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Officer: 9/11 panel didn't receive key information

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer says a U.S. intelligence unit identified Mohamed Atta as an Al Qaeda operative in 2000.



Mohammed Atta
Acts of terror

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A former member of a classified Pentagon intelligence unit told CNN on Wednesday that information he tried to provide to the commission investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks never made it to the panel's members.

Publicly identifying himself for the first time, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer said he worked this year with Rep. Curt Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, and they determined "there was a significant amount of information that was totally deleted or not provided to the 9/11 commissioners."

Shaffer was part of the task force that supported Able Danger, an intelligence unit that was looking for al Qaeda terrorists.

The lieutenant colonel said Able Danger uncovered information in 2000 about lead hijacker Mohamed Atta by searching through public databases and looking for patterns.

Shaffer declined to be specific about what kind of documents linked Atta to al Qaeda, saying intelligence units continue to use such processes.

On Tuesday, Weldon told CNN that Shaffer set up meetings with FBI officials in 2000, but they were canceled because lawyers for the Special Forces unit -- of which Able Danger was a member -- allegedly were concerned military authorities could not legally share information with domestic law enforcement about potential terror suspects in the United States.

"I was at the point of near insubordination over the fact that this was something important, that this was something that should have been pursued," Shaffer told The New York Times on Wednesday.

In a statement Friday, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, chairman and vice chairman of the now-defunct 9/11 commission, said that Able Danger "did not turn out to be historically significant, set against the larger context of U.S. policy and intelligence efforts that involved [Osama] bin Laden and al Qaeda." (Full story)

Shaffer told CNN he had not come forward earlier because he believed there may have been a classified addendum to the commission's report or there might be some other reason why the information was not disclosed to the public.

The 9/11 panel -- officially known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- released its final report in a nearly 570-page book in July 2004.

9/11 commission learned about Able Danger

Since the allegations gained renewed media interest last week, military officials have said they were looking into Shaffer's account of the meeting requests and refused to comment further. The Pentagon also is checking into the matter, spokesman Bryan Whitman said Tuesday.

In their news release, Kean and Hamilton said the 9/11 panel became aware of Able Danger on October 21, 2003, when Philip Zelikow, executive director of the commission staff, and two staff members met at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan with three individuals doing intelligence work for the U.S. Defense Department.

One of the intelligence officers urged the commission to look into Able Danger and complained that Congress had "ended a human intelligence network he considered valuable."

Kean and Hamilton said the official memorandum from that meeting does not mention that Atta's name or any of the other hijackers' names were brought up during the conversation.

"What I know is that their statement on the 12th of August is wrong," said Shafer, who said he was at the Bagram meeting.

He said commission members called back requesting more information, but when he tried to set up a meeting in January 2004, "they changed their mind about talking to me."

Separately, Kean and Hamilton said a senior 9/11 commission staffer met with a "U.S. Navy officer employed at DOD [Department of Defense] who was seeking to be interviewed by commission staff in connection with a data mining project on which he had worked."

But they said the officer's "account was not sufficiently reliable" to include in the final report.

That meeting, they said, took place on July 12, 2004, when the commission's final report already was well into its last stages -- the report was released July 22. The meeting included the senior commission staff member, another staffer, the Navy officer and a Defense Department representative.

According to the official record of the meeting, the officer "recalled seeing the name and photo of Mohamed Atta on an 'analyst notebook chart' assembled by another officer," Kean and Hamilton said in their statement.

"The officer being interviewed said he saw this material only briefly, that the relevant material dated from February through April 2000, and that it showed Mohamed Atta to be a member of an al Qaeda cell located in Brooklyn," the statement said.

"The officer complained that this information and information about other alleged members of a Brooklyn cell had been soon afterward deleted from the document because DOD lawyers were concerned about the propriety of DOD intelligence efforts that might be focused inside the United States."

But the officer "could not describe what information had led to this supposed Atta identification. Nor could the interviewee recall, when questioned, any details about how he thought a link to Atta could have been made by this DOD program in 2000 or any time before 9/11," the statement said.

CNN's Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.

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