Able Danger Blog

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Able Danger supporters to chair HASC and HPSCI

Both Ike Skelton, the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Silvester Reyes, the incoming chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, signed Weldon's letter calling for full public hearings on Able Danger.

Aides: Reyes to chair Intelligence panel

Known as "Silver" to friends, Reyes is a Purple Heart winner who was drafted into the Army and served during 1966-68 as a helicopter crew chief and gunner. His service included 13 months in Vietnam.

Under Democratic control, his committee is expected to conduct more public oversight of some of the most difficult issues facing the United States, including terrorism, Iraq and government surveillance. Given the committee's inherently secret nature, much of the work will have to be done behind closed doors.

In an interview this month, Reyes said he will insist on more information about the Bush administration's most classified programs and how they are working. The Republicans, he said, have made a habit of rubber-stamping those programs.

He also wants to look at the role of intelligence three years after the war in Iraq and the state of traditional spycraft, known in spook lingo as "human intelligence."

"We haven't required or haven't had the administration give us the details, evaluation or plan of how these classic programs are functioning," he said. "There is plenty to do on the role of intelligence, the programs that are vital and critical to our national defense, and certainly to our war fighters."

Interestingly, Reyes also serves on the House Armed Services Committee and was one of the few members to attend the Able Danger hearing in February and ask serious questions:

SAXTON: I'd now like to recognize the ranking member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, Mr. Reyes.

REYES: Thank you. And I want to thank both of you chairmen, Mr. Everett and Mr. Saxton, for holding this joint hearing today of the Strategic Forces and the Terrorism and Unconventional Threats subcommittees.

This hearing, as my colleague has said, provides the subcommittees a unique opportunity to explore pre-9/11 intelligence gathering and the operational planning against al Qaeda by focusing on the activities of the Able Danger project. U.S. Special Operations Command created Able Danger in late fall of 1999 in response to orders from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to develop a campaign plan to counter transnational terrorism.

Able Danger attempted to map the al Qaeda network as a way of preparing the groundwork for operational planning against the terrorists. The mapping was performed through sophisticated data analysis techniques, such as link analysis and data mining.

We are here today because individuals associated with Able Danger have raised issues about the restrictions placed on their efforts to map the al Qaeda network in the pre-9/11 era. Among the issues that we will discuss today is whether restrictions on collection of information on U.S. persons hindered the creation and use of data based on these potential terrorists.

We will also hear testimony on the claim that Able Danger uncovered information about Mohammed Atta, a picture and a potential relationship to the Brooklyn cell that carried out the first World Trade Center attack, which was in early 2000, prior to Atta's arrival in the United States in June of 2000.

Finally, we will discuss the question of whether Able Danger could have developed information about the 9/11 plot prior to the attack, if the project had not been ended in late 2000.

As a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I am acutely interested in assuring that our nation's intelligence professionals are able to gather and disseminate information rapidly to effectively perform their missions. Hopefully, the changes enacted by Congress through the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 have helped ensure that the United States does not suffer future intelligence failures as a result of restricting information sharing. But I will be listening carefully today to identify any additional structural changes that should be made.

On the other hand, I want to remind us all that our intelligence community is helping to protect a free society that safeguards our civil liberties. I am hopeful that the testimony today can help us to better understand how to improve intelligence gathering, the analysis and dissemination within the bounds of our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back my time....

SAXTON: The gentleman's time has expired.

Mr. Reyes?

REYES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And I know my good friend from Pennsylvania believes in when he says that we're trying to get at the truth. And that's exactly why I think it's important that this information not only be provided, but be part of the record.

I'm told by members of the staff that they, in fact, interviewed Bob Johnson. And I have copies of the -- or actually, the original notes here about that interview.

And I was wondering, Mr. Chairman, is it possible to either enter into the record their notes, or maybe have them write up a report on the interview with Mr. Johnson? Which would be preferable, so it would be part of the record?

SAXTON: Ask Dr. Cambone to enter into the record...

REYES: No, no. No, these are two of our staff members that actually interviewed Mr. Johnson, Bob Johnson, who I'm told was in fact, at least from what I can tell from the notes, was not running the facility in Garland, but was there in some capacity working for Raytheon. That...

SAXTON: I'm told by counsel...

WELDON: Would the gentleman yield?


SAXTON: I'm told by counsel there's absolutely no problem in entering those notes into the record. Objection?

WELDON: I don't have objection, but I would prefer that we get Bob Johnson up here to talk to him. I've interviewed him with my staff in the office. And I think we ought to get him up here, and we ought to have a conversation with him.

SAXTON: You want to make your unanimous consent request?

REYES: Yes. I would ask unanimous consent to enter this into the record.

SAXTON: Without objection.

REYES: And we'll -- in deference to the request by my friend from Pennsylvania, are we going to bring him up and interview him? Or how is that going to work? Or is that going to take place?

SAXTON: I believe, if there are future hearings, that's a possibility.

