By Roxana Tiron - 11/17/05 12:00 AM EST
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) has gathered at least 202 Congress members’ signatures for a request that participants of an intelligence cell that may have identified some of the Sept. 11 ringleaders a year before the attacks be allowed to testify before Congress.
Weldon has been leading the crusade for months, but his colleagues, several of them prominent members of the GOP conference, now appear to be listening.
Weldon plans to send the letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the coming days requesting that he allow the participants in the cell known as “Able Danger” to testify in open congressional hearings.
So far, the officers involved in the intelligence cell have not been allowed to testify in the only hearing on the topic, which the Senate Judiciary Committee held in early fall.
Weldon, who has been waging a war against the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) almost single-handedly, now has the signatures of more than 100 GOP members and 80 Democrats for the letter. At press time, Weldon was still gathering signatures from his colleagues.
Weldon also hopes to obtain signatures from some Senators before the letter is sent, according to his spokesperson.
Among those signing Weldon’s letter are House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Homeland Security Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.), Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.), Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska), Small Business Chairman Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.) and Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), as well as Reps. Henry Bonilla (R-Texas) and John Linder (R-Ga.).
There are also several members of the Armed Services Committee, including Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and Todd Akin (R-Mo.). By press time, Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the panel’s chairman, was not among the signatories.
Among the approximately 80 Democrats signing the letter are Reps. John Murtha (Pa.), ranking member on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee; Ike Skelton (Mo.), ranking member of the Armed Services Committee; Mike McIntyre (N.C.); and Ellen Tauscher (Calif.).
Weldon has acused the DIA, a unit of the Pentagon, of trying to keep the information that the intelligence unit discovered under wraps.
The military revoked the security clearance of one of the officers, Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who was scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Pentagon said his clearance was revoked for a series of alleged violations of military rules, none of them related to whistle-blowing. Pentagon officials also have refused to allow Navy Capt. Scott Phillpott, another officer with knowledge of the Able Danger findings, to testify.
“Until this point, congressional efforts to investigate Able Danger have been obstructed by Department of Defense insistence that certain individuals with knowledge of Able Danger will be prevented from freely and frankly testifying in an open hearing,” Weldon wrote in the letter to Rumsfeld.
“We of course would never support any activity that might compromise sensitive information involving national security. However, we firmly believe that testimony from the appropriate individuals in an open hearing on Able Danger would not only fail to jeopardize national security, but would in fact enhance it over the long term.”
Weldon said he believes that the DIA stifled crucial information about Mohammed Atta, who became the lead Sept. 11 terrorist, and then destroyed related documents. He also said that the Sept. 11 commission, which was appointed to investigate the attacks and the intelligence failure involved in them, disregarded information it received from Able Danger members.
Weldon has said he learned that a secret program known as Able Danger was put into place in 1999 and 2000 by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and by the general in charge of the Special Forces Command. It was devoted to uncovering key cells of al Qaeda globally, giving the military the capability to destroy those cells.
Weldon told The Hill last month that he believes the DIA is carrying out a smear campaign against Shaffer, who spoke the truth about the cell.