WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Department of Defense “ordered five key witnesses not to testify” about a secret Pentagon unit that some claim identified several of the 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks, Sentate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter said Wednesday.
“That looks to me as it may be obstruction of the committee’s activities,” Specter, R-Pennsylvania, said at the start of his committee’s hearing into the unit code-named Able Danger.
Before Wednesday’s hearing, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said the Pentagon was concerned about discussing a classified program in an open hearing and it had worked with the committee to provide a Department of Defense representative to testify. That representative was the acting assistant to the secretary for intelligence oversight, William Dugan.
Whitman also said the Pentagon is “working very closely with the committees of oversight to provide them with all of the info they need to assess Able Danger.” The Judiciary Committee does not have oversight over the Pentagon.
At Wednesday’s hearings, attorney Mark Zaid testified that his clients, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and defense contractor James Smith, had been prevented from testifying. Shaffer and Smith contend that Able Danger used data mining techniques to identify four of the September 11 hijackers, including Mohammed Atta, and that at least one chart existed that featured a photograph of Atta. Shaffer and Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pennsylvania, have previously made these assertions in media reports and other public forums.
Zaid also testified that “at no time did Able Danger identify Mohammed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” And, he said, “No information obtained at the time would have led anyone to believe criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned.”
Also testifying Wednesday was a former defense intelligence analyst, Erik Kleinsmith, who said he helped support Able Danger in 1999 and 2000. He testified that in April 2000 his work became “severely restricted and ultimately shut down due to intelligence oversight concerns,” which led to the destruction of very large amounts of data about Able Danger, including information about Atta and other terrorists.
WASHINGTON – A former Army intelligence officer’s attorney is questioning whether a new Defense Department security review of his client’s memoir on the Afghanistan war is a retaliatory move that has forced a delay in the book’s publication. Anthony A. Shaffer’s book “Operation Dark Heart: Spycraft and Special Ops on the Frontlines ofAfghanistan — and the Path to Victory” was to be released by St. Martin’s Press on Aug. 31. Shaffer’s lawyer, Mark Zaid, says the Army Reserve cleared the manuscript for publication before it went to press. However, Zaid says the Defense Department rescinded the approval shortly before publication, claiming the text contained classified information. About 9,000 copies of the book now sit in a warehouse. A cleared version is back on press with sections blacked out by defense officials. Its publication date is unclear.
The New York Times reported on its website Thursday night that the Pentagon is seeking to buy and destroy all copies of the book’s first printing. The newspaper had obtained a copy of the book, which it described as “a breezily written, first-person account of Colonel Shaffer’s five months in Afghanistan in 2003.” Shaffer was a civilian Defense Intelligence Agency officer based near Kabul, the paper reported. But he ran afoul of the DIA in 2003 when he claimed that one of his assignments uncovered that Mohammed Atta was a potential terrorist threat before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Atta was the lead hijacker of one of the planes that crashed into New York’s World Trade Center. Shaffer’s relationship with DIA worsened, until he was stripped of his security clearance and then fired, Zaid said. Still, the Army Reserves promoted him from major to lieutenant colonel, and he was awarded the Bronze Star for his work in Afghanistan. “Tony Shaffer has been a thorn in the DIA’s side for years. Anything that Tony said or did was of concern to the DIA,” Zaid said.
In 2005, the DIA censured Shaffer and prohibited him from testifying before Congress on an operation code named Able Danger, which Shaffer maintains uncovered Atta as a potential threat. Zaid had to testify in his place, he said.
Revoking approval to publish the book at the last minute raises questions, Zaid says, because the DIA knew for months the book was coming out.
“Either someone woke up and smelled the roses or it was retaliatory,” he said.
But Defense Department officials maintain that Shaffer didn’t follow appropriate review procedures before the book went to press, and the Defense Department only found out after the manuscript was printed.
“That manuscript did not undergo a prepublication information security review as required by DoD regulation,” said Col. Dave Lapin, a Pentagon spokesman. Zaid says “there was an apparent disconnect” as to who possessed the authority to clear the book. Zaid and Lapin say both sides have worked closely and cooperatively with the publisher on a redacted version of the book.