Able Danger Blog

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Five Years Later

Michael Tanji writes in Weekly Standard:

IN THE WAKE of 9/11 we were told that our intelligence agencies had failed us. What are we to make, then, of the FBI agents in Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Yemen who, each in his own way, uncovered a portion of the 9/11 plot before it happened? Remember Julie Sirrs? Late of the Defense Intelligence Agency, she traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, then warned the intelligence community of the growing threat posed by bin Laden. Let's not forget the Defense Department's Able Danger data mining project that by some accounts connected more 9/11-related dots before the attack than all the aforementioned efforts combined. The intrepid Sirrs was forced out of service. Able Danger was shut down and its data was destroyed. If there was a failure in the system, it was the longstanding practice of giving the bum's rush to those with the resolve and temerity to make the correct, if unpopular, assessments....

Third, recognize that privacy in the information age is a fleeting thing. We do not have real privacy laws in this country; we have laws that attempt to make us whole after our personal information has been abused. People think nothing of turning over private information to save a few pennies on gas or dog food, but heaven forbid the government sort through that same data to keep us safe.

Remember that any of the enemies among us aren't living in a cave; they use the same credit cards, shop at the same stores, and use the same Internet we do. No one proposes a crude rifling of office files or rummaging through personal lives: Data mining exploits information at the aggregate level, searching out suspicious patterns of activity in trillions of anonymous transactions. This is not surveillance--no conversation is listened to or recorded; no one is watched--and the effort to use it to foil terrorists and save lives is justified....

Regrettably, we may have to relearn the lessons of five years ago. As long as we continue to engage in mere quasi-war, another attack on our homeland remains a real possibility. If we are going to avoid that eventuality, we need to change. We need to forge a culture of courage, clarity, and forthrightness in dealing with threats to our national security.