Rep. Curt Weldon, Firefighter and Firebrand
W. Curtis Weldon, better known as Rep. Curt Weldon (R., PA), has always been a major influence in my life. From his early days as the mayor of a small town on the Delaware River in southern Pennsylvania, Curt has been someone I look to for guidance and influence.
Our political/public service careers have a weird parallel. Curt started out as mayor of his hometown of Marcus Hook, PA. I got my political start as the city administrator of the city where I make my home. Curt was elected to the Delaware County (PA) Council, including a stint as president. I was appointed to the Board of County Commissioners when Ilona Hogan resigned halfway through her second term.
Curt ran for the U.S. Congress; I chose the state legislature. The next chapter of both stories hasn’t been written as yet.
I don’t get to speak to him as often as I’d like, so I frequently settle for his appearances on Fox News, C-SPAN, and MSNBC. Hopefully, some of you faithful Tentacle readers have had occasion to hear Curt on those same broadcasts. He and Hardball’s Chris Matthews get along famously.
He has served in the House of Representatives for 20 years. He won his last election with 60% of the vote against a well-funded challenger. His expertise is varied; he is considered an expert on first responder issues; and he speaks Russian fluently.
If you’re wondering how a mastery of the Russian language might aid a member of Congress, Curt gave a speech to the Russian Duma (their Parliament), and gave it in Russian.
Curt has been a leader on national security matters. Fifteen years ago, he led the fight to maintain a research program for the Osprey rotary aircraft, a helo/airplane hybrid that the Marine Corps had designed as a replacement battlefield troop carrier.
More recently, Curt was named the vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. His next step on the seniority ladder would be to assume the chair in a few years.
Even more recently, following the events of September 11, 2001, he was also named vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. It’s rare and unprecedented for a member to hold two committee leadership positions, but Curt is not your regular congressman. Is there such a thing?
I mentioned 9/11/01 above. In addition to all of the other things changed by that fateful day, Curt Weldon was deeply affected. In addition to all of his family, academic, and political accomplishments, Curt is most proud of his time as a volunteer fire chief in Marcus Hook.
Curt was the chief of the volunteer fire company that my granddad helped create, and my own father served as a company line and administrative officer. Curt is a firefighter first, and his passion for both volunteer and career firefighters has spilled over into his congressional service.
He created the Congressional Fire Caucus, a bi-partisan coalition of senators and representatives who agree to work to protect the interests of our brave and selfless first responders.
While working on issues like personal protective clothing and communication devices, Curt befriended leaders in the fire and rescue community across the country. One of his closest friends was Deputy Chief Ray Downey of the Fire Department of New York.
Chief Downey led the rescue operations at the Twin Towers on September 11 and had created his command and control center outside of Tower Two. He and his teams helped evacuate thousands of people and were busy trying to evacuate the firefighters when the buildings collapsed. He died on the site of his most important rescue operation.
No one can fault Representative Weldon for his interest in examining every single aspect of our nation’s preparations for and response to the events of 9/11. Curt has attacked that problem with a vengeance, and he is more concerned about finding the truth than satisfying any political interests.
Curt has written a book entitled Countdown to Terror, published by Regnery, and he uses the book to examine thousands of documents, conversations, and assorted information about threats our nation faces from Islamic terrorists.
In the course of research for his book, he uncovered information obtained by U.S. Army Special Forces operators that proves beyond a doubt that the identity of one (or more) of the 9/11 hijackers was known at least a year prior to 9/11. Mohamed Atta is shown on a poster prepared by the members of Able Danger, the name of the military operation.
A U.S. Army colonel, Anthony Shafer, and a Navy captain named Scott Philpott led the Able Danger operation. The chart they prepared clearly showed Atta as a member of the German terror cell that he actually came from. They also developed intelligence that indicated an “unusual” level of interest in commercial flight operations on behalf of Atta and his cronies.
Unfortunately, Able Danger operators were not able to share their findings with either the FBI or the CIA. Since law enforcement was not able to pursue those leads, Atta and his fellow mass murderers were able to carry out their terror plot a year after their discovery.
In addition to restrictions created by President William J. Clinton’s Justice Department, legal firewalls prevent CIA involvement in certain intelligence operations in this country. Jamie Gorelick, an assistant attorney general who crafted the legal firewall in the Clinton Justice Department, later defended her actions as a member of the 9/11 Commission.
Armed with the knowledge that both Colonel Shafer and Captain Philpott, highly decorated and respected military professionals, could testify to the existence of the charts and records from Able Danger, Curt approached the 9/11 Commission. Nowhere in the voluminous 9/11 Commission Report, the supposed exhaustive analysis of the whole affair, is there any reference to Able Danger and its findings.
Further, both men were prepared to tell Congress that they were ordered by Pentagon leadership to destroy all records of the Able Danger effort.
Both Colonel Shafer and Captain Philpott were prepared to recount their frequent attempts to share their information with anyone that was interested, including 9/11 Commission staffers.
Unfortunately for Curt and the military officers, the forces that wished the Able Danger material had never existed include some of nation’s most powerful people. President Clinton and his administration were in power when the information was developed, so they had an interest in squelching the investigation.
Sandy Berger, Clinton’s national security advisor, went so far as to steal classified documents related to counter-terrorism, claiming when he got caught that he forgot he had the documents in his possession. Yeah, right!
The concern over the exposure of the government’s response to 9/11 didn’t end with President Clinton, though. Once Curt found himself roadblocked in the House, he contacted his senator, Arlen Spector (R., PA). Senator Spector scheduled a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee at Curt’s urging, creating an opportunity for Curt, Colonel Shafer, and Captain Philpott to tell their story to America on the record.
The night before they were scheduled to present their testimony under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, every remaining member of the Able Danger group was told by their leaders in the Defense Department that if they testified, their security clearances would be immediately revoked.
For a career military man, especially one who makes his living in the Special Forces, having a clearance is crucial to their continued service. Without that, their careers are over. Stick a fork in them, they’re done.
So where does this leave my mentor? He knows that information is being kept from the American people regarding how much we knew and when we knew it. He knows that the Clinton Administration was in a position to more fully inform law enforcement agencies on the identities and activities of terror groups well before thousands were killed in New York in 2001. They didn’t care enough to do so.
Now he also knows that the Bush Administration, more specifically Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, is using intimidation and fear to quiet honest career military officers who want nothing more than to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
We can take some solace in the fact that my mentor, Rep. Curt Weldon, still places principle above politics. Curt promised Deputy Chief Downey’s wife that he would not rest until the whole story of 9/11 was told.
Anyone who doubts his commitment is underestimating my uncle.