Online commentators are taking aim at the 9-11 commission for its failure to include in its report that intelligence officials reportedly ID’d hijack ringleader Mohamed Atta as part of an al-Qaida cell in the U.S. over a year before the September 11 tragedy, saying the panel was acting politically instead of factually.

Jamie Gorelick

One commentator specifically points his finger at former Clinton staffer Jamie Gorelick, a member of the panel who has been accused in the past of acting to protect her ex-boss from any political fallout of the commission’s work.

Members of the commission now are calling for a review of the matter, saying they knew nothing about a classified military intelligence unit known as “Able Danger” identifying Atta and three of his accomplices in 1999. The information was shared publicly this week by Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa. vice chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.

While Weldon says Able Danger personnel recommended Atta and the others be deported, the information was not shared with federal law enforcement agencies, another symptom of the Clinton-era wall of separation that had been erected between intelligence and law enforcement personnel.

The New York Times reports the 9-11 commission staff decided not to share the Able Danger information with the panel members because some of the information sounded inconsistent with what they thought they knew about Atta.

“… [W]hy did [the commission] ignore the Able Danger operation in their deliberations?” asked Captain’s Quarters blogger Ed Morrissey, as highlighted by columnist Michelle Malkin. “It would emphasize that the problem was not primarily operational, as the commission made it seem, but primarily political – and that the biggest problem was the enforced separation between law enforcement and intelligence operations upon which the Clinton Department of Justice insisted. The hatchet person for that policy sat on the Commission itself: Jamie S. Gorelick.”

It was Gorelick who, as deputy attorney general in the Clinton Justice Department, established the wall of silence between intel and law enforcement.

“We believe it is prudent to establish a set of instructions that will more clearly separate the counterintelligence investigation from the more limited, but continued, criminal investigations,” Gorelick wrote in 1995. “These procedures, which go beyond what is legally required, will prevent any risk of creating an unwarranted appearance that (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) is being used to avoid procedural safeguards which would apply in a criminal investigation.”

Gorelick rejected calls for her resignation from the commission last year when conflict-of-interest charges were raised.

Morrissey further discusses the apparent failure of commission staff to address the Able Danger data:

First we hear that no such [briefing on the info] occurred. After that, the commission says one might have occurred in October 2003 but that no one remembered it. Now we find out that the commission had two meetings where [they] heard about Able Danger and its identification of Mohamed Atta, including one just before they completed their report. Instead of saying to themselves, “Hey, wait a minute – this changes the picture substantially,” and postponing the report until they could look further into Able Danger, they simply shrugged their shoulders and published what they had.

Why? Able Danger proved that at least some of the intelligence work done by the U.S. provided the information that could have helped prevent or at least reduce the attacks on 9-11. They had identified the ringleader of the conspiracy as a terrorist agent, even if they didn’t know what mission he had at the time.

What does that mean for the commission’s findings? It meant that the cornerstone of their conclusions no longer fit the facts. Able Danger showed that the U.S. had enough intelligence to take action – if the government had allowed law enforcement and intelligence operations to cooperate with each other. It also showed that data mining could effectively identify terrorist agents.

Morrissey says Gorelick’s “wall of separation” between intelligence and law enforcement agencies “specifically contributed to Atta’s ability to come and go as he pleased, building the teams that would kill almost 3,000 Americans.”

National Review’s Jim Geraghty hammered the commission as well, saying, “[A]s for the 9-11 commission, after all that patting themselves on the back, all that gushing praise from left, right and center, after their work was called ‘miraculous’ by Newsday, and the nomination for a National Book Award, and calling their own work ‘extraordinary’ … man, these guys stink. Really, if this checks out, and the staffers had information like this and they disregarded it, never believing that we in the public deserved to know that the plot’s ringleader was identified, located and recommended to be arrested a year before the attacks … boy, these guys ought to be in stocks in the public square and have rotten fruit thrown at them. What a sham.”

Family members of 9-11 victims also are speaking out against the commission. Yesterday, the organization September 11 Advocates released a statement calling on commission members to be held accountable, saying it was “horrified” that the Atta information was not considered.

“We believe that the time has come for the American people to demand the necessary accountability from all of our leaders,” the statement said. “The 9-11 commissioners and staff who had a legal obligation to investigate and report upon all of the facts relevant to the 9-11 attacks should, therefore, be the very first individuals to be held accountable and responsible for their collective failure to meet their legislative mandate.”

Continued the statement: “As 9-11 widows who fought tirelessly for the creation of the 9-11 commission, we are wholly disappointed to learn that the commission’s Final Report is a hollow failure.”

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, one of the commission’s co-chairs, insists the panel members themselves knew nothing of the Able Danger intel.

“The 9-11 commission did not learn of any U.S. government knowledge prior to 9-11 of surveillance of Mohamed Atta or of his cell,” Hamilton told AP. “Had we learned of it, obviously it would’ve been a major focus of our investigation.”

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