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Rethinking Prague There are two timelines for Mohammed Atta's whereabouts in April 2001. One is provided by American intelligence officers, the other by terrorists. by Edward Morrissey 08/24/2005 12:00:00 AM
THE ONGOING CONTROVERSY over the Able Danger project deepened this week when two more sources from the U.S. Army data-mining project came forward. Navy Captain Scott Phillpott and civilian contractor James Smith joined Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer in claiming that Able Danger identified Mohammed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers as potential al Qaeda operatives well before the attacks. Phillpott specifically told the New York Times when he went public that Able Danger made that connection between January and February of 2000, 19 months before the attack.
However, that puts the Able Danger scenario in conflict, again, with the 9/11 Commission's final report--this time on the Atta travel timeline. On pages 167-168 of the report, the Commission provides a narrative of the Hamburg cell movements during this period:
Quote: After leaving Afghanistan, the four began researching flight schools and aviation training. In early January 2000, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali--a nephew of KSM living in the UAE who would become an important facilitator in the plot--used Shehhi's credit card to order a Boeing 747-400 flight simulator program and a Boeing 767 flight deck video, together with attendant literature; Ali had all these items shipped to his employer's address. Jarrah soon decided that the schools in Germany were not acceptable and that he would have to learn to fly in the United States. Binalshibh also researched flight schools in Europe, and in the Netherlands he met a flight school director who recommended flight schools in the United States because they were less expensive and required shorter training periods.
In March 2000, Atta emailed 31 different U.S. flight schools on behalf of a small group of men from various Arab countries studying in Germany who, while lacking prior training, were interested in learning to fly in the United States. Atta requested information about the cost of the training, potential financing, and accommodations.
The Able Danger team has insisted it made the identification of Atta while he lived inside the United States, however. This created the problem that kept them from coordinating with the FBI when their analysis pointed out this potential terrorist cell. Had they identified Atta and his cohorts while in Hamburg, Able Danger could easily have notified the State Department of their suspicions and kept cell members from getting visas.
IF ATTA HAD ALREADY MADE IT to the United States, how did the Commission establish this timeline? They deduced it from FBI interrogations of three sources: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh, two of the plotters who helped create the 9/11 attacks, and Mohammed's nephew Ali Abdul Aziz Ali. The footnotes in the Report to the Atta timeline paragraphs give almost no corroborative evidence besides that of the testimony of these men--who have little motivation to cooperate honestly with American investigators.
Could the "intelligence" gleaned from the interrogations of these al Qaeda plotters and high-level terrorists have been an attempt at disinformation?
SO WITH THESE FACTS BEHIND US, let us move to some informed speculation. Recall the strange and unremarked coincidence of the arrests of two Iraqi intelligence agents in Germany at the end of February 2001. These arrests never made it into the Commission's final report, despite the fact that German authorities described an elaborate Iraqi network involving several German cities at the same time that three of the four 9/11 team leaders all traveled to or through Germany. One of these team leaders, Ziad Jarrah, left Germany just as the Germans captured the Iraqi spies.
The only media reports about these arrests came immediately afterwards, brief dispatches from the BBC and Reuters. Two weeks later, however, a Parisian Arabic newspaper, Al-Watan al-Arabi, published a more detailed analysis of the capture on March 16:
Al-Watan al-Arabi (Paris) reports that two Iraqis were arrested in Germany, charged with spying for Baghdad. The arrests came in the wake of reports that Iraq was reorganizing the external branches of its intelligence service and that it had drawn up a plan to strike at US interests around the world through a network of alliances with extremist fundamentalist parties.
The most serious report contained information that Iraq and Osama bin Ladin were working together. German authorities were surprised by the arrest of the two Iraqi agents and the discovery of Iraqi intelligence activities in several German cities. German authorities, acting on CIA recommendations, had been focused on monitoring the activities of Islamic groups linked to bin Ladin. They discovered the two Iraqi agents by chance and uncovered what they considered to be serious indications of cooperation between Iraq and bin Ladin. The matter was considered so important that a special team of CIA and FBI agents was sent to Germany to interrogate the two Iraqi spies. [emphasis added]
Despite this contemporaneous report about the nature of the German arrests and the involvement of American counterintelligence officials in the investigation, not a word of the affair appears in the Commission's final report.
WHICH BRINGS US to the hotly debated reports of Atta's alleged visit to Prague on
April 9, 2001. Czech intelligence had kept a close eye on Iraqi envoy Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani ever since an Iraq defector told British intelligence in 1998 about a plot to blow up the Radio Free Europe station in Prague in retaliation for its broadcasts into Iraq. The Czechs eventually stripped al-Ani of his diplomatic credentials and sent him back to Saddam Hussein.
However, after 9/11, Czech intelligence privately told the United States that it had evidence that al-Ani met with Mohammed Atta on April 9, 2001. Later, the Czechs went public with the information--and to this day, the Czechs insistently stand behind this intelligence. Part of the reason for this insistence is not just a belief in their source, but also a corroborating entry in al-Ani's datebook, which the Czechs apparently discovered during a surreptitious search of the Iraqi embassy after Saddam's fall in April 2003. The datebook contained an entry for an April 2001 meeting with a "Hamburg student," the same description used by Atta himself when applying for his visa. (It is perhaps worth noting that Epstein is the only person to have reported on the existence of this daybook.)
However, the 9/11 Commission disregarded the Czech intelligence and declared that Atta had never gone to Prague in April 2001. How did the Commission reach this conclusion? Their report details the factors that went into this rejection on pages 228-9:
* Atta's cell phone was used in the U.S. on April 6, 9, 10, and 11
* No U.S. records of Atta traveling under his own name
* No pictures of anyone who looked like Atta in the Czech Republic on those dates
* Testimony from two al Qaeda sources . . . Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh
WE HAVE BEEN TOLD REPEATEDLY that the 9/11 Commission Report debunks the Prague trip, but the report says only that it "cannot absolutely rule out the possibility that Atta was in Prague on April 9, 2001. He could have used an alias to travel and a passport under that alias, but this would be an exception to his practice of using his true name while traveling (as he did in January and would in July when he took his next overseas trip). The FBI and CIA have uncovered no evidence that Atta held any fraudulent passports."
The Commission's source for this? Ramzi Binalshibh.
Why did the Commission put so much emphasis on the testimony of two terrorists while dismissing the testimony of two senior American officers in determining the timeline for Mohammed Atta and the Hamburg cell?
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