Pentagon coverup?

Intelligence agencies may have known about the lead 9/11 hijacker

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Last month the Department of Defense took the unusual -- and disturbing -- step of buying up the entire initial press run of a book it doesn't like, and then destroying it.

The book is "Operation Dark Heart," by retired Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, about an intelligence operation in Afghanistan in the early days of the war there.

Mr. Shaffer had submitted his manuscript to the Army for security review, which approved it. But the Defense Intelligence Agency weighed in late with objections.

A second edition is being printed, with the redactions the Pentagon insisted upon. Thanks in large part to the publicity surrounding the Defense Department's effort at censorship, "Operation Dark Heart" is expected to debut at No. 7 on The New York Times bestseller list.

The DIA objected to about 200 passages in the book. Some made sense, as in removing the names of the intelligence officers with whom Mr. Shaffer worked in Afghanistan. Others didn't.

"Some of the redactions can't be explained by logic, so the only explanation that occurs is that they were trying to conceal what they were after," Mr. Shaffer told me.

What Mr. Shaffer thinks DIA is most interested in concealing are details about Able Danger, an Army data mining operation on which Mr. Shaffer worked before going to Afghanistan.

According to Mr. Shaffer and others who worked on the project, Able Danger had identified Mohamed Atta, the leading 9/11 hijacker, as a member of al-Qaida long before Mr. Atta was permitted to enter the United States.

A report by the Defense Department inspector general in September 2006 said Mr. Shaffer's claims could not be substantiated. But recent reporting by Fox News casts doubt on the veracity of the IG report.

"At least five witnesses questioned by the Defense Department's inspector general told Fox News that their statements were distorted by investigators in the final IG's report -- or it left out key information, backing up assertions that lead hijacker Mohamed Atta was identified a year before 9/11," Catherine Herridge reported Oct. 4.

Ms. Herridge obtained an early copy of the IG report in which the names of witnesses hadn't been redacted. She contacted them. They told her the IG investigators were "hostile."

The DIA's treatment of Mr. Shaffer certainly was. DIA yanked his security clearance after charging him with "misuse of a government cell phone in the amount of $67" and the "misfiling of a travel voucher in the amount of $180.00." Then, because he'd lost his security clearance, the DIA fired him.

"Based on our investigation of security clearance retaliation it appears the Defense Intelligence Agency used the security clearance system in an improper manner against Lt. Col Shaffer," Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., then the chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee, wrote in October 2006.

Bad things also happened to Rep. Curt Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican who was Mr. Shaffer's chief supporter in Congress. Three weeks before the 2006 midterms, the FBI very publicly raided the home of Mr. Weldon's daughter, Karen, in an alleged investigation of corruption.

No charges have been filed against Karen Weldon or her father. The Justice Department won't say whether the investigation is continuing.

In December 2006, FBI Director Robert Mueller told the Senate Judiciary Committee he was "exceptionally disappointed" that word of the investigation had been leaked to the press. But by then Mr. Weldon -- who'd been leading in the polls up until the investigation was disclosed -- had lost his race to Joe Sestak.

Why might Justice have wanted Mr. Weldon to go away? Perhaps because he said it was then Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick who was chiefly responsible for preventing the Able Danger team from sharing its intelligence with the FBI.

Ms. Gorelick, who later served on the 9/11 Commission, worked for President Bill Clinton. But if partisan politics is to be blamed, there's plenty to go around. Able Danger was terminated in March 2001 on President George W. Bush's watch. The coverup occurred on his watch, too.

More likely, this is a case of bureaucracies covering up a massive blunder with heavy-handed intimidation. And this is more alarming than if mere politics were involved -- because it can't be fixed simply by replacing politicians we don't like with politicians we do.


Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The (Toledo) Blade ( jkelly@post-gazette.com , 412 263-1476).


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