Able Danger Blog

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Friday, November 18, 2005


Over the course of the next few weeks we’re going to start seeing the groundwork being laid for a more substantial look at Able Danger. Short of another attack on the homeland, nothing is going to stop Congress from taking the rest of the year off, but we may very well see some movement with regards to scheduling hearings when our representatives return in 2006.

We should also brace ourselves for another round of blocks, feints, and dodges from the Defense Intelligence Agency and various elements of the DOD, who are determined to keep Able Danger out of the sunlight. A fresh salvo of mud-slinging towards the messengers – in particular Tony Shaffer – is also inbound. I won’t belabor my position on this former colleague suffice it to say that when you want to drive nails you don’t use a drain snake. Besides, I know of no dark clouds that hang over the heads of the other individuals who are sounding the clarion over Able Danger.

Focus: It isn’t the messengers we need to pay attention to, it is the message.

We’ve long-since crossed the threshold into the information age, and it was programs like Able Danger (among others) that showed the utility of taking full advantage of that fact. Picture of Atta or not, Able Danger exposed information about al-Qaeda that could have helped prevent or at least diminish the impact of 9/11. There are also indications that it could have prevented the attack on the USS Cole, or at the very least let the Commander of the Cole make an informed decision about where to refuel that day.

I’m not interested in laying blame on a given administration (there are plenty of political bloggers who are happy to oblige), but I am interested in getting to the bottom of outstanding issues. For this we need an honest accounting of what was known, who knew it, and who or what prevented it from getting out to the right people. We already know that despite holding positions of serious responsibility no one in the IC is accountable for their actions (a promotion is more likely), so let’s give up the idea that we’re going to blame or fire anyone.

Focus: Fixing what is broken, not breaking those who put the fix in, is paramount.

The lack of mainstream press coverage on Able Danger does not surprise me. It does, but in light of other blasé attitudes related to uncovering facts about the war in Iraq or against terrorism, it does not. As Stephen Hayes has written in the Weekly Standard, there is ample information available that supports why we went to war against Iraq and why we are fighting the war on terrorism. You would be hard pressed to find anyone in the intelligence community who gives a damn. Oh, they’re gisting documents and filling databases, but no one is seriously exploiting this information, fusing it with other intelligence, or otherwise effectively using it.

To an extent this is understandable; the intelligence community is not a history department. On the other hand, we do have in our possession the thoughts, feelings, attitudes and opinions (think about all the things you keep on your computers at home or work) of the former Iraqi regime as well as members of al-Qaeda. Seems to me that if you wanted to round up more bad guys and get ahead of whatever it is they’re up to (shrinking the OODA loop), getting a little history lesson wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Some view the blockade of Able Danger as part of a larger covert political campaign (liberal media bias, liberals in the IC working against Bush a’la Plame-Gate). That may very well be true, but I’m of the belief that methodology and technology, not politics, is the prime mover here. Efforts like Able Danger (unclassified, IT-centric, no physics and no fancy tradecraft) so threaten the status quo in the IC that we might actually be witnessing an alliance between the two normally competitive forces (HUMINT vs. national technical means) against a common enemy that is more threatening that al-Qaeda: open source intelligence and data mining.

Focus: This is neither a political issue nor a parochial one; it is a national issue that impacts citizens of all stripes (al-Qaeda doesn’t care who you voted for or where you work).

Able Danger is about both history (what we could have done) and the future (what we can still do). It could very well be the key to meaningful intelligence reform, because I think it is clear that it was not “historically insignificant”. Not vigorously and honestly pursuing the case guarantees that we deserve whatever slings and arrows our enemies will suffer us, because we’re distracted by the flies and not focusing on what is causing the stench.