REYES: OK. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I also would like a unanimous consent to enter into the record a statement from Governor Kean and Mr. Hamilton on Able Danger, because I think it speaks to one of the issues that my friend from Pennsylvania was talking about. And I'd just like to read a small portion of it, if I could.

It says, on October 21, 2003, Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, two senior commission staff members and a representative of the executive branch met at Bagram Air Force Base, Afghanistan, with three individuals doing intelligence work for the Department of Defense. One of the men, in recounting information about al Qaeda's activities in Afghanistan before 9/11, referred to a DOD program known as Able Danger.

It goes on to explain that that program was now closed, and talks a little bit more about all the information there. But it goes on and it says, as with other meetings, commission staff promptly prepared a memorandum for the record. The memorandum prepared at the time does not record any mention of Mohammed Atta or any of the other future hijackers, or any suggestion that their identities were known to anyone at DOD level before 9/11. Nor do any of the three commission staffers who participated in the interview or the executive branch lawyer recall hearing any such allegation.

But the interesting part here that I find significant is, while still in Afghanistan, Dr. Zelikow called back to the commission headquarters in Washington and requested that staff immediately draft a document requesting -- draft a document request -- seeking information from DOD on Able Danger. The staff had also heard about Able Danger in another context, related to broader military planning involving possible operations against al Qaeda before 9/11.

That's in this document. My question...

WELDON: Will the gentleman yield on that point?

REYES: I will.

WELDON: Would you include in your unanimous request an inclusion of an interview with Dr. Zelikow, just on February the 10th, where he said -- and I quote -- "never briefed about Able Danger while in Afghanistan," which appears to me to be in direct contradiction to what my friend, and gentleman, just said?

REYES: Absolutely. I'll be glad to.

WELDON: Thank you.

REYES: And the reason I read that was because I wanted to ask Dr. Cambone, relative to this statement, the staff had also heard about Able Danger in another context, related to broader military planning involving possible operations against al Qaeda before 9/11.

Can you comment on that? Or tell us in what context those broader possible operations might have been?

CAMBONE: I can't answer for the 9/11 Commission having heard of Able Danger prior to the conversation that took place in Bagram. So, I'm not sure how they might have heard.

But I can tell you what engaged in. And that is, there was a good deal of conversation with staff, committee staff -- commission staff -- about the department's activities in the period of '99, 2000, 2001, with respect to counterterrorism activities, operations in Afghanistan, support to those operations, planning that was being done by the Joint Staff -- things of that nature. And we had an ongoing conversation about that.

I can get for you when we began providing them with the actual documentation on those broader planning efforts. And it is possible, although I don't know, that they may have derived it from that or some other source. But we were in a constant communication with them.

And if I may, Mr. Reyes, the first time I heard about Able Danger was in the context that you're just talking about, because the commission came back and asked us -- as I said in my statement -- for materials in the department on Able Danger. And we went about the business of trying to find what we could on that subject at the time.

REYES: For me, at least, there are several issues that add to confusion. First and foremost, the issue of whether Mr. Zelikow -- who was mentioned in one context here as having acknowledged that he met with and also called back and said, hey, let's -- bring us up to speed on this program of Able Danger.

And then, in the other context that my good friend from Pennsylvania speaks about, where he denies ever having met in Bagram.

So, I think it's vitally important that we sift through all this stuff and find out what is fact and what is fiction.

Having said that, for me at least, it isn't too clear if the mention of Able Danger -- in whatever context, you know, whichever side might be correct, or whichever side might speak to the truth. Was Able Danger in context as a operation, and as a strategy that had been set up -- which I think I agree with a number of my colleagues; it was cutting edge type stuff. I mean, it's a good news effort by the U.S. government to get ahead of the curve now.

How it broke down, or where the disconnect was, is for me as important as whether or not we did have the information that is claimed was there.

So, in trying to -- in helping me understand that, Dr. Cambone, what -- from you being there -- what is the downside of fully having people understand that Able Danger was in existence, the work that they were doing, the information that they provided and the way that it has subsequently either been represented or misrepresented, whichever -- however the truth comes out.

CAMBONE: Yes. Mr. Reyes, there is no downside. There is no downside to letting you know what was done in that project known as Able Danger, first.

Second, I don't believe it broke down in any way, shape or form. It actually provided what it was set up to provide. And what it was set up to provide was what is called an information operations plan, campaign plan, which itself was subsequently rolled into a larger campaign plan, which, again, in the parlance of the department, used all of the elements of power available to the department -- information operations, maritime operations, airborne operations, bombing, boots on the group -- all of that was rolled into a much larger campaign effort, of which the work that was done in the Able Danger compartment was lifted and inserted in proper ways -- not in toto, but in proper ways -- into that larger campaign plan.

It was a success. There is no question about its being a success.

Third, the issue of data mining and Able Danger get intertwined with one another. And the data mining is a technique meant to support the planning. So, it's a technique, it's a tool. And it was designed to demonstrate what could be done in a campaign plan.

They were not, as I understand it, Able Danger was not set up to go find targeting, actionable intelligence and the like, against al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization.

