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“Able Danger” - The 9/11 Commission Cover-Up

By Gary D. Halbert
August 16, 2005


1.  “Able Danger” Found The Terrorists In 2000.

2.  Why Was This Information Kept Private?

3.  This All Smells Funny (ie – Conspiracy).

4.  The Sandy Berger Theft Connection

5.  Bill Clinton’s Record On Terrorism


On June 27, U.S. Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) delivered a shocking speech on the House floor in which he claimed that the 9/11 Commission was briefed on two occasions that a Special Operations unit known as “Able Danger” had identified the whereabouts of Mohamed Atta, the 9/11 terrorist ringleader, and three other terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center, a full year before the September 11, 2001 tragedy.   

Rep. Weldon also alleged that military officers who headed-up Able Danger were convinced that Atta and the others were a part of Al Qaeda and were planning some sort of terrorist attack in the US.  They felt so strongly that in late 2000, they recommended that their superiors turn the information on Atta and the others over to the FBI so that they could be taken into custody for questioning.

Yet somewhere up the chain of command, the recommendation to round-up Atta and the others was denied.  Rep. Weldon believes that the recommendation was denied because of the strengthening of the intelligence “wall” that occurred during the Clinton administration, which prevented our various security agencies from sharing information.

In that same speech, Rep. Weldon issued a blistering criticism of the 9/11 Commission for failing to include any of this information in its final 9/11 Report which was released on July 22, 2004.  Initially, members of the 9/11 Commission denied that they had such information, and questioned Weldon’s credibility, but as of last week, they admitted they did receive such information from Able Danger, or at least members of their staff received such briefings.

The media has tried its best to cover this story up, but it will not go away.   The reason the media and the 9/11 Commission want to cover this story up, or at least blur the facts, is that these latest revelations deal a serious blow not only to the Commission, but also to the Clinton administration.

Will we ever know who denied the request from Able Danger to share the information on Atta and the other terrorists with the FBI, so they could be arrested?  That remains to be seen.  Rep. Weldon (whether you like him or not – he is controversial) is demanding to know.  Will we ever know if, in fact, the tragedy of 9/11 could have been prevented?  I don’t know.  But this week, we will look at the information that has emerged, especially in the last week as the media has finally had to come clean – sort of.  Let’s get started. 

“Able Danger” Found The Terrorists In 2000

This much we know.  In 1999, the Pentagon established an intelligence unit called Able Danger, assigned to seek out and identify Al Qaeda cells and members for U.S. Special Operations Command.  This group reportedly used “data-mining” information from open/public sources (and not classified government intelligence – more on this later).

Precisely when Able Danger identified Mohamed Atta and the other three would-be hijackers is not exactly certain, but it is clear that they had found them in Brooklyn and determined them to be Al Qaeda by August or September of 2000 – a year before the 9/11 attacks.

Able Danger’s senior officers were so concerned about Atta and the other three terrorists that they recommended to their superiors, on more than one occasion, that they hand over this information to the FBI and have the agency round these people up.

What we have now learned is that superiors up the chain of command from Able Danger refused to turn over the information on Atta and the others to the FBI.   This was information which might have prevented the horrors of 9/11.  As noted above, Mohamed Atta was the leader of the 9/11 terrorists; he piloted the jet that hit the first World Trade Center tower.  Two of the other three terrorists were pilots on the other hijacked flights.

Why Was This Information Kept Private?

This is where the story gets murky and disturbing.  Rep. Weldon claims that he has spoken with four members of Able Danger, and they confirm that they gave their superiors the names and location of the four terrorists, including a photo of Atta, and strongly recommended that the FBI be informed and arrest these men immediately.  According to Rep. Weldon, Able Danger was convinced these men were working on a terrorist plot.   This was in late 2000.

Now, let’s rewind the tape to 1995.  It was in 1995 that then Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jamie Gorelick issued a detailed memorandum to the various intelligence agencies (FBI, CIA, etc.) in which intelligence and law enforcement were directed to go beyond what the law required to keep intelligence gathering and criminal law enforcement separated.  This directive has since become known as the “wall memo.”   Among other things, the memo said:

“We believe that it is prudent to establish a set of instructions that will more clearly separate the counterintelligence investigation [CIA] from the more limited, but continued, criminal investigations [FBI]. These procedures, which go beyond what is legally required, will prevent any risk of creating an unwarranted appearance that FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] is being used to avoid procedural safeguards which would apply in a criminal investigation.”

