It’s old news that intelligence agencies didn’t cooperate before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. That a military program called “Able Danger” spotted Mohamed Atta as a member of Al Qaeda and danger to the United States long before 9/11, and that no action resulted, no longer surprises. And that the Sept. 11 commission ignored the news or didn’t realize its significance is disappointing, but hardly revelatory; there are many inconsistencies and mysteries that the commission chose to ignore in its hearings and final report.
All of the 9/11 terrorists took steps to muddy their movements. Some of the muddying may have been through identity theft or, more likely, by having two people use one name at times.
Consider this information from Paul Thompson’s “The Terror Timeline” (ReganBooks, 2004) and his Center for Cooperative Research Web site:
A landlord confirms that terrorist Ziad Jarrah lived in a rented apartment in Brooklyn, N.Y., for about a year starting March 1995, but there’s evidence he was still at home in Lebanon during the same period. The Jarrahs converge in Germany in April 1996. Later, Jarrah moves to Florida. He’s questioned in Dubai in 2001 on his way back to Florida and says he’s been in Pakistan and Afghanistan for two months, something that is later confirmed by U.S. investigators. At the same time, he’s been in flight training school in Florida and back in Lebanon, past the date of the questioning in Dubai.
By all accounts, other hijackers traded names while living in San Antonio, Texas. Several got one or more duplicates of their Florida drivers licenses, met with a notorious ID forger and bought illegal Virginia identity cards. Some were said to be living on the east and west coasts in the weeks before 9/11 — a difficult daily commute.
Atta had the same skill, except he seemed to simultaneously be daily fixtures for extended periods in two countries, Spain and Germany, not just on two coasts. Documents and testimony show he visited an Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., got a BJ’s Wholesale Club card and bank account in Florida, used a library in Portland, Ore., and talked more than once with a stateside U.S. Department of Agriculture worker — all before arriving in the United States for the first time, according to the official U.S. intelligence version, on June 3, 2000.
Able Danger could finally change that date. Three people connected with the program are attesting that Atta’s name and photograph were affixed to a chart of U.S.-based Al Qaeda operators “by January-February of 2000,” several months before his “arrival.”
Interestingly, as The New York Times reported Aug. 9, “the information was not shared ... apparently at least in part because Mr. Atta and the others were in the United States on valid entry visas.”
Atta’s tourist visa was issued May 18 in Berlin ... according to the official U.S. intelligence version.