8/20/2005

Officer in Atta inquiry said he relied on others: South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Officer in Atta inquiry said he relied on others: South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The former intelligence officer who claims that a Defense Department program identified Mohammed Atta and three other hijackers before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said Thursday that many of his allegations are not based on his memory but on the recollections of others.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who has been on paid administrative leave from the Defense Intelligence Agency since his security clearance was suspended in March 2004, said that a Navy officer and a civilian official affiliated with the Able Danger program told him after the attacks that Atta and other hijackers had been included on a chart more than a year earlier.

But because he was not intimately familiar with the names and photographs of suspected terrorists, he did not personally realize that hijackers were listed until it was alleged to him after the attacks, Shaffer said. All of the charts that could support his claims have also disappeared, he said.

"I did see the charts and I did handle the charts, but my understanding of them was like a layman," Shaffer said. "We had identified them as terrorists. ... But even now I do not remember all the names."

The comments add to the uncertainty surrounding claims by Shaffer and Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., who have said the Able Danger group identified Atta and other hijackers as early as 1999 but was stymied by Defense Department lawyers from sharing information with the FBI. The allegations set off a wave of media reports and have prompted investigations by the former Sept. 11 commission and the Defense Department.

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