This is where some degree of speculation arises because, as of now, we do not know exactly who denied the request to give Able Danger’s information to the FBI.  But most agree that the existence of the “wall” played a role.   However, one of the purported reasons for the wall was to protect citizens’ rights.  Yet Mohamed Atta and the other three terrorists were NOT US citizens; they were here on visas.

When this story broke wide open last week, the New York Times and the Associated Press indicated that Pentagon lawyers (perhaps in conjunction with US Attorney General lawyers) decided that anyone holding a “green card” - as it was believed the terror cell members did - had to be granted essentially the same legal protections as any US citizen.  Thus, the lawyers concluded the information Able Danger had gathered could not be shared with the FBI.

Can you believe this?  Political correctness gone mad!!

Yet we still do not know who ultimately made this decision.  “Pentagon lawyers” or “Attorney General lawyers” doesn’t tell us anything.   What needs to be determined is just how far up the chain of command the decision went.  Did it go as high as Jamie Gorelick and/or Janet Reno at the Justice Department?  Did it go as high as William Cohen, the Secretary of Defense in 2000?  Did it go as high as President Clinton? 

We need to know!  Rep. Weldon vows to find out.  I wish him success, but I have my doubts.  You would think that every member of Congress would be demanding to know.

Sadly, many believe that Able Danger could have gone directly to the FBI with their information, because their intelligence was gathered from open/public sources.  Their information did not involve any classified government documents or intelligence.  Hence, it was not subject to the “separation” issues related to the wall.  It’s too bad that their superiors apparently did not realize this at the time.

Why The 9/11 Commission Ignored Able Danger

In late 2003 (reportedly October), a senior officer representing Able Danger was allowed by Special Operations Command to share the information they had accumulated back in 2000 on Mohamed Atta and the three other terrorists.  The information was provided to several 9/11 Commission staffers for their review.  The information was shared with Commission staffers again in July 2004.  Yet none of this information appeared in the final 9/11 Commission report.

When this story broke last week, several 9/11 Commission members indicated that the Commission never saw any information from Able Danger.  Apparently, the Commission staffers did not share the information from Able Danger with the panel members of the Commission.  As I will discuss below, the reasons being given are suspicious at the least.

Rep. Weldon was outraged when he heard that some of the panel members were denying that the Commission received information from Able Danger.  He wrote a blistering letter to Chairman Gov. Thomas Kean and Vice-Chairman Rep. Lee Hamilton.  Here are some excerpts:

“The impetus for this letter is my extreme disappointment in the recent, and false, claim of the 9/11 Commission staff that the Commission was never given access to any information on Able Danger. The 9/11 Commission staff received not one but two briefings on Able Danger from former team members, yet did not pursue the matter.
The Commission’s refusal to investigate Able Danger after being notified of its existence, and its recent efforts to feign ignorance of the project while blaming others for supposedly withholding information on it, brings shame on the commissioners, and is evocative of the worst tendencies in the federal government that the commission worked to expose.
Fear of tarnishing the Commission’s legacy cannot be allowed to override the truth. The American people are counting on you not to ‘go native’ by succumbing to the very temptations your Commission was assembled to indict.”   OUCH!!

It was not until after Weldon’s letter that Vice-Chairman Hamilton changed his story and admitted that yes, indeed, the staff had received the information from Able Danger, but had failed to share it with the panel members.  Heads should roll over this!

Because of the potential shock value of this revelation, and the potential lack of credibility for the Commission (if it had any), several panel members set out to discredit the Able Danger information.  Specifically, they referred to travel records that indicated that Mohamed Atta was not in the US in late 1999 and 2000 when Able Danger identified him and the three other terrorists in Brooklyn.

Former Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg told the New York Times last week that Commission staffers – based on travel records - disregarded the information from Able Danger.  You would think that these people would have known not to count on official travel records (visas, etc.) because there are many people who come into the US illegally with no records.  It is known, for example, that terrorists can cross into the US from Canada without a record.  Again, heads should roll over this!

