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The Able Danger Foxtrot Continues

A conversation with the attorney at the center of the Able Danger dance about the frustration of whistleblowers at the Pentagon.

8:45 AM, Oct 5, 2005 • By EDWARD MORRISSEY
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MARK ZAID has a full schedule these days, working on behalf of his beleaguered client, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer; media appearances, tilting at Department of Defense windmills, correcting poorly-written AP stories, and handling late-night interview requests. If anyone has an excuse to beg off an appointment, Zaid has a raft of them--yet last night he was happy to sit for a phone interview with THE DAILY STANDARD.

After exploding onto the scene two months ago, the Able Danger story and the revelation of its identification of Mohammed Atta as an al Qaeda operative over a year before the 9/11 attack have gone through several mutations in the press. At first, despite its launch at the New York Times, the media regarded it as a wild, unsourced conspiracy theory. The 9/11 Commission immediately dismissed it out of hand; the Pentagon took a bit more time to refute it. Eventually, key players of the SOCOM program came forward in public, first and foremost LTC Shaffer, the DIA liaison to the program.

Zaid has represented Shaffer during this public period which has seen him portrayed as a kook, a media hound, and thanks to the AP, a drunkard and a deadbeat. Zaid has taken his role as Shaffer's defender quite seriously; he recently wrote a lengthy and detailed rebuttal to the AP's report on the revocation of Shaffer's clearance:

I would like to set the record straight so that everyone knows the situation. I set up the story so that a full and balanced portrait could be drawn. Of course I knew that unfavorable information would be reported, but so long as the substantive responses would be reported alongside we had no qualms about releasing the information. The information I submitted not only from LTC Shaffer to refute the allegations but also from independent third parties would show everyone how petty, pathetic and absurd the allegations were.

Unfortunately, the AP story was terrible. Despite having the documents in her possession the reporter made numerous errors and ignored crucial information. To say that I was disappointed is an understatement. Twice I got the AP to modify the story and yet still they just couldn't get it right, which is why I am submitting this post here.

The AP reported that the DIA moved to revoke Shaffer's clearances based on an incident of drunkenness more than a decade old, a dispute over expenses that amounted to less than $250 in all, and an unpaid credit card bill during Shaffer's deployment to Afghanistan--all without noting that the Army has promoted Shaffer in his position as a reservist in defiance of this investigation. The AP also failed to report that, since Shaffer has been recleared on a regular basis, all of these incidents have already been reviewed a number of times and found irrelevant to his access. Zaid painstakingly addressed each allegation by presenting the full context left out by the AP, and presumably its sources within the DIA and DoD. As with the Able Danger program itself, the military seems to have a curious dance that it plays with Tony Shaffer and the rest of the team now that they have become potential whistleblowers.

ZAID HAD PREPARED HIS CLIENT to answer many questions at the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, the Judiciary Committee has been stalled by the Pentagon, which refuses to allow the six SOCOM witnesses who have publicly confirmed that recall the Atta identification to testify. Zaid expressed his frustration with the DoD and its dance with the congressional committee which promised public hearings on the program.

"We're presumably waiting for them to reschedule," Zaid said. "Officially, the Defense Department and the DIA are taking the position--at least with me--that Shaffer is not allowed to testify." That gag order clearly has allowed the momentum of the story to slow in the last few weeks. When asked about the gag order's origin, Shaffer's attorney cannot tell for certain who ordered it. "These guys are talking out of both sides of their mouths," he replied when asked to identify the agency responsible for blocking the testimony. "The first time around, when the hearing on the 21st was scheduled to happen," he explained, "the Defense Department was calling the shots, and DIA was continually relaying messages from DIA to me."