(More information can be found at "Able Danger and Intelligence Information Sharing" and Testimony of The Honorable Curt Weldon, United States Representative [R-PA, 7th District] September 21, 2005.)
In this post, I begin near the beginning of that transcript, quoting large excerpts from it, and interspersing my comments.
Chairman Specter. The Judiciary Committee will now proceed to a hearing on a project known as Able Danger.
There has been extensive publicity in the media about this program known as Able Danger, with representations made that the Department of Defense had information about an Al Qaeda cell, including the identification of Mohammed Atta, substantially prior to 9/11, and that arrangements which had been made preliminarily to turn over the information to the FBI were not carried out because of concern by the Department of Defense that there might be a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. That is a statute which was enacted shortly after the Civil War which prevents the United States military from being engaged in law enforcement activities.
If the Posse Comitatus Act precluded this information from being turned over by the Department of Defense to the FBI, then that is a matter which may require amendments to the Act, and that is a matter for the Judiciary Committee. It is squarely within our jurisdiction. The oversight of the FBI also is a matter squarely within the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee, so that the Committee is concerned about what happened here.
It had nothing to do with the Posse Comitatus Act.
There have been some allegations of destruction of records. There has been a question raised as to whether the name Mohammed Atta is the Mohammed Atta, some saying that it is a common name. The circumstances relating to the identification of the Al Qaeda cell, if, in fact, that happened, and alleged charts with the name of Mohammed Atta and a picture, all are questions to be resolved.
For the record, I will now introduce, without objection, a letter which I wrote to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld dated September 8, 2005. There have been extensive discussions between my staff and staff from the Department of Defense. I was surprised to find that the Department of Defense has ordered five key witnesses not to testify, some of them military, some civilian, all working for the Department of Defense. That looks to me as if it may be obstruction of the Committee's activities, which is something we will have to determine.
There have been repeated requests for documents. They were delivered, I am advised, last night at five o'clock. They were in a secure room, Senate-407, some 500 pages, so there has not been any opportunity to review those documents for whatever light they may bear upon this hearing.
The Defense Department (Secretary Rumsfeld at the time) "ordered five key witnesses not to testify", and delivered 500 pages of requested documents at five o'clock the night before the hearing.
Obstruction of the Committee's activities?
This is the kind of stuff we had come to expect from the Clinton Administration, and, to be sure, this is the kind of stuff we will see again if Hillary somehow gets elected.
But it is a Republican Administration stonewalling the investigation here.
It is important to keep in mind the Administration's stonewalling of this Committee's hearing regarding Able Danger, because, while most of the hearing comes off as fairly friendly in manner, the tone turns distinctly adversarial when the Committee begins to question the DOD (Department of Defense) representative.
There has been a contention raised by the Department of Defense that the Department is concerned about classified information.
As a precautionary matter, the Committee has conferred with the Office of Legal Counsel on the issue of classified information....
The essence of the situation on classified information is that the Office of Legal Counsel advised that I should state, and I do, at the opening of this hearing that we are not seeking the disclosure of classified information and that I am instructing the witnesses not to disclose any classified information. The Legal Counsel further advised that I should instruct the witnesses that if there is classified information that they wish to present to the Committee, if they so inform the Committee, at the conclusion of the public hearing the Committee can make the decision about whether to go into closed session.
We have a representative from the Department of Defense here today, Mr. William Dugan, who is Acting Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight, Department of Defense. Legal Counsel has made the suggestion that the DOD representative in the audience at the hearing should feel free to raise objections to staff, when appropriate. Well, I would go beyond that and say that if someone from the Department of Defense who is here has an objection, they can state it publicly prior to the time any risk arises of the disclosure of classified information and the Committee will take into account what is raised, make a determination, and we will err on the side of caution to be sure that there is no classified information.
It is not an issue of protecting classified information from duly elected members of the legislative branch who have long held appropriate clearances.
Is this reminiscient of the Administration's use of State Secrets Privilege in the Sibel Edmonds case?
Our lead witness is Congressman Curt Weldon, who has key positions on the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee and on Subcommittees dealing with intelligence. Congressman Weldon has made a very expansive study of this matter. I have known him personally for 25 years or more, since the days when he was mayor of Marcus Hook and in the House of Representatives, having been elected there in 1986. My knowledge of Congressman Weldon give me the utmost confidence in his thoroughness and his integrity and his objectivity.
On the issue of the classified information, in discussing this matter with Congressman Weldon, he assured me and the Committee that classified information was not involved here. May the record show he is nodding. In a few minutes, he will be testifying about his knowledge of Able Danger and the reasons why he said, as reported to me in our discussions in advance of this hearing, that if it had been classified, there would have had to have been a formal order of destruction. Again, let the record show he is nodding, but he will testify.
Chairman Specter concludes his remarks, then yields the floor to Senator Biden, whose opening remarks put to rest one major concern:
Senator Biden. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I apologize for being a few minutes late. I am here for two reasons. One, my high regard for the Congressman. He has, over the years and the last 9 months, shared information with me. Some of it seemed prescient and it turns out that a number of the things he said have been--I was unaware of, have turned out to be the case.
