- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The September 11 commission knew military intelligence officials had identified lead hijacker Mohamed Atta as a member of al Qaeda who might be part of a U.S.-based terror cell more than a year before the terror attacks but did not include that in its final report, a spokesman acknowledged yesterday.

Al Felzenberg, who had been the commission’s chief spokesman, said Tuesday the panel was unaware of intelligence specifically naming Atta. But he said subsequent information provided Wednesday confirmed that the commission had been aware of the intelligence.

It did not make it into the final report because the information was not consistent with what the commission knew about Atta’s whereabouts before the attacks, Mr. Felzenberg said. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States is no longer in existence, although a follow-up organization called the 9/11 Public Discourse Project continues to track the Bush administration’s progress in implementing its recommendations.

The intelligence about Atta recently was disclosed by Rep. Curt Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees. The Pennsylvania Republican is angry that the military establishment never forwarded the intelligence to the FBI.

Mr. Weldon said a classified military intelligence unit called “Able Danger” identified Atta and three other hijackers in 1999 as potential members of a terrorist cell in Brooklyn, N.Y. Mr. Weldon said Pentagon attorneys rejected the unit’s recommendation that the information be turned over to the FBI in 2000.

Pentagon documents show that the information was not shared because of concerns about pursuing information on “U.S. persons,” a legal term that includes U.S. citizens as well as foreigners legally admitted to the country.

Mr. Felzenberg said an unidentified person working with Mr. Weldon came forward Wednesday and described a meeting 10 days before the panel’s report was issued in July 2004. During the meeting, a military official urged commission staffers to include a reference to the intelligence on Atta in the final report.

Mr. Felzenberg said checks were made and the details of the July 12, 2004, meeting were confirmed. Before that, Mr. Felzenberg said, it was thought that commission staffers knew about Able Danger from a meeting with military officials in Afghanistan.

Staff members now are searching documents in the National Archives to look for notes from the meeting in Afghanistan and any other references to Atta and Able Danger, Mr. Felzenberg said.

He sought to minimize the significance of the new information.

“Even if it were valid, it would’ve joined the lists of dozens of other instances where information was not shared,” Mr. Felzenberg said.

Mr. Weldon wrote a letter Wednesday to Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the September 11 commission, and Lee H. Hamilton, the vice chairman, asking for a look at why Pentagon attorneys did not pass on the information to the FBI.

The letter also asks the commissioners to find out why the panel’s staff members did not pass on the information about Able Danger to commission members and provide full documentation.

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