Beginning in July 2000, General Tommy Franks was commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), headquartered at McDill AF Base near Tampa, Florida. During that three-year tour of duty, he was in charge of US special forces in the Mid-East, and commanded the failed operation there in January 2002 to capture Usama bin Laden (UBL) at Tora Bora, Afghanistan.
Franks was also in command of a secret Army intelligence operation, codename Able Danger, that surveilled al-Qaeda cells known to be inside the United States prior to the 9/11 attack.
According to a front-page New York Times article by Douglas Jehl published yesterday http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/09/politics/09intel.html :
"More than a year before the Sept. 11 attacks, a small, highly classified military intelligence unit identified Mohammed Atta and three other future hijackers as likely members of a cell of Al Qaeda operating in the United States . . .
"In the summer of 2000, the military team, known as Able Danger, prepared a chart that included visa photographs of the four men and recommended to the military's Special Operations Command" Gen. Franks had overall command of SOC and its Able Danger unit, that was reportedly involved in tracking al-Qaeda cells by gathering and analyzing electronic communications and other data from multiple sources.
Jehl reports, that a "former intelligence official spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he did not want to jeopardize political support and the possible financing for future data-mining operations by speaking publicly. He said the team had been established by the Special Operations Command in 1999, under a classified directive issued by Gen. Hugh Shelton, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to assemble information about Al Qaeda networks around the world."
That information was assembled into a giant chart that linked Mohammed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi with another al-Qaeda cell headed by Khalid al-Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, who had been identified by the CIA. The four were collectively termed the "Brooklyn Cell", apparently in reference to the initial detection of Atta and al-Shehhi there in late 1999.
Ultimately, according to a US military intelligence officer sourced in the Times article, that officer "said that he delivered the chart in summer 2000 to the Special Operations Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., and said that it had been based on information from unclassified sources and government records, including those of the Immigration and Naturalization Service."
This is particularly notable because CIA officials have testified under oath to Congress and the 9/11 Commission that the agency did not pass on information it had about the arrival in the US on January 15 2000 of al-Hazmi and al-Midhar. The then commander of the CIA Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC), Cofer Black, testified that his unit had simply overlooked the entry of the Flight 77 hijackers. In fact, the head of CIA counter-terrorism ordered an FBI liaison officer to withhold a cable notifying the Bureau's counterterrorism unit in New York of that entry by known terrorists, after they returned from a CIA-monitored al-Qaeda planning summit in Kuala Lumpur where both the 9/11 attack and the bombing of the USS Cole were discussed. See, Perjury by CIA Counterterrorism Center Director - the Blocked Memo, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2005/6/10/105125/910 ; also, see: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-te ...
Nonetheless, the presence of all four principal 9/11 hijackers inside the US had become known to Army intelligence by the summer of 2000, when Gen. Franks took command.
Franks and Black have been at the opposite ends of this still unravelling tale of counter-terrorism failure and bureaucratic finger-pointing. The CIA's Cofer Black was the initial source for media reports in 2002 that Franks had been responsible for bin Laden's escape from Tora Bora that hastened Gen. Franks replacement as CENTCOM commander. For that exposure of Franks, Defense Secretary Runsfeld convinced George Tenet to fire Black. See, Richard Sale, Embarrassed Rumsfeld fired CIA official, UPI, 07/28/04, http://www.washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20040728-03...
While the DoD and CIA had long been been aware of their presence, for reasons that have not been satisfactorily explained, the FBI was not notified that any of the al-Qaeda cells had entered the U.S. until the summer of 2001, at which time critical information continued to be withheld from Bureau investigators who were attempting to obtain warrants to investigate suspected terrorists.
The former Army intelligence officer is quoted by Jehl as stating, "We knew these were bad guys, and we wanted to do something about them."
After the CIA CTC and the DoD Able Danger unit commanders failed to notify the FBI of the terrorist cells presence inside the U.S., these four al-Qaeda operatives went on to successfully commandeed passenger jets that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11, killing some 3,000 people, an outrage that led to the Bush Administration's war on terrorism and the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
For their part in this fiasco, in 2004, Tommy Franks along with George Tenet received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush.
Copyright 2005, Mark G. Levey