At one point last week, Lee Hamilton suggested that Commission staffers - in addition to thinking Atta was not in the US in 1999 and early 2000 - had no documentation from Able Danger to back up its claims.  Yet Rep. Weldon is adamant that Able Danger provided boxes of documentation.  For some reason, the staffers apparently decided not to look at it.

This All Smells Funny (ie – Conspiracy)

It is far too great a stretch to believe that at least four 9/11 staffers met with Able Danger’s senior officer – on two occasions – and then made a decision not to tell a single panel member.  We all know what a “CYA” town Washington is, and these staffers were not morons.  I do not believe that they, on their own, made a decision not to tell at least one or more of the Commissioners.

The theory I’ve heard most often is that the staffers and the Commissioners had a particular view of how they wanted the final report to conclude – essentially that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent 9/11.   Clearly, the Able Danger information would blow that conclusion completely out of the water.  So someone made the decision to disregard the information.  If true, we may never know who that someone was.

I have a little different twist to that theory.  It may well be true that the staffers chose not to share the Able Danger information with Commission chairmen Kean and Hamilton.  But I would be willing to bet that the staffers who worked under Jamie Gorelick certainly told her about it, especially since it was her “wall” that prevented Able Danger from going to the FBI.  My bet is that Gorelick saw the information and told the staffers to ignore it.

This is obviously speculation on my part, but if it’s true, Ms. Gorelick should go to jail.

The Sandy Berger Connection

In yet another twist to this latest development, the story of former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger stealing classified documents from the National Archives has resurfaced.  You may recall that Berger stole classified materials on terrorism as the 9/11 Commission was getting underway in its investigation. 

Berger was a career bureaucrat, having served in several presidential administrations.  You have to believe that he – or someone – was desperate to get and destroy certain classified documents related to terrorism to risk stealing from the National Archives. 

During Berger’s trial, it was acknowledged that some drafts of a sensitive “after-action report” on the Clinton administration’s handling of Al Qaeda terror threats during the December 1999 millennium celebration are still missing.  One wonders if Berger might also have been searching for information on Able Danger.

Bill Clinton’s Record On Terrorism

Another theory about the suppression of the Able Danger intelligence is the simple fact that all this looks very bad for Bill Clinton and his administration.  If you have been reading this letter for long, you know that I was not a fan of the 9/11 Commission.  In my April 20, 2004 E-Letter, I wrote the following:

“Former President Bill Clinton was interviewed in private by the [9/11] Commission in early April [2004].  Had I been on the Commission, I would have asked him about the following events… (better skip this part if you are a big Clinton fan):
“February 1993 - A massive van bomb explodes in the underground parking garage of the World Trade Center killing six and wounding 1,042. The operation was carried out by four Islamist extremists and was masterminded by Ramsey Yousef. Yet following that disaster, there was no 'shake-up' in the government intelligence community. President Clinton did not even visit the World Trade Center. Clinton was (reportedly) the first modern president to not take daily intelligence briefings, and this practice reportedly continued even after the WTC attack.
1995- Airliners as Missiles: Intelligence sources in the Philippines uncovered a plot to hijack multiple US commercial airplanes and crash them into buildings. This was called "Project Bojinka," and it was again masterminded by Yousef and reportedly funded by Osama bin Laden. This was the first link to Al-Qaeda. Other evidence found was used to link Yousef to the 1993 WTC bombing and convict him. Elements of the Clinton administration became increasingly concerned with future terror attacks, yet the President still did not take daily intelligence briefs. The CIA Director (reportedly) could not even get a meeting with Clinton.
1996- Gore To Investigate: Finally, after additional pressure from his Cabinet and the National Security Agency, who feared additional terrorist attacks, Clinton assigned VP Al Gore the task of reviewing airline and airport security. Though there were several good suggestions and improvements placed on the table, in the end, few if any were actually implemented in order to fix the airports or the airlines. Yet the effort was heralded as a success.
1996- Torricelli Guts CIA/FBI: In this same year, Sen. Robert Torricelli proposed legislation that would ‘scrub’ the US intelligence agencies of supposed human rights violations. Specifically, it barred them from recruiting 'thugs' or 'unsavory characters' within the bad guy networks around the world. This resulted in the hobbling of the ‘HUMINT’ (human intelligence) capabilities of our intelligence agencies. The Clinton administration supported it whole-heartedly.
1996- Sudan Offers Up Bin Laden: The government of Sudan (reportedly) offered to arrest Osama bin Laden and turn him over directly to the US, but the Clinton administration declined on the grounds they feared we did not have enough direct evidence to indict him.
After Clinton declined the first offer, Sudan (reportedly) even offered to arrest bin Laden and deport him to a mutually agreed upon third country, where the US could take him into custody and do whatever we would with him. Again, Clinton declined the offer, after which Sudan forced bin Laden to find another host country. He went to Afghanistan. We know the rest of the story.”
There were other terrorist attacks against the US overseas which were admittedly the work of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.  The Khobar Towers in June 1996; the US embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania in August 1998; and the USS Cole in October 2000.  Hundreds were killed including dozens of US citizens and service men and women.  Still there was no major overhaul of national security or our intelligence agencies.  We did bomb an aspirin factory in Sudan and a deserted al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan in 1998 at the height of the Monica Lewinski scandal.”


