The Washington Post Distorts the Able Danger Story

August 11th, 2005 11:41 PM
Today's Washington Post carries a story by Dan Eggen that is rife with inaccuracies that paint the 9/11 Commission in a far better light than recent news would suggest. The article is headlines "Sept. 11 Panel Explores Allegations About Atta". Here are the first two paragraphs:

Staff members of the Sept. 11 commission are investigating allegations by a Republican congressman that lead hijacker Mohamed Atta had been identified as a potential threat by a highly classified Defense Department program a year or more before the attacks occurred.

Commission officials confirmed a report in yesterday's New York Times that two staff members interviewed a uniformed military officer, who alleged in July 2004 that a secret program called "Able Danger" had identified Atta as a potential terrorist threat in 1999 or early 2000.

The problem with this opening is apparent later in the article. Eggen cites 9/11 Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg saying that Atta's name never came up. In fact, Felzenberg said, "The name 'Atta' or a terrorist cell would have gone to the top of the radar screen if it had been mentioned...". That is a sentiment that was echoed by Commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton who was quoted in an AP article, run in the August 10 edition of the Post:

"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 Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. "Had we learned of it, obviously it would've been a major focus of our investigation."
But the AP also ran an article on August 11, noting Al Felzenberg backtracking on his assertion:
Felzenberg said an unidentified person working with Weldon came forward Wednesday and described a meeting 10 days before the panel's report was issued last July. During it, a military official urged commission staffers to include a reference to the intelligence on Atta in the final report. Felzenberg said checks were made and the details of the July 12, 2004, meeting were confirmed.
That same article noted a Felzenberg rowback of his earlier statements about the importance the mention of Atta would have garnered:
Felzenberg sought to minimize the significance of the new information. "Even if it were valid, it would've joined the lists of dozens of other instances where information was not shared," Felzenberg said. "There was a major problem with intelligence sharing."

This article didn't appear in the August 11 edition of the newspaper, though two articles by the same reporter on the same topic did just the day before.

It appears the Post didn't believe the information in the August 11 AP article important and seems to have run this article today completely ignorant of the new facts of the case.

This might be considered a mistake if not for the thrust of the article itself. Given the headline and the lead paragraphs, one would be led to believe that this information was a surprise to the Commission. In fact, the latest AP article shows that the Commission already had the information the article says it is now investigating and chose to omit it from its report. That is an important part of the Able Danger story - perhaps the most important part of the story - that the article entirely fails to mention, even though it had already been reported by another news service. Without it, the story becomes one of the Commission looking into a piece of information that was simply missed somewhere along the line. In truth, the evidence is pointing toward the Commission's purposeful avoidance of the Able Danger reports, an avoidance they have been practically forced into investigating. Unfortunately, Post readers who come across this article today will have to learn the real news from another source.