I thought this morning we were going to be able to get to the bottom of some of this. I know, as you know better than I do, that the Congressman is a loyal American first, but a very staunch Republican and has no political agenda here other than trying to figure out what we knew and didn't know and why we didn't know it.
Congressman Weldon, who is the first to testify, is described as "a very staunch Republican and has no political agenda here", so the Administration cannot accuse Congress of a partisan motive in holding this hearing.
My staff indicates to me that representatives from the Department of Defense have confirmed that an internal investigation identified five Able Danger team members who claim they had either seen a picture of Atta or had seen his name in a chart prepared in 1999 by the Able Danger team, and the Defense investigation found these sources to be credible but didn't uncover the chart itself. Defense officials have said that documents associated with the project have been destroyed in accordance with regulations regarding collection, dissemination, and destruction procedures for intelligence gathering on people inside the United States.
Two concerns will come up here.
One is the question of whether the documents and information that were destroyed were classified. If so, then there may be a reason to destroy it all when its usefulness is ended. It is emphasized throughout, however, that the information in question was gleaned from open sources -- in other words, most of it was publicly available; very little of it was classified.
Another question is whether, as addressed above, the Posse Comitatus Act had come into play here. We will hear later that it did not.
Instead, the information was supposedly destroyed out of a concern that regulations were being violated which regulated the military's collection and storage of information on US persons -- these regulations and the definition of the term "US persons" will be addressed later.
So I thought we were going to get a chance to clear some of that up this morning. For the life of me, I don't understand why--as I understand it, I stand corrected if I am wrong, but I understand the witnesses we assumed we were going to get to hear from the Defense Department have been pulled. They may be or may not be in the room, but have been instructed that they cannot testify. I think that is a big mistake and I am sorry that is the case, but I know the Chairman over these many years we have been friends and worked together seldom takes no for an answer when we have a right to hear some things, and so I hope we will pursue that.
The Bush Administration is obstructing the Committee's activities here, but the funny thing is that some of the people who have been ordered not to talk about Able Danger are in the room at this hearing. Others will tell their story for them; the presence of these people seems to be intended as confirmation of the "hearsay" that is being heard.
Senator Biden concludes his opening remarks, then Chairman Specter yields to Senator Kyl, who makes his opening remarks. Chairman Specter then introduces Congressman Weldon:
Chairman Specter. Thank you very much, Senator Kyl.
For the record, as to Congressman Weldon's background and work in this matter, it ought to be noted that he is Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and chairs the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee. He served for 6 years as Chairman of the Military Research and Development Subcommittee and he is also Vice Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. So he has been very deeply involved in these issues.
Our practice, Congressman Weldon, is to set the time at 5 minutes, even for members of the House or for Senators, but knowing what you have to say, we are going to set the clock at 15 minutes. To the extent you can testify about this very complex situation within that time would be fine, and if it takes a little longer, we want you to have an opportunity to develop the factual issues as fully as you can.
Thank you for coming, and we look forward to your testimony.
Notice the deference and esteem with which Congressman Weldon (R - Pennsylvania) is treated here.
After some opening comments, Congressman Weldon begins to get to the substantial part of his testimony:
The Defense Department has acknowledged that a program, Able Danger, existed and operated during the 1999-2000 time period, authorized by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and carried out by SOCOM with the help of the Army. DOD has stated publicly that five individuals, including an Army lieutenant colonel, recipient of the Bronze Star, who is in the room today, and a Navy Annapolis graduate, ship commander, have emphatically claimed that they worked on or ran Able Danger and identified Mohammed Atta and three other 9/11 terrorists over 1 year prior to the Trade Center attack. These five individuals have told me, your staff, and others that Able Danger amassed significant amounts of data, primarily from open sources, about Al Qaeda operations worldwide and that this data continued to be used through 2001 in briefings prepared for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others.
These two brave military officers have risked their careers to come forward to simply tell the truth and to help America fully understand all that happened prior to 9/11 that had or might have had an impact on the most significant attack ever against our country and our citizens. These individuals have openly expressed their willingness to testify here today without subpoenas, but have been silenced by the Pentagon. They have been prevented from testifying, according to the Pentagon, due to concerns regarding classified information, in spite, Mr. Chairman, of the Pentagon's claims to members of the House Armed Services Committee 2 weeks ago that the bulk of the data used by Able Danger was open source, which was why DOD lawyers claim that no certificates were needed to certify the destruction of massive amounts of data that had been collected.
Mr. Chairman, you can't have it both ways. It is either classified or it is not. But what the Pentagon has done in the last 2 weeks is they have contradicted themselves.
Why is it that military officers are risking "their careers to come forward to simply tell the truth" about 9/11?
The Department of Defense -- that is, its civilian leadership, the Bush Administration -- had silenced them, citing concerns about classified information regarding a program that worked with largely open source information.
This is the real Bush Doctrine: administratively or legally silencing those who tell the truth about issues related to terrorist activity, or about issues related to spies in the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Consider what we have heard so far about Able Danger, and ask yourself if it isn't reminiscent of the Sibel Edmonds case.