ABLE DANGER AND THE BLIND SHEIKH….Fox News has an interview today with J.D. Smith, a military contractor who says he worked on the Able Danger project. He told them how Able Danger identified Mohamed Atta prior to 9/11:

Smith said data was gathered from a variety of sources, including about 30 or 40 individuals. He said they all had strong Middle Eastern connections and were paid for their information. Smith said Able Danger’s photo of Atta was obtained from overseas.

….Two sources familiar with Able Danger told FOX News that part of its investigative work focused on mosques and the religious ties between known terrorist operatives such as Omar Abdul Rahman, who was part of the first World Trade Center bombing plot in 1993.

….Smith claims that one way the unit came to know Atta was through Rahman. Smith said Able Danger used data mining techniques ? publicly available information ? to look at mosques and religious ties and it was, in part, through the investigation of Rahman that Atta’s name surfaced.

Mickey Kaus adds the following:

1) Smith said the data mined by Able Danger was public data…. 2) Smith acknowledged that the picture of Atta he claims to have seen on the chart was very grainy, but he says he recognized Atta by his distinctive cheekbones.

Good news first: Omar Abdul Rahman, aka the “Blind Sheikh,” was the leader of a Brooklyn mosque whose terrorist connections would definitely have been worth tracing, so that part of the story makes sense. Furthermore, if Able Danger ID’d Atta via links to Rahman, that explains why they referred to him as being part of a “Brooklyn cell.” That part of the story has always been a little hazy before.

Peculiar news #1: Considering Rahman’s history in the early 90s, when he was practically the epicenter of Islamic terrorism in the United States, the CIA and the FBI must surely have tracked down every conceivable link to him long before Able Danger ever started up in 1999. Why then would Able Danger have replicated this work?

Peculiar news #2: Data was gathered from “30 or 40 individuals”? This doesn’t sound like data mining to me, it sounds like primary intelligence gathering. I don’t know if it’s plausible that a small and experimental project like Able Danger would have done this, but it raises a red flag.

Bad news: “Distinctive cheekbones”? You’ve got to be kidding.

Beyond this I’m too tired to speculate. It’s worth noting, however, that Curt Weldon is continuing the blast the conveniently scapegoatable 9/11 Commission over their failure to follow up on Able Danger, while staying oddly silent about the Army, which is most clearly at fault here if all these charges turn out to be true. This is almost certainly because Weldon wants to stay on good terms with the Pentagon, whose support he wants for his own data mining program.

But Weldon’s hyperventilating doesn’t change the fact that the 9/11 Commission genuinely appears to be caught in the middle here. The Pentagon told the 9/11 Commission that Able Danger didn’t come up with anything, and that’s the story they’ve stuck to ever since. If anybody’s lying here, it’s either the Weldon/Shaffer/Phillpott/Smith crowd or else it’s the Pentagon. There’s no evidence so far that the 9/11 Commission did anything wrong.

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