Thursday, May 20, 2010

Able Danger

There have been many conflicting stories about what was involved in Able Danger, a Pentagon effort to use data-mining techniques to track Al Qaeda. There have been numerous efforts to prevent the public from knowing about Able Danger. It is hard to believe that Al Qaeda and many foreign intelligence agencies do not have almost complete information on the project. Why are American citizens kept in the dark? We already knew that US intelligence people had been tracking the future highjackers in Hamburg, Germany for years, and that Al Qaeda Cells in Brooklyn and in the west had also long been in the sights of the F.B.I. With the revelation of the Able Danger project, it becomes difficult to escape the conclusion that the federal government had more than enough information to prevent 9-11. The 9-ll commission either was not told about Able Danger or it chose to ignore the information because it would have derailed its major conclusions. Commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton said the conclusions would have been different had they known about Able Danger, but he is the man who presided over what seemed to be a clumsy cover up of an October 19, 1980 deal with Iran to hold 52 hostages until after the U.S. election.

In 1999, the Pentagon Special Operations Command in Tampa established Able-Danger, a secret program, to gather information on Al Qaeda. It was begun on the order of General Hugh Shelton, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, and its driving force was General Peter Schoomaker, another four star officer. Some of the advanced software employed were Spire. Starlight, and Parentage. The project purchased information from various brokers, including some who had kept track of people entering mosques around the world. Sometimes the work simply involves thoroughly mining and analyzing information available on the internet. The data was processed by civilian contractors, most important of whom was Raytheon, now part of SRA International Corporation. Able Danger worked closely with a Defense Intelligence operation called Stratus Ivy and the Army Information Dominance Center, but the C.I.A. refused to work closely with the new project. The operation was seen as so promising that then Major Anthony Shaffer briefed the jaunt chiefs of staff twice and C.I.A. Director George Tenet once. The projects day-to-day operations were run by Navy Captain Scott Phillpott.

By 2000, Able Danger identified Mohammed Atta, the architect of 9-11, and three others as members of the cell that attacked the complex in 1993 and as part of the Hamburg, Germany Al Qaeda terrorist cell.

There is also evidence that two hijackers were known to be living in Dan Diego with a C.I.A. informer. An F.B.I. official complained, “[The C.I.A.] purposely hid [Almihdhar] from the F.B.I., purposely refused to tell the bureau. ...And that’s why September 11 happened. ...They have blood on their hands.” A C.I.A. agent named “Michelle” , working in the Alec Station which specialized in Bin Laden, blocked a cable telling the F.B.I. that Almihdhar had a US visa. The memo was drafted by Doug Miller, an F.B.I. agent on loan to Alec. Michelle also wrote a cable saying the F.B.I. had been informed. She was later questioned about this by the Justice Department’s Inspector General. Two other agents who were present when this was done claimed they remembered nothing.

Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who worked at the DIA, became aware of Atta and his three colleagues in mid-2000. Shaffer informed the F.B.I. of what was known about these four Al Qaeda operatives. Pentagon lawyers became involved to prevent passing on the information. There were concerns about whether there was adequate supervision of collecting information from open sources, which would necessarily net information on US citizens as well as people legally living within the United States. . The lawyers claimed they had problems recommending action against someone holding a green card. But Atta did not have a green card or a valid entry visa. He came to the US three times on a visitor's visa. For a time he was enrolled at the International Officers at Maxwell Air Force Base. The Pentagon is now denying that it knew anything about these people before 9-11. Pentagon lawyers had also required a unit tied to Able Danger to discard information about four Chinese from corporations in the US that were attempting to acquire US military technology.

There is mounting evidence that concealing information about Able Danger was much more than protecting the methods of an anti-terrorist operation. The Pentagon should not be faulted with keeping quiet about those aspects that involved highly sophisticated electronic surveillance of foreign targets outside the US. There could also have been concerns that F.B.I. action on these leads would eventually lead to revealing information about the government’s highly sophisticated data mining technology. That would have opened a bigger can of worms. But as it turned out, most Americans later seemed to support the government’s extensive domestic and foreign electronic spying programs.

