911 widows want able danger investigation opened
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9/11 widows want investigation reopened
Published in the Asbury Park Press 08/11/05
BY ANDREA ALEXANDER
Four Central Jersey women who pushed for an investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are joining a chorus of doubters questioning the accuracy of the commission's final report, following the revelation that a crucial piece of information may be missing from its pages.
Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., who serves as vice chairman of both the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, recently disclosed that a classified military intelligence unit had identified four of the 19 hijackers in 1999 as members of an al-Qaida cell operating in the United States. The four included the hijackers' ringleader, Mohamed Atta.
In September 2000, Pentagon lawyers rejected a recommendation by the intelligence unit known as "Able Danger" to share the information with the FBI because they said the men were in the country legally, Weldon said.
"The 9/11 Commission did not learn of any U.S. government knowledge prior to 9/11 of surveillance of Mohamed Atta or of his cell," said Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the now-disbanded commission. "Had we learned of it, obviously it would've been a major focus of our investigation."
"This calls into question the credibility of the report because this is not an insignificant piece of information," said Kristen Breitweiser, 34, of Middletown, who lost her husband, Ron, in the attacks.
"The idea we didn't know this is quite disturbing," Breitweiser said. "This is one thing we found out about. How many other pieces of information were not given to the commission?"
Combing records again
A spokesman for the now-disbanded commission, Al Felzenberg, said it is too soon to jump to conclusions based on Weldon's claims, which he attributed to several military intelligence sources. Four staff members had reviewed information about Able Danger during the investigation and did not come across any mention of Atta or his cell, he said.
But the staffers are going through the commission's archives to review their notes and the Pentagon is turning over documents for a second look to see if Atta was mentioned, Felzenberg said.
"The question is, did they have this man in their (sights) and what was done about it," he said.
The commission plans to release a statement about any new findings by the end of the week, Hamilton said.
"To jump to an accusation that we didn't do our job is premature," Felzenberg said. "If we made a mistake or missed anything, we will say so, but we doubt that we did."
If Weldon's accusation is true, however, the women said it raises questions about the recommendations made in the report that called for the restructuring of the intelligence communities, challenges the official story of events that led up to the attacks and casts doubt on the success of the commission overall.
"It is a total failure. How can you say otherwise?" said Lorie Van Auken of East Brunswick, who lost her husband, Kenneth, in the attacks. "It certainly didn't meet its mandate to leave no stone unturned."
"All of America has been failed because we are basing recommendations on their version of the truth and if it's not true, then we are just basing it on air," she said.
"Wrong fixes in place"
President Bush signed a bill in December that overhauled the intelligence agencies based on the commission's report and created the position of national intelligence director.
But the women no longer believe that the intelligence agencies failed and that the problem could be cured through the restructuring of the system. Instead, they believe the failure lies in the hands of Pentagon leaders who did not pass along information to law enforcement.
"The right fix is to fire the person who led to 3,000 people dying by making bad calls," Van Auken said. "That is the right fix. We have the wrong fixes in place."
People have been led to believe that the hijackers were in the country undetected, but this information shows that is not true, said Mindy Kleinberg, 43, of East Brunswick, who lost her husband, Alan.
"Now the truth is our intelligence agencies did not fail," Kleinberg said. "They were tracking them. Now the question is why did we perpetrate that myth and why were we not able to unravel the plot, especially in light of the fact that we had Mohamed Atta in our sights."
The group of women, which also includes Patty Casazza, formerly of Colts Neck, want the investigation reopened.
"We fought for the commission so we could have a full accounting of how the attacks could have happened and why they weren't prevented," Breitweiser said. "This goes to show that all of our efforts and energies trying to make the nation safer by having the independent commission give a full accounting to the American people were futile."
Kleinberg said the women were ready to go to Washington, D.C. and "knock on doors" if that is what it will take to get all the answers.
"There are no words to describe our disappointment in our personal sacrifice getting that commission up and running and in the promises that were made to us that we would have the real 9/11 story told," Van Auken said. "None of that has come to pass and that is very sad."
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Andrea Alexander: (732) 888-2621 or firstname.lastname@example.org