- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

Members of the September 11 commission think they have been left swinging in the wind by the growing revelations about a secret Pentagon program that may have identified the ringleader of the hijackings as an al Qaeda operative more than a year before the attacks.

“Other people have questions they need to answer,” said Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the commission’s embattled successor body, the 9/11 Public Discourse Project.

“The American people deserve answers,” Mr. Felzenberg said, adding that both the White House and the Pentagon had left questions about the issue unresolved for weeks — something other commission sources say has exposed them to a fierce backlash.

“They are sitting on their hands and we are swinging in the wind,” one former commission official said.

Others, including Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, say the commission is merely getting “a little bit of its own medicine,” being second-guessed in hindsight, as it judged the actions of officials before September 11.

“In hindsight it is always easy to see people’s mistakes,” he said. “You have to be sympathetic to people in hindsight. More sympathetic than they were.”

At the center of the controversy are claims that the secret project, code-named Able Danger, in 2000 produced a chart bearing the names — and in some people’s recollections, photographs — of about 60 people thought linked to al Qaeda. Among the names was that of Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the attacks.

If the claims turn out to be true, it will entail a major rewrite of the commission’s accounts of the missed opportunities to thwart the attacks.

Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican and a passionate advocate of data-mining technology, and the man who first publicized the claims about Able Danger, has said repeatedly that he gave a copy of the chart to Stephen J. Hadley, now the national security adviser, at the White House on Sept. 25, 2001, and that Mr. Hadley said he would show it to the president.

The White House has refused to comment on the claims or provide Mr. Hadley for an interview with reporters.

“It would be helpful if Mr. Hadley would answer those questions,” Mr. Felzenberg said. “He could make this whole thing go away.”

Two persons associated with the project have come forward to say they told commission staff about the project and its identification of Atta — touching off a firestorm of criticism of the commission, including accusations from some victims’ relatives of a cover-up.

Commission staff say that, in the absence of any corroboration, they did not believe the accounts they received.

“We had 2 million pieces of paper we’d crowbarred out of the administration,” said Mr. Felzenberg. “We’d interviewed 1,200 people. … It was [their] story stacked up against these mountains of material — none of which mentioned Atta before September 11 or this famous chart.”

The Pentagon said last week that it had searched millions of documents, including many not turned over to the commission, but had found neither the chart nor any reference to it.

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