Another possibility is that a discussion of Able Danger would have led to a discussion of what else government knew about Atta before 9/11. Eventually the Army destroyed the Able Danger files on Atta claiming this was necessary because he was a "US person" under the meaning of legislation that said the military could only retain intelligence information on US persons for 90 days. In all, 2.5 terabytes on Al Qaeda were erased. It has been reported that some of the destroyed information involved ties between prominent Americans and the Chinese military. The data also showed that several Al Qaeda operatives rented rooms in a New Jersey hotel and that a cell met there. The Able Danger team was so good at tracking these terrorists that they discovered a meeting of representatives of cells at the Wayne Inn in northern New Jersey.. Able Danger was moved from Virginia to Texas, and in February and March of 2001, it was shut down by the Defense Department, only to be reactivated later as Able Providence. Able Danger was shut down soon after the Bush administration took office. General Schoomaker , its protector, retired, and the new officers to whom the Able Danger people were to report were clearly hostile. A two star general in DIA bluntly told Shaffer to back away from the project telling him spying was not his job.. The general subsequently denied that the conversation took place.

Shaffer was deployed to Afghanistan in October, 2003 , where he had an opportunity to brief Dr. Philip Zelikow and his staffers on Able Danger. Zelikow had worked for Condoleezza Rice in the NSC. He told the Rice deputy that “We found two or three cells which conducted 9/11, to include Atta.” After Zelikow told Shaffer to contact him when he returned to Washington. The 9/11 commission materials show that Zelikow called the US almost immediately, at 4AM eastern time. When Shaffer tried to contact Zelikow at the Kean ( 9/11) commission, staffers told him there was no need for a meeting as they had all the necessary information on Able Danger. Zelikow did not give this information to the commission and did not include it in the document. . Zelikow denies the meeting with Shaffer in Afghanistan, but Shaffer has Zelikow's business card as evidence. Zelikow later said it was "not historically relevant." Zeliknow had been on loan from the White House National Security Office and is now special counselor to his friend, Secretary of State Rice. The Able Danger project also turned up business dealings between Stanford University Provost and the People’s Republic of China.

The Pentagon initially said that Able Danger never existed, and later said the files on the project had disappeared. . Shaffer, a Bronze medal winner, could not leave well enough alone. He sought to make certain that people in power, including Congressmen, realized what could be accomplished by using the Able Danger approach. He also revealed that the team had been aware of Mohammed Atta and the five Al Qaeda cells in the US and abroad. Shaffer lost his security clearance as well as his DIA job. He was also charged with stealing government pens from an embassy where his father worked when he was thirteen years old. In an effort to frame him, someone sent Shaffer a package with five secret documents and a bag of 20 government pens. A inquiry costing about $400,000 was launched to determine whether Shaffer had fraudulently charged to the government $67 worth of telephone calls over eighteen months.

When he appeared on Wolf Blitzer's program, the broadcaster blind-sided him with the charge he was sleeping with a woman in the office of Congressman Curt Weldon. Shaffer claimed that when the Bush administration replaced his top superior General Peter Schoomaker, that all hope of using the knowledge gained was gone. Navy Captain Scott Philpott, hade of the team, said they identified Atta as a member of the Brooklyn cell, but the US had certain knowledge Atta was in Hamburg at the time. However, J.D. Smith, a civilian contractor, has said he was "absolutely positive" Atta was in Brooklyn at that time. Smith was to withdraw his firm from the project. . Shaffer was forbidden to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, this decision was later reversed.

The DIA moved to take Shaffer off its payroll, and an unidentified DIA representative told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Shaffer was having an affair with one of Congressman Curt Weldon’s staffers. The Congressman answered that the colonel did not know anyone on his staff. Some other members of the Able Danger team are represented by Shaffer’s lawyer and are now saying other members of the data-mining task force do not support his claim that they knew Atta was physically in the United States. The colonel must be under enormous pressure to modify his story. Two conclusions are inescapable. (1) There was great reluctance on the part of the Pentagon, under both Clinton and Bush, to act on the knowledge it had about Atta and his three friends.( 2) Now it is clear to all, that the Pentagon was and is busy denying it had this knowledge, and it was mightily assisted in this cover-up by the executive director of the 9-11 commission. A third conclusion is likely and may explain much of the lying about Able Danger. Kean Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste openly denied that the United States had any of the data mining capacities described by Colonel Shaffer. It could all be about denying these capabilities and what possession of such capabilities mean to US citizens.

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