The latest revelations about Able Danger and the effort to suppress that information – if all are true – are a national disgrace.  Family members of those who died on 9/11 are outraged – at least those who have learned of this – and understandably so. They are demanding that those accountable for suppressing the information on Mohamed Atta and the other terrorists be identified and punished.  I agree with them!

The 9/11 Commission made a serious effort to pin most of the blame for 9/11 on President Bush.  Now it appears that most of the blame falls back to former President Clinton and his administration.  Jamie Gorelick should never have been on the 9/11 Commission in the first place.  I believed that even before the latest revelations about Able Danger.

In my E-Letter of April 20, 2004, I concluded the following about the 9/11 Commission:

“I predict that the work of this Commission is going to be disregarded as a flawed piece of political propaganda, rather than a constructive review of the intelligence process.  They have forgotten their mandate to review the events that led up to the 9/11 attacks and to recommend how security and the intelligence community can be improved to prevent future attacks.”

Little did I know then that the Commission had information about Mohamed Atta and three other Al Qaeda terrorists, and chose not to include it in their final report.  Atta and two of the other three terrorists were the pilots that flew airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.   That’s even more damning!

Finally a caveat: all of this assumes that the information which has come to light since Rep. Weldon made his speech on June 27 is true, or substantially true.  It remains to be seen if a serious investigation will follow.  I sincerely hope it does!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Whenever I write on political issues, as opposed to investment or economic topics, the number of responses from readers always goes up.  We always appreciate your responses, whether positive or negative (within reason), and we try our best to answer any responses that ask for a reply.  Your suggestions are welcomed.

I have been writing newsletters, and more recently E-Letters, for almost 30 years, and there is a pattern to responses from readers.  Negative responses are almost always higher than positive ones.  It took me many years to understand and get over this: People who agree with me are less likely to take the time to respond than readers who disagree with me. 

That’s just a part of journalism.  Actually, I’ve come to not only understand it, but also appreciate it.  While I would love nothing more than for all the responses to be glowingly positive, it is the negative responses that make me think more about my positions on issues and how I might need to adapt my writing style, topics covered, etc.

But here is the odd part.  Whenever I write anything that comes across as negative toward Bill Clinton or Hillary, our response rate goes through the roof, as it will no doubt do this week.  I understand that there are many people who adore the Clintons and think the country would be much better off if they were still running things.  I have no problem with that, even though I do not agree.

So, I have a challenge to all of you readers who are Clinton fans.  I am a conservative, yet I criticize President Bush fairly often in this E-Letter.  Just two weeks ago, I criticized President Bush roundly for the new energy bill.

My challenge to you Clinton fans is this:

I challenge you to write me an equal number of POSITIVE responses the next time I criticize Bush as you do NEGATIVE responses when I criticize Bill or Hillary Clinton.

I’m serious.  Let’s see if you are up to it.  Can you send me kudos when I call President Bush on the carpet?  Or is it only a one-way street?  My bet is that you can.  Let’s see.

In any event, thank you for reading and for (almost) all of your responses!

Very best regards,

Gary D. Halbert


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Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, Halbert Wealth Management, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.

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