Former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh slammed the 9/11 Commission Thursday saying it ignored – or “summarily rejected” – the most critical piece of intelligence that could have prevented the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page, Freeh gave a blistering review of the Commission and says new revelations indicate it is “a good time for the country to make some assessments of the 9/11 Commission itself.”
The former Bureau Director, who resigned his position just months before Sept. 11, 2001, points out that the U.S. government had learned of the identity of Mohammed Atta the year prior to the attacks. Atta was one of the ringleaders of the group, and piloted an American Airlines plane that slammed into one of the Twin Towers.
Freeh recounts that military intelligence operation code-named “Able Danger” concluded in February 2000 that military experts had identified Atta as an al-Qaida agent operating in the U.S.
“Subsequently, military officers assigned to Able Danger were prevented from sharing this critical information with FBI agents,” Freeh writes. “Why?” he ponders, suggesting the failure to share such intelligence may be a smoking gun pointing at federal malfeasance in the case.
Freeh maintains that the Able Danger intelligence, if confirmed, is “undoubtedly the most relevant fact of the entire post-9/11 inquiry . . . Yet the 9/11 Commission inexplicably concluded that it “was not historically significant.”
Two members of the House, Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) and Dan Burton (R-Ind.), have reported that shortly after the 9/11 attacks they provided then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley with a “chart” displaying pre-attack information about al-Qaida that had been collected by Able Danger.
But a spokesperson for the White House said that “a search of National Security Council files had failed to produce such a chart.”
The final 9/11 Commission report, released on July 22, 2004, concluded that “American intelligence agencies were unaware of Mr. Atta until the day of the attacks.”
Writes Freeh: “This now looks to be embarrassingly wrong.”
In fact, Freeh discloses that 10 days before the report was released, commission staffers met with a Navy officer who said that Able Danger had identified Atta as an al-Qaida member and told the Commission the unit “had identified Mohammed Atta to be a member of an al Qaeda cell located in Brooklyn.”
But the commission determined that “the officer’s account was not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation.
Said Freeh: “This dismissive and apparently unsupported conclusion would have us believe that a key piece of evidence was summarily rejected in less than 10 days without serious investigation . . . “No wonder the 9/11 families were outraged by these revelations and called for a ‘new’ commission to investigate.”
Though Freeh never blames any Clinton administration officials by name, responsibility for the intelligence failure would squarely fall on the Clinton administration as Able Danger’s information was uncovered before George Bush became president.
Congressman Weldon, who has led Congressional efforts to shed light on the Able Danger claims, alleges that Jamie Gorelick, one of the Sept. 11 Commissioners, prevented the full committee from learning of Able Danger’s crucial information. Gorelick has served as deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration.
“There’s a cover up here,” Weldon said. “It’s clear and unequivocal.” Freeh argues the Able Danger information requires a new inquiry. He also praised the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), for examining some of these matters.
Specter said at one hearing: “If Mr. Atta and other 9/11 terrorists were identified before the attacks, it would be a very serious breach not to have that information passed along … We ought to get to the bottom of it.”
Freeh writes in the Journal: “Indeed we should. “The Joint Intelligence Committees should reconvene and, in addition to Able Danger team members, we should have the 9/11 commissioners appear as witnesses so the families can hear their explanation why this doesn’t matter.”