Curt Weldon and the New York Times: made for each other

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.

Erm, yes.

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.

Data Mining


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21 thoughts on “Curt Weldon and the New York Times: made for each other”

  1. yeah, this stinks something fierce. but there’s one misconception, i think, that should be cleared up. i can’t remember where i read it, but the first time i read about able danger (last few days), they made a point of saying that the moniker “brooklyn” was only a name, and not meant to suggest a cell of terrorists physically residing in brooklyn. it was more of an arbitrary code name. i can’t figure out where i read this now, and it seems to be explicitly contradicted in some subsequent reporting, but i just wanted to mention it.

  2. Jerry, you’re right. PartisanJ: I saw that too, and then it seemed to morph into an actual locale. I’ve applied for a job at the Times, though, so I feel comfortable saying any old thing so long as it’s punctuated more or less correctly.

  3. Nice catch! I take it as the last ditch CYA effort of the wingnuts to try tying 9/11 or even Iraq to the Clinton era.

    Rats. Sinking ships.

  4. Laura Rozen – But it’s worth noting that The Hill reports today that Weldon hopes to use the August recess to secure the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee.

    Definitely worth noting, and definitely worrisome if the House “leadership” actually gives it to him.

  5. Ah. the late, great Antonio Prohias. Who, as MAD helpfully pointed out so many years ago, fled Cuba “because he refused to become a ‘Castro Convertible'”! :-)

    (The “Spy vs. Spy” animated cartoons on “MAD TV” are actually quite true to and evocative of his original work!)

  6. At least he’s keeping the teenagers over at Free Republic happy.

  7. I wondered as soon as Jehl’s first story came out whether this was shopped to Jehl to distract him from undertaking the internal investigation of what Judy Miller was doing during the Plame leak. Kind of like the TANG thing distracted 60 minutes from publishing their Niger forgery special.

    I also wonder if the former Defense Department official isn’t Douglas Feith or Harold Rhode, both of whom are thick into this.

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  9. Your eagerness to discredit Weldon is taking you away from the truth on this one.

    I thought about that, but 1) it implies Weldon has some credibility, and 2) he says he can’t remember if the central figure in his revelation, Atta, was actually on the chart. That seems somehow … significant.

    Anyway, you’ll note that Weldon isn’t the central figure on our highly classified chart. And however, one of our contributors will be posting an alternative view soon.

  10. I’m not sure what the chart has to do with whether or not Atta was identified by Able Danger. Weldon has been extolling the virtues of datamining for some time now, highlighting the Army center’s capabilities.

    So he gives a presentation on the capabilities of data mining in 2001 and he doesn’t have Atta on that chart but still shows the value of the Army’s technology.

    Now, three years later he learns that Able Danger had identified Atta so he creates a new chart with updated info again showing the virtues of data mining. I don’t see anything inconsistent in that timeline that shows the story in “unraveling”.

  11. Americaprd: The problem isn’t with data mining, but with Weldon’s story. He says he gave his only copy of the chart to Stephen Hadley a couple of weeks after 911 and just recently got a reconstructed one from his sources, but he had a similar chart at his Heritage Foundation presentation in May of 2002, more than a year after he gave his only copy to Hadley and didn’t get it back. He didn’t tell the NY Times reporter, Jehl, that he didn’t recall whether Atta, whose image was on TV 24/7 during the period of time he gave the chart to Hadley, was on the chart.

    I think most people recognize the potential of data mining. But to this point, no one has provided any credible evidence that Atta was on the chart, if there was one.

    Weldon’s sources say DoD lawyers refused to act on the info because the men were in the country legally, and there are two problems with that. One is that having a legal visa wasn’t a prohibition to sharing the info, and the other is that at least two of the men weren’t in the country at the time the sources say they were prevented from sharing the info because of the visa problem.

    So regardless the merits of data mining, there are a number of problems with the story, not least of which is Weldon’s involvement with it and his inability to recall whether Atta, whose name and face were a 24/7 feature on every channel at the time he was given the chart, was on it.

