Able Danger Blog


Click here to order Triple Cross in paperback now

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Able Danger: Breaking News

Keith Phucus at the Norristown Times Herald continues to do great news breaking work on the Able Danger story. Today he's published a story, Legal debate hobbled Able Danger, that uncovers new facts:

According to testimony from data analysts who worked on the program, Pentagon lawyers threw up red flags after learning that the data mining team was downloading information from Internet Web sites run by Islamic groups.Their Internet access was sharply curtailed after attorneys raised concerns about the group's practice of collecting personal information on "U.S. persons," said Erik Kleinsmith, who as the Army's chief of intelligence at the Land Information Warfare Center (LIWA), in Ft. Belvoir, Va., supervised the computer analysis. As a result, the "Able Danger" effort was effectively shut down for six months. For Kleinsmith, those months would be the longest of his professional life.

Though the "Able Danger" team never claimed it located any of the Sept. 11 terrorists in the U.S., the group would learn after the attacks that its cutting-edge techniques had identified key al-Qaida members and their U.S. affiliates - including future hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan al Shehhi, Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, who were associated with a "Brooklyn Cell," according to Congressman Curt Weldon...

During the work stoppage, the group lost valuable time in its search for al-Qaida, according testimony from "Able Danger" teammates Kleinsmith and James D. Smith's at a Feb. 15 congressional hearing, while computer analysts argued with military lawyers over legal questions governing intelligence gathering and retention.Shaffer and Smith testified they saw LIWA chart with Atta's picture more than a year before the Sept. 11 attacks...

According to Shaffer's Feb. 15 testimony, LIWA linked Atta to the El Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, New York, by February 2000. The mosque, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment, was frequented by "Blind Sheik" Omar Ahmed Abdul Rahman at that time. He was convicted in 1995 of plotting to bomb New York City landmarks.Kleinsmith does not recall seeing Atta's picture on any chart, but what he does remember is more unsettling...

From April until September 2000, his team tried to restart work, but found it next to impossible. All the analysts could do was watch-troubling hints of terrorist activities online."We were getting restriction after restriction," he said. "We were watching the next threat, but we couldn't take the battlefield."...

Next, federal marshals showed up at LIWA with subpoenas issued from Congressman Dan Burton's office, Kleinsmith said. Government officials wanted copies of the data mining results.According to the Center for Cooperative Research, the data included former Secretary of Defense William Perry and then Stanford University provost, Condoleezza Rice, among others. Other reports identified then Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and former Democratic National Committee chairman, Steve Grossman...

Some traditional intelligence officials, however, seemed either skeptical or jealous of LIWA's capability. At one conference, "Able Danger" analysts identified four major al-Qaida hubs - the Middle East, East Africa, Balkans and the Far East - in about 90 minutes."Because we weren't an intelligence organization, we got a lot of bad press," he said. "Folks thought we were running fast and loose with the data."By April, the "Able Danger" team was told to end its support of SOCOM. During the month's long work stoppage, SOCOM's patience ran out, and the military command transferred the work to a Raytheon facility in Garland, Texas, and continued the effort.One of the million-dollar questions in Washington is who ordered the shut down."Nobody will admit sending down the order to do it," he said. "It came from somewhere up in the Pentagon."Many speculated that Richard Shiffrin, the Pentagon's deputy general counsel at the time, was to blame for the decision. Shaffer's testimony claims Army lawyer Tom Taylor cut off Army support for the project.

Read the whole thing.

Cross posted at QT Monster's Place.