- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The September 11 commission will investigate a claim that U.S. defense intelligence identified ringleader Mohamed Atta and three other hijackers as a likely part of an al Qaeda cell more than a year before the hijackings but didn’t forward the information to law enforcement.

Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican and member of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, said yesterday that the men were identified in 1999 by a classified military intelligence unit known as “Able Danger.”

If true, that’s an earlier link to al Qaeda than previously disclosed intelligence about Atta.

September 11 commission co-chairman Lee H. Hamilton said yesterday that Mr. Weldon’s information, which the congressman said came from multiple intelligence sources, warrants a review.

Mr. Hamilton said he hoped the panel could issue a statement on its findings by the end of the week.

“The 9/11 commission did not learn of any U.S. government knowledge prior to 9/11 of surveillance of Mohamed Atta or of his cell,” said Mr. Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. “Had we learned of it obviously, it would have been a major focus of our investigation.”

The September 11 commission’s final report, issued last year, recounted numerous government mistakes that allowed the hijackers to succeed. Among them was a failure to share intelligence within and among agencies.

Mr. Weldon said Able Danger identified Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi as members of a cell the unit code-named “Brooklyn” because of some loose connections to New York.

Mr. Weldon said that in September 2000, Able Danger recommended that its information on the hijackers be given to the FBI “so they could bring that cell in and take out the terrorists.”

However, Mr. Weldon said Pentagon lawyers rejected the recommendation because they said Atta and the others were in the country legally, so information on them could not be shared with law enforcement.

Mr. Weldon did not provide details on how the intelligence officials identified the terrorists and determined that they might be part of a cell.

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