Defense Secretary Rumsfeld issued a statement saying that the Pentagon offered to hold a classified briefing on Able Danger to accommodate the Senate Judiciary Committee's inquiries but refused to entertain the idea of participating in an "open hearing on a classified matter."
Arlen Specter (R-PA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, responded by saying, "That looks to me like it may be obstruction of the committee's activities, something we will have to determine."
Considering the sensitive nature of the information involved and the secret nature of the vehicle used to acquire the information, it is remarkable that a congressional committee would make such a poor choice of a venue for their inquiry.
The choice of an open hearing effectively mandated redacted testimony, so much so that instead of hearing testimony into what may have very likely been serious intelligence communications mismanagement, the committee was met with a "wall of silence."
I understand the cautionary tone with which the Pentagon is approaching this matter. It would be criminal to compromise what little clandestine intelligence we have in place considering the destruction our intelligence community underwent in the 1990s. While transparency in government is preferred, safeguarding the things that keep us safe makes a great deal of sense. Perhaps that's why many in Washington and the mainstream media have a hard time grasping the notion.
The fact that such data existed before the attacks of September 11th and that nothing was done to thwart Atta's actions is disturbing. So too is the fact that the September 11th Commission was more of a dog and pony show used to protect political legacies than to identify weaknesses in our intelligence system, a system meant to safeguard the American public from terrorist generated slaughter.
The next hearings on this are scheduled for October 5th. I'm not sure what could change by then to make open hearings a useful option for getting to the bottom of the Able Danger conundrum. I would like to attribute positive motives to the current stonewalling by the Bush Adminstration/DoD -- as I did when I wrote about the first day of the hearings;and as AJ does today in his post linked above-- but as long as Specter insists on open hearings, it makes me wonder why he isn't convinced that closed hearings are the way to go to protect current national security interests.
To be continued.
UPDATE: Captain's Quarters is now saying that the Pentagon has reversed itself and will permit the five Able Danger members to testify in open hearings on October 5th.
We can surmise a couple of items from this reversal, especially given the hostility that Shaffer showed towards the Pentagon as a result of the initial cancellation. First, the gag order had little to do with ongoing operational security. It would take much more time than 72 hours to secure personnel and intelligence, and if the Pentagon still had those assets in operation, the witnesses would remain gagged. That means the Pentagon pulled the witnesses for some other reason.
Anyone want to guess what that reason might be? Whatever the reason, they have made clear that the Pentagon fears the truth coming out about Able Danger. Many have speculated that the program showed connections between the Clinton Administration and China, and that caused the Pentagon to hush up Able Danger. Perhaps, but that cannot explain the actions this week in pulling the witnesses off the stand at the last moment. The Clinton Administration has come and gone, and even a possible Hillary administration would come no sooner than almost four years from now.
The reason, therefore, has to involve people at the Pentagon right now. It seems to me that the Pentagon has the most to lose if speculation that it deliberately withheld cooperation from the FBI when it could have stopped 9/11 is true, and that it has to answer for the destruction of the materials if the witnesses testify as expected. Those decisions could involve high-ranking brass, such as Hugh Shelton (ret.) and Pete Schoomaker, and perhaps even Donald Rumsfeld. Or perhaps they just involve second-tier leadership - which is why the Pentagon decided to reverse itself after seeing the public reaction to the aborted hearing Wednesday. (5:30 pm 9/23)