WASHINGTON -- Rejecting one of the most disturbing claims about the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded as untrue a congressman's contention that a team of military analysts identified Mohamed Atta or other hijackers before the attacks, according to a summary of the panel's investigation obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
The findings repudiate assertions by Representative Curt Weldon, Republican of Pennsylvania, and a handful of military officers, that US national security officials ignored startling intelligence available in early 2001 that might have helped to prevent the attacks.
In particular, Weldon and other officials have repeatedly said that the military effort, known as "Able Danger," produced a chart that included a picture of Atta and identified him as being tied to an Al Qaeda cell in Brooklyn.
Weldon has also said that the chart was shared with officials in the White House, including Stephen J. Hadley, then deputy national security adviser.
But after a 16-month investigation, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded that those assertions are unfounded.
"Able Danger did not identify Mohammed Atta or any other 9/11 hijacker at any time prior to Sept. 11, 2001," the committee concluded, according to an eight-page letter sent last week to members of the panel by the top Republican and Democrat on the committee.
Weldon, who is also the focus of a Justice Department corruption probe, was defeated in November in his campaign for a 11th term, even though his suburban Philadelphia district has a large GOP majority in voter registration.
Yesterday, attempts to reach a spokesman for Weldon and a lawyer representing him in the Justice Department investigation were unsuccessful.
The Senate panel, known formally as the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, launched its investigation of Able Danger in August 2005, after Weldon and others close to the program went public with their contentions. At the time, Weldon was the vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee.
The recently completed probe also dismissed other assertions that have fueled conspiracy theories surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks.
The panel said it found no evidence to support statements by military officers connected to Able Danger that Defense Department lawyers prevented the team's analysts from sharing their findings with counterterrorism officials at the FBI before the attacks. Nor was the alleged chart or any information developed by Able Danger improperly destroyed at the direction of Pentagon lawyers, a charge that has stoked claims of a coverup.
"Able Danger" was the unclassified name given to a program launched in 1999 by the US Special Operations Command as part of an effort to develop military plans targeting the leadership ranks of Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.
Military analysts assigned to the effort did create charts with pictures of Al Qaeda operatives whose identities were known publicly at the time, the committee found. But the committee concluded that none of those charts depicted Atta, and that the unfounded assertions made by Weldon and others might have been due to confusion.
One of the charts, titled "The Al-Qaida Network: Snapshots of Typical Operational Cells Associated with UBL" was attached to the letter sent to committee members last week by Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, and Senator John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, the panel's leaders.
"One of these individuals depicted on the chart arguably looked like Mohammed Atta," the committee concluded. "In addition, the chart contained names of Al Qaeda associates that sound like Atta, as well as numerous variations of the common Arab name Mohammed."
The committee also suggested that officials' memories might have been clouded by the flurry of charts and photographs of Atta that surfaced after the attacks. The panel noted that a defense contractor that produced the chart at the center of the controversy subsequently created a follow-up chart, after the attacks, which did include Atta.
Atta, an Egyptian-born Islamic radical, was the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks and pilot of one of the planes that struck the World Trade Center towers.
In June 2005, Weldon generated significant controversy when he declared in a speech on the House floor and in a book released that month that he had met with Hadley at the White House shortly after the attacks and had given the national security official a copy of a chart showing that Atta had been identified by Able Danger.
But the committee concluded that the chart "was not a pre-9/11 chart" and that "at no time did Mr. Hadley ever see a chart with pre- 9/11 data bearing Atta's picture or name as described by Congressman Weldon."
Weldon has relished the role of calling attention to national security threats he believes are being ignored by others in government. At times he has carried a replica of a suitcase-size nuclear bomb to highlight the danger of terrorist nuclear threats. He has also accused Iran of hiding Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Weldon's rising legal troubles played a role in his re election loss in November. It was disclosed last week that a federal grand jury had subpoenaed congressional records from Weldon's office as part of an FBI probe aimed at determining whether he traded his influence to get lobbying business for his daughter and others.
The seat was won by Democrat Joe Sestak, a retired Navy vice admiral.
The Senate Intelligence Committee noted that its findings were consistent with the conclusions, released in September, of a similar investigation of Able Danger by the Defense Department Inspector General's office.