Senate to Probe 9-11 Military Intelligence Allegations
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
Coming up, last night's New Orleans Saints game was supposed to be an exercise in healing and football; it turned out to be all football.
First, in Washington, a Republican congressman is raising new questions about what the Pentagon knew before the attacks of September 11th, 2001, and when the Pentagon knew it. Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will meet to probe accusations by Representative Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania. The congressman says military intelligence agents were aware of Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker, and two of the other 9/11 hijackers as far back as 1999. He also says Pentagon lawyers intervened to prevent that information linking Mohamed Atta and al-Qaeda from reaching the FBI. Dan Eggen has been covering this story for The Washington Post.
Dan, welcome to DAY TO DAY. There's a lot of confusing accusations here. What is it the judiciary committee's going to be trying to sort out?
Mr. DAN EGGEN (The Washington Post): Well, it's not clear how much they'll be able to sort out, Alex, because it appears that for classification reasons, the key witnesses here will probably not appear, at least as of the latest reports. So you will basically have the unusual sight of a member of the House testifying in front of the Senate--that would be Curt Weldon--and also perhaps an attorney for one of the witnesses involved in this case.
CHADWICK: Just go over for us these basic revelations. First of all, Mr. Weldon is a very high-ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, presumably well-informed. He's raised accusations about what the Pentagon knew about Mohamed Atta and this what's called data-mining program that the Pentagon was running called Able Danger. Can you explain that?
Mr. EGGEN: Yes. There was a--for a relatively short time period prior to the 9/11 attacks, there was this program called Able Danger, which used computers and something called link analysis and other techniques. It's still not clear exactly all the different subjects that they were perhaps looking at, but it does appear clear that some of it involved looking at alleged al-Qaeda members and other alleged members of terrorist groups.
The core accusation here is actually not particularly from the congressman but from one currently suspended military official who have alleged that they remember seeing a chart with Mohamed Atta's face and name on it. There's a total of five people--the Pentagon did an investigation. They found five people out of about 80 who had worked on this project who claimed to have some recollection of this. The problem here is that there's absolutely no documentary evidence to back this up.
CHADWICK: Mr. Weldon says that a great deal of documentary evidence was destroyed some time ago on orders of the Pentagon.
Mr. EGGEN: He does claim to have a witness who was involved in document destruction. The Pentagon has been very plain about saying that they did destroy documents, as they do all the time as part of fairly routine procedures, particularly if those documents involve what are called US persons. You know--and one of the allegations here is that perhaps one of those charts that they're talking about included US persons. The military is not supposed to be spending too much time spying on Americans.
CHADWICK: When you, as a reporter, talk to other members of Congress or officials in the government and raise Mr. Weldon's name, do they roll their eyes or do they take him as a serious, credible person who is raising allegations that need to be looked at?
Mr. EGGEN: No, I wouldn't say rolling of the eyes, but certainly he has had disputes in the past, both with other members of Congress and with the administration, over the viability of some of the allegations he's made. He's a very strong supporter and sees great promise in what are called link analysis programs and other computer efforts to analyze information. So, you know, at the same time--and he is a prominent member of both the Homeland Security and Armed Services Committee. In fact, he has publicly declared himself a candidate for chairman of the Armed Services Committee, so that also is a factor that the administration officials have told me, you know, plays in their decision as to how to handle him.
CHADWICK: Dan Eggen covers the Justice Department for The Washington Post.
Dan, thank you.
Mr. EGGEN: Thank you.
CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. More in a moment on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.
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