weldon, he was told by two committee members that the members were not told about AD by committee staff. If that is the case, it’s not a matter of the committee being at fault, but the committee staff failing to pass the info on to the committee.

  2. Herb says:

    The 9/11 commission was just as I thought it would be;


    The American taxpayer has been taken to the cleaners again, and what more could one expect from politicians

  3. Ken Taylor says:

    I believe the investigation should probe further than the 9/11 commission, back to the White House in 2000, when the Clinton administration, did not allow the FBI access to the intell, because of Atta being legally in the US and fear of political fall out because of the Waco debacle. Sandy,”Burglar,” should also be questioned again about the contents of the documents he, “accidentally, ” took from the archives. Lastly, the author of the memo which created the wall that prevented the sharing of intell, Jamie Gorelick should be questioned. Her involvement should have never allowed her on the commission in the first place!

  4. Anderson says:

    Apparently, Weldon’s source said he told Zelikow directly.

    Sorry for those of you who think Gorelick was the 20th hijacker.

  5. DL says:

    Bipartisan doesn’t mean objective and competent. These people showed the usually tendency that all public ” blue ribbon” committees show. Play to their own audience – smug superiority -feigned righteousness – conflicts of interest (Gorelick.) Bipartisan to me means, partisan as hell on both sides.

  6. James Joyner says:


    Bipartisan doesn’t mean objective and competent. . . . Bipartisan to me means, partisan as hell on both sides.

    Quite possibly. But what that does is remove the tendency to hide things that might embarrass one side or the other.

  7. DL says:

    Very good point JJ but I’ve also seen it mean “We’ll both pretend we’re doing a good job”. Or as often, “You don’t criticize me and I won’t criticize you.”

  8. Lurking Observer says:

    What was the basis for Zelikow or anyone else refusing to pass the original “Able Danger” warning to the FBI?

    It was the “wall,” created by Jamie Gorelick.

    Does this make her the 20th hijacker? Don’t be silly, Anderson, and no one is making that claim.

    But it does mean that policies were put in place during the previous administration which hampered the ability of the US Government to counter the threat.

    What does this do to the argument that the Clinton administration had “done everything it could” to fight terrorism?

    Does this explain why Sandy Berger decided to steal classified documents and specifically destroy some of them?

    And if the staff could conclude that “Able Danger” information was irrelevant to the investigation because it didn’t fit preconceived notions, to the point that they didn’t even forward it to the Commission itself, does this mean that the staff lied?

    After all, the Left has been remarkably glib with the word “lied” when describing how the Administration, by refusing to seek out and listen to contradictory evidence, had in effect “lied.”

    Goose, gander and all that….

  9. Dave says:

    There’s no conspiracy here. Jamie Gorelick was the lawyer who created the Chinese wall between military intel and the FBI. Jamie Gorelick was on the 9-11 commission. There’s no connection between the facts that she made the critical error (in the name of civil rights) which allowed Atta to slip past the FBI and that she had a significant part in creating the report which omitted any reference to Able Danger.

    No. This is purely coincidence. One’s got nothing to do with the other. And neither has anything to do with that guy over there who stuffed national security documents in his pants by accident. Our government officials have the highest integrity. They are unwilling to criticize a sitting President in wartime. They don’t put their own interests in front of the interests of the American people. They live lives exclusively devoted to serving the public. There just is not any motivation to do anything dishonest.

  10. Jerky says:

    Hey there Dave, do I detect a hint of sarcasm in your last post? Surely not.(giggle)

  11. Jondolar says:

    I’ve been following this every day since it broke last week. My first exposure to it, interestingly enough, was on CNN where Wolfe Blitzer interviewed Rep. Weldon. My first reaction was, either this is a vendetta in some form, or bigger than Watergate (and that was merely a burglary of the DNC office by some lackies resulting in a president’s resignation!).

    Now, having heard Lt. Col. Shaffer’s comments on radio interviews from three different shows, it’s obvious to me that this AD group was trying to do their job, had reason to suspect Atta’s cell should be looked into because of the Alquaida connection, and got stonewalled because of administrative policy which claimed to be implementing the inability to share military data with the FBI to protect civil rights. Oh, sure! This merely fostered an opportunity for foreigners to opperate without fear of being looked at closer. While that may not be directly enabling the Jihad of 9/11, it certainly appears to be indirectly doing that.

    Of course, what most who are sharing their viewpoints about this whole issue aren’t including with the larger picture regarding the terrorist threat is that Clinton testified before the Grand Jury that he’d been offered OBL by the Sudaneese govt. a couple of times, but didn’t believe he had any legal premise to do so. If that isn’t a perfect illustration of failure to uphold his oath of office, which includes national security, I don’t know what is.

    Liberals who find themselves in positions within an administration are placed there because they’re smart, smart enough to know they need to cover their “tracks” should any fall-out arise later on. Clinton is notorious for this; the rest follow by example.

    Of course, the Republican politician is just as skilled as the Democrat ones are; it’s just the game of being a politician who, first and foremost, looks out for their political career, while perpetuating the image that they have our well being in mind while making sure they leave office in a position to benefit themselves. Yes, as far as I’m concerned, there are no more elected officials at the federal level who, through their political career are there strictly for the good of the country over their own well being.

    Cynical? Maybe, naive’ NO!