Pentagon forbades officer 911 testifying
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Pentagon Nixes 9/11 Hearing Testimony
Sep 21 9:00 AM US/Eastern
By KIMBERLY HEFLING
Associated Press Writer
The Department of Defense forbade a military intelligence officer to testify Wednesday about the work of a secret military unit that identified four 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, according to the man's attorney.
In written testimony prepared for the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, attorney Mark Zaid, who represents Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, said the Pentagon also refused to permit testimony there by a defense contractor that he also represents.
The Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hear testimony about the work of a classified unit code named "Able Danger."
In his prepared remarks, Zaid was ready to say on behalf of Shaffer and contractor John Smith that Able Danger, using data mining techniques, identified four of the terrorists who struck on Sept. 11, 2001 _ including mastermind Mohamed Atta.
"At least one chart, and possibly more, featured a photograph of Mohamed Atta," Zaid said in his prepared remarks.
Maj. Paul Swiergosz, a Defense Department spokesman, said Wednesday that open testimony would not be appropriate.
"We have expressed our security concerns and believe it is simply not possible to discuss Able Danger in any great detail in any public forum," he said.
Swiergosz said no individuals were singled out not to testify.
"There's nothing more to say than that," Swiergosz said. "It's not possible to discuss the Able Danger program because there are security concerns."
On three occasions, Able Danger personnel attempted to provide the FBI with information, but Department of Defense attorneys stopped them because of legal concerns about military-run investigations on U.S. soil, Zaid said in his prepared remarks, encouraging the panel to locate a legal memorandum that he said Defense Department attorneys used to justify stopping the meetings.
Zaid also charged that records associated with the unit were destroyed during 2000 and March 2001, and copies were destroyed in spring 2004.
Rep. Curt Weldon. R-Pa., who was the first to come forward to assert that Able Danger had identified Atta and three others as being members of an al-Qaida cell, was also scheduled to testify.
If Weldon is correct, the intelligence would change the timeline for when government officials first became aware of Atta's links to the terrorist network al-Qaida.
Former members of the Sept. 11 commission have dismissed the "Able Danger" assertions.
Pentagon officials had acknowledged earlier this month that they had found three people who recall an intelligence chart identifying Atta as a terrorist prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.
In addition to Shaffer, another military officer, Navy Capt. Scott Phillpott, has come forward to support Weldon's claims. He was not on Wednesday's witness list.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.