There are days when the primary difference between the New York Times and the Weekly World News seems to reside in the fact that reporters for the Times believe the crap they’re writing.
The World News reports that Texas prison authorities are replacing the gas chamber with a dozen inmates stuffed full of pork and beans; the Times reports that nutjob Republican Congressman Curt Weldon has startling new intelligence about the September 11 attacks.
Times reporter Doug Jehl — you might want to file that name next to Judy “Babylonian Bigfoot” Miller’s — wrote that Weldon and an anonymous “former defense department intelligence official” say a top-secret defense intelligence team, code-named “Able Danger,” had identified 911 hijacker Mohammed Atta, along with three others among the 911 hijackers, as al Qaeda members, a year before the September 11 attacks but that defense department lawyers had prevented the information from being shared with the FBI.
On the surface, and ignoring Weldon’s involvement, the information doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. We know, for instance, that the CIA had tracked two of the future hijackers from a terrorist conference in Kuala Lumpur to the US and neglected to inform the FBI.
Predictably, right-wing commentators jumped on the story immediately and began constructing intricate scenarios involving various Clinton administration officials, the 911 commission and former Clinton National Security advisor Sandy Berger’s pants.
But the story started to unravel almost immediately. Jehl said Weldon “first spoke publicly about the episode in June, in a little-noticed speech on the House floor and in an interview with The Times-Herald in Norristown, Pa.,” and that when Jehl interviewed Weldon, the Congressman and an anonymous “former defense intelligence official” showed him a chart that featured visa photogaphs of Atta and three other 911 hijackers and was a reproduction of one the Able Danger team had produced in 2000.
Two days later, though, reporter Laura Rozen said she saw Weldon make a similar presentation to a less exclusive audience, not in June of 2005 but three years earlier at a 2002 Heritage Foundation event. Rozen, who helpfully provides a video of the event, says she asked for a copy of the chart but was refused.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that the 911 commission staff found no credible evidence that the Able Danger group had developed the information Weldon and the former intelligence official say it did. There are other problems, too: Those involved in furthering the Able Danger thesis say the chart with the visa photos was created in late 1999 or early 2000, but three of the four future hijackers didn’t enter the US until later, two of them more than a year later, and although they are referred to as the “Brooklyn cell” by Weldon and the former intelligence official, Atta never lived in New York.
Weldon responded to the Post story by telling the newspaper that “Able Danger was “not about dates and times” but “was about linkages and associations of individuals identified with direct links to al Qaeda.”” Which makes sense to an extent, because the Able Danger project was a data mining exercise and that’s what dating mining is for. What doesn’t make sense is saying that the project produced evidence that four al Qaeda members were forming a cell in Brooklyn before most of them were in the country and when at least one of them never lived there.
Which is perhaps why Weldon now tells Time Magazine that he gave his only copy of the chart to then-deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley in 2001 and never got it back.
But Weldon told TIME he’s no longer certain Atta’s name was on that original document. The congressman says he handed Hadley his only copy. Still, last week he referred reporters to a recently reconstructed version of the chart in his office where, among dozens of names and photos of terrorists from around the world, there was a color mug shot of Mohammad Atta, circled in black marker.
What’s perhaps most surprising about the whole affair is that it has taken nearly a week to disintegrate as much as it has. We’re still waiting for the New York Times update on the situation, but meanwhile, we at BTC News have done a little data mining of our own.
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