Chronicle Of A Non-Scandal

Ken AshfordRight Wing Punditry/IdiocyLeave a Comment

PHASE ONE: The Able Danger "scandal" as first mentioned by Kevin Drum on August 11:

The story was about a U.S. Army military intelligence program called "Able Danger" that had supposedly used data mining techniques to identify the al-Qaeda cell run by Mohamed Atta a year before 9/11. Unfortunately, as the story went, nothing was done about it because Defense Department lawyers prevented the Able Danger team from telling the FBI about the Atta cell.

For better or worse, I scanned the email briefly, saw that the primary source of the story was Pennsylvania congressman Curt Weldon, and decided to pass on it. On Tuesday, though, Douglas Jehl of the New York Times ran a piece about Weldon’s accusations (here) and then followed it up on Wednesday with another piece (here) that quoted a number of people wondering why this information was only being made public now and why the 9/11 commission hadn’t investigated it last year.


Bottom line: This is an intriguing story, but my guess is that Weldon and his source may be considerably embroidering the scope and reliability of what the Able Danger team actually uncovered in 2000 — as people are often wont to do after the fact. Stay tuned.

PHASE 2: The right wing blogosphere goes ballistic.  Here’s NRO on August 11:

In a story filed at 7:10 PM, the Associated Press is now confirming all the particulars of what will now forever be called the Able Danger disaster. The 9/11 Commission staff did hear about intelligence-gathering efforts that hit pay dirt on the whereabouts of Mohammed Atta — in 1999 — and deliberately chose to omit word of those efforts.

And why? Because to do so might upset the timeline the Commission had established on Atta.

And why is that significant? Because the Mohammed Atta timeline established by the Commission pointedly insisted Atta did not meet with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague.

And why is that significant? Because debunking the Atta-Iraq connection was of vital importance to Democrats, who had become focused almost obsessively on the preposterous notion that there was no relation whatever between Al Qaeda and Iraq — that Al Qaeda and Iraq might even have been enemies.

I was very skeptical of this Able Danger stuff about Atta, thought it was just sme way Rep. Curt Weldon was trying to sell a book. No longer. This is clearly becoming the biggest story of the summer.

Michelle Malkin and Captain’s Quarters, among many others, go ballistic.

PHASE 3:  Nothing to see here, folks.  Seriously:

In a particularly dramatic scene in Weldon’s book, Countdown to Terror, the Pennsylvania Republican described personally handing to then-Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, just after Sept. 11, an Able Danger chart produced in 1999 identifying Atta. But Weldon told TIME he’s no longer certain Atta’s name was on that original document.

PHASE 4: A rare display of public crow-eating:

NRO: "We May Owe Them A Big Apology": . . . I submit there is good reason to believe the Navy officer may have been extrapolating because he was so upset to discover that the "data mining" operation he found out about wasn’t being properly shared with domestic law-enforcement agencies. And without more proof than a four-year-old memory that may have been faulty, the Commission was right to be skeptical about the value of this testimony.

As for Curt Weldon, remember that he’s trying to sell a book. It’s now up to him to put up or shut up. Can he or anyone else supply evidence stronger than the evidence presented to date about this that the Pentagon was in possession of Mohammed Atta’s name a year before the attacks? I doubt he can or he would have already.

Michelle Malkin: Even so, those of us who reported unequivocally that Able Danger identified Mohammed Atta and three other hijackers a year before the 9/11 attacks simply were not on solid ground.

So much for the "scandal of the summer", yes?