Able Danger Blog


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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

No Need to Waste Your Money

I picked up a copy of the new book by Kean and Hamilton, and will post the relevant excerpts later tonight. They did mention Able Danger, but only to rehash the exact same dismissive words they have used elsewhere.

UPDATE: Here are the excerpts as promised.

From page 112:

Logistically, this kind of trip is hard to arrange. We sent a very small delegation: Zelikow; Kevin Scheid, the head of our staff team looking at intelligence; Mike Hurley, the head of our team looking at counterterrorism policy, as well as team member Dan Byman; and Dietrich Snell, the head of our team investigating the 9/11 plot. Afghanistan is a war zone, and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are dangerous for Westerners, particularly U.S. officials. Our staff needed armed guards at times, but we wanted to keep these details small. Travel was by military or CIA aircraft, and to facilitate a busy itenerary the delegation needed to be small enough to travel by helicopter.


So, Snell was at Bagram after all.

From page 114:

One meeting that has since drawn attention regarded a pre-9/11 Department of Defense program. On October 21, at Bagram Airbase, Zelikow and two of our staff met with three intelligence officials from the U.S. Defense Department; an executive branch minder was present. One of these witnesses referred to a pre-9/11 program known as Able Danger, which was used to develop information about al Qaeda.

In August 2005, a year after our report came out, Congressman Curt Weldon publicly alleged that the Department of Defense intelligence officer had told our staff that Mohammed Atta - a 9/11 pilot and the attack ringleader - had been under surveillance before 9/11 as part of the Able Danger program. Yet none of our staff at that meeting recalled Mohammed Atta's name being mentioned; nor did the executive branch minder. The MFR prepared shortly after that meeting makes no mention of Atta. As each of our staff members has said to us, if Mohammed Atta's name had come up as being under surveillance, they certainly would have remembered it. Immediately after the Bagram Airbase interview, we made requests to the Department of Defense for Able Danger documents. None of those documents made any mention of Mohammed Atta or any other future 9/11 hijackers.


Certainly would have remembered it? Indeed:

At the end of the meeting, Philip Zelikow approaches him and says, “This is important. We need to continue this dialogue when we get back to the states.” [Government Security News, 9/2005] Following the meeting, Zelikow calls back to the 9/11 Commission’s headquarters in Washington to request that staff draft a document request, seeking information on Able Danger from the Department of Defense. [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005] According to Anthony Shaffer, “My understanding from talking to another member of the press is that [Zelikow’s] call came into America at four o clock in the morning. He got people out of bed over this.” [Government Security News, 9/2005]


From page 294:

Another item that surfaced in early July was the "Able Danger" Department of Defense surveillance program that our staff had been briefed on in Afghanistan. On July 12, Dietrich Snell interviewed Captain Scott Phillpott, who requested the meeting. At that point, ou staff had received all of the Department of Defense documents on Able Danger and had found no mention of Atta, though there had been mention of the al Qaeda operative Mohammed Atef.

Phillpott told Snell he recalled seeing the name and photo of Mohammed Atta on an "analyst's notebook chart" involved in Able Danger before 9/11 - in other words, Able Danger had managed to get Mohammed Atta under surveillance. Phillpott said he saw this chart only briefly, and that it dated from the period February - April 2000.

There was no documentary evidence whatsoever to back up Phillpott's sensational claim. Phillpott himself had not performed the analysis, not could he explain what information had led to this supposed identification of Atta by Able Danger. In addition to the lack of documentary evidence from Able Danger, there was no corroboration of Phillpott's account by any information from within the U.S. government, or by German government sources that had tracked the Hamburg cell. Phillpott's account also failed to match up with detailed evidence compiled by our staff documenting Atta's travels, activities, and entry into the United States, including from the INS and State Department records. Snell concluded that the officer's account was not sufficiently reliable to warrant inclusion in the report or further investigation. This conclusion was not a challenge to Captain Phillpott's good intentions; the tip he provided just did not check out.


Just did not check out? Which is why they decided it was not worth checking out? That sounds like circular logic to me. For instance, they could have asked to talk to the analyst who compiled the chart, and still had a copy when Phillpott met with Snell. Regardless, my understanding is that several large media outlets have in fact checked it out and found it did check out indeed. Stay tuned for more details which should come out in "special reports" from a few major news sources next month.

From page 317:

The arguments about 9/11 did not end with the publication of our report. For instance, over the summer of 2005, Congressman Curt Weldon repeatedly accused us of overlooking the importance of Able Danger, the Department of Defense open-source data-mining program. We dispute the facts of Congressman Weldon's charge - that Able Danger identified Mohammed Atta before 9/11 and that he gave then Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley an Able Danger chart with Atta's name on it on September 25, 2001, a chart developed in 1999 (Weldon made the charge in his June 2005 book, Countdown to Terror). Hadley has no recollection of such a chart and no such chart has been found in the records of the National Security Council. To date, despite extensive reviews by the Department of Defense and the Senate Intelligence Committee, no chart - or any other Able Danger document that had been created before 9/11 - has been found that includes Atta's name of any other hijacker's name.

The absense of any documents supporting the charge, the manifold contradictions in the statements made about Able Danger by Weldon and others, the improbability - if not impossibility - of the program's ability to identify Atta, and the simple fact that people can have faulty memories about what took place years in the past, led us to the conclusion that Able Danger just did not do what Weldon said it did. Yet there will be other "Able Dangers" in the years to come; it is always possible for new information to emerge. That information should be reviewed on its merits, and we are happy to welcome that information into the dialogue on 9/11.


Well, my understanding is that the Inspector General may have in fact recovered such a chart. Regardless, as far as the Hadley story goes, if the chart was not handed over at the meeting, why was Dr. Eileen Priesser from the Able Danger project at the meeting? Why do Chris Shays and Dan Burton, who also attended the meeting, back Congressman Weldon up on this?

The answer is simple. The 9/11 Commission did not get all the facts because it did not want to get all the facts. In that regard, it might truly be without precedent.