Monday, August 22, 2005

House Republican leaders approved in advance plans by a military intelligence official to go public with details of a top-secret Pentagon project code-named Able Danger.

Army Reserve Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer says the data-mining project identified Mohamed Atta and three of the other September 11 hijackers as members of an al Qaeda cell more than a year before the attacks.

“I spoke personally to Denny Hastert and to Pete Hoekstra,” Col. Shaffer said. Mr. Hastert, Illinois Republican, is speaker of the House, and Mr. Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

“I was given assurances by [them] that this was the right thing to do. … I was given assurances we would not suffer any adverse consequences for bringing this to the attention of the public,” Col. Shaffer said.

Col. Shaffer said his conversations with Mr. Hastert and Mr. Hoekstra took place before he and members of the Able Danger team spoke as anonymous sources to reporters in the offices of Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, on Aug. 8.

Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean said yesterday that he had no information about whether the meeting took place and had no comment to make. Mr. Hoekstra was said by staff to be out of the country.

Col. Shaffer also said he was given what he interpreted as tacit approval from senior Pentagon officials before going on the record to Fox News and the New York Times last week.

Col. Shaffer he said he had met with Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone and Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, the staff director for outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard B. Myers.

“They knew that this would be the next logical step,” Col. Shaffer said, and the officials did not ask him to refrain from going public.

A Pentagon spokesman said he could not confirm whether those meetings had taken place.

Able Danger was a yearlong, highly classified project carried out for the Joint Chiefs of Staff by U.S. Special Operations Command, the existence of which was first revealed by Mr. Weldon in a recent book.

In a floor speech and at least one congressional hearing in June, Mr. Weldon said the project had identified September 11 hijackers Atta, Marwan Al-Shehhi, Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi as members of an al Qaeda cell more than a year before the attacks.

On Aug. 8, Col. Shaffer — joined on at least one occasion by members of the Able Danger team — began giving interviews as an anonymous source to reporters in Mr. Weldon’s office.

Col. Shaffer told reporters that the September 11 commission had been told about the project. Commission members and staff have said that they asked the Pentagon for documents on the project. The Pentagon has said it is investigating Col. Shaffer’s account.

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