The commission that uncovered the government's failures to share intelligence among agencies before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks wants to know whether U.S. defense intelligence knew for a year that four of the hijackers were part of an al-Qaida cell in the U.S.
Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the now-disbanded commission, said Tuesday that members of the Sept. 11 commission could issue a statement by the end of the week after reviewing claims that defense intelligence officials had identified ringleader Mohammed Atta and three other hijackers, the AP reports.
"The 9/11 commission did not learn of any U.S. government knowledge prior to 9/11 of surveillance of Mohammed Atta or of his cell," said Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. "Had we learned of it obviously it would've been a major focus of our investigation."
The commission's report on the terrorist attacks, released last year, traced government mistakes that allowed the hijackers to succeed. Among the problems the commission cited was a lack of coordination across intelligence agencies.
Rep. Curt Weldon, who serves as vice chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, said a classified military intelligence unit known as "Able Danger" identified the men in 1999.
That's an earlier link to al-Qaida than any previously disclosed intelligence about Atta if the information, which Weldon said came from multiple intelligence sources, is true.
A group of Sept. 11 called the September 11th Advocates issued a statement Wednesday saying they were "horrified" to learn that further possible evidence exists, and they are disappointed the 9/11 Commission report is "incomplete and illusory."
"The revelation of this information demands answers that are forthcoming, clear and concise," the statement said. "The 9/11 attacks could have and should have been prevented."
With the Sept. 11 commission disbanded for a year under provisions of the legislation that created it, some of the panel's members have said congressional committees should investigate Weldon's assertions.
According to Weldon, Able Danger identified Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi as members of a cell the unit code-named "Brooklyn" because of some loose connections to New York City.
Weldon said that in September 2000 Able Danger recommended that its information on the hijackers be given to the FBI "so they could bring that cell in and take out the terrorists." However, Weldon said Pentagon lawyers rejected the recommendation because they said Atta and the others were in the country legally, so information on them could not be shared with law enforcement.
Weldon did not provide details on how the intelligence officials identified the future hijackers and determined they might be part of a terrorist cell.