Able Danger Blog

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Lance breaks new ground on Able Danger

While I was deciding how I should start my review of Peter Lance's new book - "Triple Cross: How Bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets and the FBI -- And Why Patrick Fitzgerald Failed to Stop Him" - I remembered a quote from Monica Gabrielle, one of the Jersey Girls, in a documentary about 9/11:

The one thing that I personally was hoping for was another Woodward and Bernstein with regard to 9/11. Someone, anyone that was willing to put their teeth into this.

Well, we have found that person, and his name is Peter Lance. In his third book on the origins of the 9/11 plot and the failures of the FBI and others to stop the attack, Lance focuses on Ali Mohamed - yet another figure relegated to footnotes in the 9/11 Report who Lance shows played a central role in Al Qaeda's plan of attack. Not only did he create the "Brooklyn Cell" which supported the 9/11 hijackers, but he wrote the training manual for Al Qaeda and created training camps for hijackers! Arrested in 1998 for his role in the embassy bombings, Ali Mohamed has demonstrated foreknowledge of the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 and an outline of the 9/11 plot itself, all of which he did not reveal to the FBI until after the attacks! Worse, he has still not been formally sentenced because the FBI believes they can use him to get information on Al Qaeda even when he's been playing the FBI for two decades.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I am quoted twice in the Epilogue to Triple Cross. However, this review of the book is not based on my limited contacts with Lance. It is based entirely on the content of the book, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in Able Danger. Some have expressed frustration at the delays in publication, but I can attest to the fact that Lance needed the extra time in order to include all of the latest details from the interviews National Geographic conducted for their documentary based on his book and the latest developments in the Able Danger and Greg Scarpa Jr. scandals.

The best part of Triple Cross is the way Lance weaves together the different strands of the 9/11 story and enhances them with his own original reporting on each. For example, the book quotes from numerous interviews Lance conducted with Tony Shaffer, Curt Weldon, and other members of the Able Danger team. While not a complete history of Able Danger, it is by far the most complete version published to date. He devotes four chapters to the subject and weaves together the story of Able Danger with the story of how the "Big Five" intelligence agencies all failed to detect the plot on time. He also provides new evidence that the discovery of what a central role Ali Mohamed played in the Al Qaeda leadership may have played a role in the destruction of all the Able Danger charts and data at LIWA in April 2000. This took place literally days after the chart linked above was produced by a member of the Able Danger team.

To give you an idea of the level of detail Lance includes about Able Danger, here is how he opens Chapter 37, "The Briefing in Bagram":

That October in 2003, Shaffer, then an army major, was aboard an army UH 60 Blackhawk helicopter snaking along the Kabul River toward Asadabad, a small firebase in Northeast Afghanistan eight clicks from the Pakistani Border. Wearing forty pounds of body armor and brandishing an M-4 carbine and an M-11 pistol, Tony was attached to Task Force 180, whose mission was to "deter and defeat the re-emergence of terrorism" after 9/11 by hunting down and eliminating members of the fugitive Taliban. As a clandestine officer with the DIA, he was assigned to work in unison with the other "three-letter" agencies, including the FBI and the CIA, in what was a hoped-for reintegration of the intel services that had become so fragmented and stovepiped in the years before 9/11. While he got along well with the FBI agents who were engaged in the Taliban hunt, Tony and other DIA operatives still regarded the CIA as independents, nicknaming them the "Klingons" after the Star Trek aliens, who were reluctant members of "the Federation."

Able Danger is mentioned throughout the book, but some other chapters which focus on it include Chapter 31, "Operation Able Danger", Chapter 32, "Obliterating the Dots", and Chapter 33, "Able Danger Part Two". Over the past nine months, I was beginning to doubt if anyone would ever give the Able Danger story the treatment it deserves. Peter Lance has gone above and beyond my expectations in "Triple Cross" and anyone who is interested in getting to the bottom of the Able Danger story should read it.

Among other things, he points out flaws in the IG Report on Able Danger:

It's also clear that, in attempting to impeach Capt. Phillpott, the IG relied heavily on the word of Dietrich Snell, the 9/11 Commission senior counsel, who found Phillpott's account of the Able Danger findings "not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the [Commission] report or further investigation." That was Snell's conclusion following a July 12, 2004, meeting with Phillpott ten days before the Commission's "final report" was to go to press:

We considered Mr. Snell's negative assessment of Capt. Phillpott's claims particularly persuasive given Mr. Snell's knowledge and background in antiterrorist efforts involving al Qaeda. Mr. Snell considered Capt. Phillpott's recollection with respect to Able Danger identification of Mohammed Atta inaccurate because it was 'one hundred per cent inconsistent with everything we knew about Mohammed Atta and his collegues at the time.' Mr. Snell went on to describe his knowledge of Mohammed Atta's overseas travel and associations before 9/11 noting the "utter absense of any information suggesting any kind of a tie between Atta and anyone located in this country during the first half of the year 2000," when Able Danger had allegedly identified him.

But in this book we've demonstrated that there was massive evidence on the high visibility of 9/11 hijackers al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi, who were living openly in San Diego as early as January 2000. We showed how Atta himself entered the United States on June 3 and rented a room in Brooklyn near the Al Farooq Mosque, using his own name. Just how difficult would it have been for the Able Danger analysts to track his movements via airline reservations and immigration sources, since, according to the IG's report, the Able Danger data harvest was "collecting data from 10,000 websites each day"?

In an interview following release of the report, one operative close to the data-mining operation told me that "we also accessed INS databases in the data harvest, so picking up Atta who had to get airline tickers and a visa prior to his arrival in early June was no big deal."

This Tuesday, go pick up a copy of "Triple Cross", then tune in to "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News, where Lance is scheduled to appear for an interview with Bill.