Atta Files Destroyed by Pentagon; Senate Panel Told Lawyers Ordered Action in 2000

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Pentagon lawyers during the Clinton administration ordered the destruction of intelligence reports that identified September 11 leader Mohamed Atta months before the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, according to congressional testimony yesterday.

A lawyer for two Pentagon whistleblowers also told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday that the Defense Intelligence Agency last year destroyed files on the Army's computer data-mining program known as Able Danger to avoid disclosing the information.

Retired Army Maj. Erik Kleinsmith, former director of the Army Land Information Warfare Center, told the panel he was directed by Pentagon lawyers to delete 21/2 terabytes of computer data - the equivalent of one-quarter of the information in the Library of Congress - on Able Danger in May or June 2000 because of legal concerns about information on U.S. citizens.

Maj. Kleinsmith said keeping the data beyond 90 days would have violated an Army directive limiting the collection of information on U.S. citizens.

"Yes, I could have conveniently forgot to delete the data, and we could have kept it," Maj. Kleinsmith said. "But I knowingly would have been in violation of the regulation."

The attorney for two Pentagon officials involved in Able Danger testified that the program did not identify Atta as being in the United States, only that he was linked by analysts to an al Qaeda cell in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States," said Mark Zaid, who represents Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, an intelligence analyst, and J.D. Smith, a defense official, who both claim Able Danger data was mishandled.

"And no information at the time that they obtained would have led anyone to believe that criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned. All they developed were associational links."

Mr. Zaid said Able Danger-related data, including possibly a chart containing a photo of Atta, that was compiled by Orion Scientific, was destroyed by DIA some time in the spring of 2004 after the official who held the material had his security clearance revoked. …