    And so on. Where’s Hadley, and why didn’t Weldon tell the 911 commission Hadley had the chart? Lots of loose ends. I may be proved entirely wrong; one of my occasional contributors thinks that’s the case, and his story will be posted later today. We’ll see.

  12. Weldon berger: I think you missed my point. I know that Weldon has had datamining charts in 1999 and 2000 that he has used in presentations at Committee hearings, on the house floor, etc. He probably has a whole slew of them.

    To say that because Atta wasn’t on one of them that the whole story is fabricated or isn’t accurate doesn’t really make sense. Given the number of different charts he has had its completely conceivable that he may not remember if Atta was on one vs. another.

    As far as the green card issue, it highlights a confusion that existed at the time about what was and what wasn’t legal as far as sharing info on peopel in the country legal. As you may recall, this was all going on at a time when there was a major push by INS to legalize large numbers of immigrants.

    Anyway, at the very least, Weldon has called increased media attention to the problem of federal agencies not working together on national security issues. They each have their own turf wars and that needs to be set aside if we are going to be able to face the challenge of tracking terrorists and preventing future attacks.

    I look forward to reading your contributor’s piece when its posted.

  13. Mark’s piece will be up shortly.

    I don’t doubt Weldon has any number of charts, but the three in question appear to be different versions of the 911-related one. And the problem is much less that Atta wasn’t on one of them than that Weldon now says he doesn’t remember whether the ringleader of the 911 hijackings was on the original one, which was in his possession on 911. That’s just unimaginable.

    The visa photos are problematic as well because of the timetable Weldon and his sources have provided. If you don’t use a visa within a few months of the date issued, you have to get a new one. At least two of the hijackers didn’t get here until a year or so after the team said they were prevented from acting on the information, so those two would have had to get another visa. It’s possible they did but I don’t recall anyone suggesting that happened.

    So there really are a lot of holes. And I think Weldon’s inability to put a coherent story together is distracting from the issue of turf wars and the efficacy of data mining rather than highlighting them.

  14. weldon berger:

    In case you missed it, one person form Able Danger has gone public, a liason to DIA.

    “WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 – A military intelligence team repeatedly contacted the F.B.I. in 2000 to warn about the existence of an American-based terrorist cell that included the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a veteran Army intelligence officer who said he had now decided to risk his career by discussing the information publicly.

    Skip to next paragraph

    The officer, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, said military lawyers later blocked the team from sharing any of its information with the bureau.

    Colonel Shaffer said in an interview on Monday night that the small, highly classified intelligence program, known as Able Danger, had identified the terrorist ringleader, Mohamed Atta, and three other future hijackers by name by mid-2000, and tried to arrange a meeting that summer with agents of the Washington field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to share its information.

    But he said military lawyers forced members of the intelligence program to cancel three scheduled meetings with the F.B.I. at the last minute, which left the bureau without information that Colonel Shaffer said might have led to Mr. Atta and the other terrorists while the Sept. 11 attacks were still being planned.”

  15. A-prd: it’s looking a lot better. He certainly shook some branches; we’ll see what falls out. There was a curious about-face among some pretty well-connected right-wing commentators today who were pushing the story hard during the past week. Lots of interesting scurrying around. I’m keeping the chart, though, at least for now.

  16. Why have conervative commentators bacnktracked? Because of this quote form Shaffer in Government Security News:

    “I personally talked with [Philip] Zelikow [executive director of the 9/11 Commission] about this,” recalled the intelligence officer. “For whatever bizarre reasons, he didn’t pass on the information.”

    The State Department, where Zelikow now works as a counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, said he was traveling and unavailable for comment.

  17. Looks like someone has had too many Sandy Bergers with a supersize side of French lies!

    Maybe Berger was working for Bush? LMAO

    The liberal psychosis has now gone gangrenous.

    This 9/11 commission is turning out to be as successful as the Waco cover-up was! Don’t worry, your yellowbelly groundhog day will end in a few years when Bush is gone.

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