It was perfectly natural and reasonable, however, that they focused on what was the number one problem that the country had at the time in the counterterrorism world, which was al Qaeda. So, if you're going to do a campaign plan against for counterterrorism, you're going to do it, first and foremost, with respect to al Qaeda.

And I have no problem whatsoever in bringing forward to this committee or any other committee what was learned in that process. All I've come before the committee here to say is, in having made the effort, to answer to the concerns, we haven't found that data and material.

If it exists, I am happy to bring it forward. I told Mr. Weldon, I'll go to the server. If he can tell me where it is, I'll go there and extract the data myself.

SAXTON: I thank the gentleman.

CAMBONE: So, we have no problem...

REYES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SAXTON: The gentleman's time has expired....

EVERETT: Thank you.

Mr. Reyes?

REYES: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

In the context of your comments about sharing information, what were the Department of Defense procedures for sharing the Able Danger information with other agencies? Were there -- and I'm interested in finding out were there clear-cut guidelines, procedures and processes on how that was to be done and what criteria?

SHAFFER: Right. The answer, I'll give you in two parts.

First, there were standing agreements between intelligence organizations regarding information sharing. For example, one of the roles my unit provided to Able Danger was to provide the DIA whole top secret database and the NSA whole top secret database. Regarding the fact we got that and we gave it to SOCOM -- and keep in mind, SOCOM was a Title X organization. The intelligence committee is Title 50. So that took some doing.

So we legally found ways to bring information out of the intelligence community, provide it to SOCOM for the purposes of Able Danger.

REYES: When you say database...


REYES: ... is this the lookout classified system?

SHAFFER: We did a combination of things. We actually obtained raw data from both NSA and DIA which were essentially copies of the IDB, which is the DIA's big database -- and then also NSA's databases regarding their SIGINT searches.

I have to go more into this in closed session. But suffice to say, we played this concierge role, essentially as a kind of a middle man, to get these databases. So we did have agreements.

The FBI, being law enforcement, was a bit of a different animal. Part of the issue was the fact that we did have existing relationships with the FBI and law enforcement community, but there was a feeling that: Hey, you know, we need to be careful about what we give law enforcement.

And I don't know if we had any formal documents which said you couldn't do it, but considering the fact Able Danger at the time was a top secret planning mission, I would not approach any organization outside of SOCOM without getting SOCOM's permission first.

Even though I'm a DIA guy, I'm assigned to support them. Therefore, I had to take my lead from them. When it came to the FBI, I made several strong recommendations over the year 2000 that we partner with the FBI. And I referenced the fact that I was doing a joint operation with them regarding another target, which we'll talk about in closed session. I felt it was in our best interest to share and work together with them.

That was not the feeling of SOCOM. I had to respect their feeling regarding operational security, that that needed to be kept within their control. Therefore, although there was nothing technically prohibiting me from giving the information, it was an operational call on their part, saying that they did not want at this point in time to share that information with the FBI.

REYES: So, if I'm understanding you correctly, it was that there wasn't any concrete direction -- if you get written standard operating procedures, if you get this kind of information, this is...


REYES: ... what you do?


REYES: Is it your testimony that it was handled on a case-by-case basis?

SHAFFER: Yes, sir.

REYES: Or sensitivity basis or...

SHAFFER: Sensitivity basis was one of the big concerns. I would say common sense was the best guide we tried to use. If something was time-sensitive, the rule was if -- my personal rule and I think the rule as my organization was in charge of it, if it's going to result in a U.S. citizen being killed or an attack occurring, you give that to whoever needs it, no matter what the classification is, period.

If it's planning information regarding what we were doing -- and we'll talk about in closed session -- you need to be careful about how they use that information, regarding the fact that if you're especially using raw intelligence, not finished intelligence, intelligence relating to targeting, you needed to be very judicious in its use. And if it really didn't meet the criteria that someone was about to get killed or something was about to happen, then you would make a judgment on the need to know.

And the standard was need to know and must know. In some cases must know means you had to know the information to do your job. In other cases, need to know sufficed. We kind of used that as our rule.

In the case of Able Danger, it was SOCOM's decision, and I respected that, to not share the information with the FBI. Although I dealt with the FBI on a daily basis.

REYES: So, hearing you say that you dealt with the FBI on a daily basis, was there in fact any information shared with the FBI?

SHAFFER: Significant information regarding the target set. I think that's one of the things we'll talk about in closed session in more detail.

The methodology that we (inaudible) were using to support Able Danger was in many instances being recreated for the FBI to use on one of their terrorism targets. That is to say, what we'll talk about in closed session -- a combination of technology, the psychological profiling, looking at leadership nodes and functions -- was being developed for the FBI.

Now, we developed an artificial operational firewall, based on the -- we weren't going to tell SOCOM about what we were doing for the FBI. We're not going to tell FBI about what we're doing for SOCOM, out of respect to both organizations.

(UNKNOWN): If the gentleman...

SHAFFER: But, that didn't change the fact that I fought several times to bridge that gap.