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Senate Jud. Committee Investigating Early Identification of 9/11 Terrorist<P>By Philip Shenon THE NEW YORK TIMES <P>WASHINGTON <P>

Senate Jud. Committee Investigating
Early Identification of 9/11 Terrorist

By Philip Shenon


The Senate Judiciary Committee announced Wednesday that it was investigating reports from two military officers that a highly classified Pentagon intelligence program identified the Sept. 11 ringleader as a potential terrorist more than a year before the attacks.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said in an interview that he was scheduling a public hearing on Sept. 14 “to get to the bottom of this” and that the military officers “appear to have credibility.”

The senator said his staff had confirmed reports from the two officers that employees of the intelligence program tried to contact the FBI in 2000 to discuss the work of the program, known as Able Danger.

The officers, Capt. Scott J. Phillpott of the Navy and Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer of the Army, have said the intelligence program identified the terrorist ringleader, Mohamed Atta, by early 2000. Shaffer, a reservist, has said three meetings with FBI agents in 2000 to discuss Able Danger were canceled on the order of military lawyers.

Specter’s announcement came as the Pentagon said again Wednesday that while it was not disputing the officers’ reports, it could find no documentation to back up what they were saying.

“Not only can we not find documentation, we’d can’t find documents to lead us to the documentation,” said Maj. Paul Swiergosz, a Pentagon spokesman.

Other Pentagon officials have suggested that the memories of Phillpott and Shaffer are flawed and that Atta could not have been identified before the attacks, a view shared by members of the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.

But Shaffer and military officials involved in the intelligence program say it may not be surprising that documents were destroyed, since the project became controversial within the Pentagon because of potential privacy violations.

“I don’t know what kind of documentation they’d be looking for,” Specter said of Defense Department investigators. “At this point, you have responsible officials at DoD who have made some pretty serious statements and that ought to be investigated.”

The existence of the intelligence program is potentially embarrassing to the Pentagon since it would suggest that the Defense Department developed information about the Sept. 11 hijackers long before they attacked in 2001 but did not share the information with law-enforcement or intelligence agencies that could have acted on it.

Specter did not provide a witness list for the Sept. 14 hearing, although he suggested that Phillpott and Shaffer would testify, along with J.D. Smith, a former Pentagon contractor who worked on the program and has backed up the officers’ accounts about the identification of Atta.

The senator said that if Atta and other Sept. 11 terrorists were identified before the attacks, “it would be a very serious breach not to have that information passed along.”