A US army intelligence officer went public Wednesday with claims that a secret military unit had identified Mohammed Atta and three other al-Qaida members as a potential threat a year before they carried out the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer said the secret intelligence unit, codenamed Able Danger, had been prevented from passing on its information to the FBI by Pentagon lawyers concerned that the military should not be involved in surveillance of suspects inside the US.
The claim has focused new light on the Pentagon's part in intelligence failings before the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and called into question last year's official report on the debacle, Guardian reports.
Col Shaffer, a reservist now working part-time at the Pentagon, said he was risking his career by giving on-the-record interviews to the New York Times and television networks, but he said he had been frustrated by the dismissal of his account by the official inquiry into the September 11 attacks. He said information he provided to the investigative staff "never got to the commissioners". The commission's final report last year did not mention Able Danger, despite being briefed on its work by Col Shaffer in October 2003 and by an unnamed navy captain in 2004. The two top commissioners, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, defended that decision last week, arguing its role "did not turn out to be historically significant".
The commissioners issued a statement last week saying the claim that Mohammed Atta and other plotters had been identified before 2001 was not supported by official documents the commission had requested.
Lt. Col. Christopher Conway, a Pentagon spokesman, said he could not comment because an investigation of Able Danger's intelligence on al-Qaida is underway, USA Today says.
Kean said the 9/11 Commission would have welcomed confirmation of Shaffer's charge because it bolsters one of the commission's key findings: that various elements of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement failed to share information that might have led to the breakup of the 9/11 plot.