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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Revisiting the Cole

Scott Malensek has done a great deal of research on the bombing of the USS Cole and provided me with copies of dozens of documents which he received through FOIA requests. I believe these documents prove the warning Able Danger provided regarding the Port of Aden, combined with the available intelligence on an impending Al Qaeda attack against a USS warship in the Middle East by a kamikaze boat, should have been more than enough to thwart the attack. First, the crew member statements:

From the first statement above:

1MC announcements: Possibility of direct action against the ship

This info was put out at an OPS/Intel Brief about two months ago.

From the second statement above:

In regards to Yemen, the ship planned on getting in and out as soon as possible. Generally speaking, we were briefed that Bin Laden made a statement that he was going to have two suicide bombers, in a boat, bomb a USS in or around the Persian Gulf, in the year 2000.

From the third statement as shown:

While in the Adriatic we received a threat brief from ISC(SW) [Redacted] that U.B.L. had promised an attack against a US ship in the C6F or C5F AOR. The brief stated the ship would be steaming independently and the attack would most likely be with a kamikaze boat.

The NCIS report on the attack confirms their accounts, but not conclusively:

From pages 80 and 81 of the NCIS investigation:

On 17 August 2000, LT [Redacted] (Force Protection Officer) conducted a "Med-Arabian University" brief exclusively on Force Protection, covering the following topics: the Naval Criminal Investigative Service Counter-Intelligence structure; "spot Reports" and "Blue Darts"; Threat Levels; THREATCONS; international terrorist incidents from 1980-1999; the East Africa American Embassy bombings in 1998; and terrorist Usama bin Laden.

"Blue Darts" are time-sensitive reports to warn unit and installation commanders of an imminent terrorist attack against their unit or installation. "Spot Reports" are time-sensitive reports in response to specific Force Protection/terrorist threats and are tailored to alert potentially affected Department of the Navy assets.

Additionally, a "Med-Arabian University" briefing covered the "Current Terrorist Threat" in both the EUCOM and Commander-in-Chief, United States Central Command Areas of Reponsibility. A slide entitled "Summary of DoD Terrorist Threat Levels U.S. Central Command" listed Yemen as having a HIGH Threat Level.

Several crewmembers of USS COLE (DDG 67) stated that one of the "Med-Arabian University" briefings cited intelligence reports warning of possible terrorist attacks against United States warships operating in the FIFTH and SIXTH Fleet Area of Responsibilities by one of Usama bin Laden's groups (This Finding of Fact reflects crewmembers' recollection of what was briefed, not the actual content of the messages).

Now, this is significant because the intelligence about a threat against a warship in the Middle East, combined with the threat information uncovered by Able Danger regarding the Port of Aden, should have been more than enough to send a "Blue Dart".

Two articles, in the New York Times two days after the bombing and Newsweek three weeks later, describe the exact same intelligence report.

From the New York Times on October 14, 2000:

The United States received a general warning of a possible attack on an American warship last month, senior defense officials said here today, but the warning lacked detail and did not specify the country in which to expect the attack.

"It was a question of how directly you could tie it to a certain place," one of the officials said. Since the warning, reported by an intelligence source in the Arab world, was not specific enough, "it got put on the shelf."

From Newsweek on November 6, 2000:

Two weeks before a pair of suicide bombers hit the USS Cole, a popular satellite TV channel in Qatar broadcast an ominous message from Osama bin Laden. With the camera rolling, bin Laden's top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, warned darkly that it was time to "take action" against the "iniquitous and faithless" U.S. forces in Yemen, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden, clad in tribal Yemeni dress and sporting a traditional dagger, looked on approvingly. Was the Saudi militant unleashing his terror operatives? Was he claiming responsibility in advance for the strike against the Cole? As U.S. investigators weighed these questions last week, an equally unsettling one hung in the air: did they overlook other clues that might have foiled the attack that killed 17 American sailors?

...Consider some of the traffic that preceded the Cole attack. In mid-September, a few days before bin Laden's broadcast, the CIA issued a secret warning. Agency reports feared that terrorists were likely to attack a Sixth Fleet warship in the Mediterranean using a small, bomb-laden boat--precisely the tactic used against the Cole. Another warning, issued Oct. 11, identified bin Laden as the possible sponsor of an imminent attack on U.S. or Israeli targets in several Middle East countries, including Yemen. But the first warning did not mention Yemen--it does not border the Mediterranean--and the second said nothing about an attack on a U.S. Navy ship. A third, from the National Security Agency, was sent out on Oct. 12, four hours after the Cole was blown up.

Considering the US had no troops in Yemen other than for embassy protection, the Port of Aden - where twenty-three USS warships had refueled in the last eighteen months - seems like an obvious focus.

That September 22, 2000 video was even covered on CNN:

On the tape bin Laden vows to work to obtain the freedom of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in a U.S. federal prison. He was convicted in 1996 of conspiracy in a plot to blow up the United Nations, kill Egypt's president and bomb vital highway tunnels in New York.

Bin Laden also vows to work for the freedom of "all our prisoners" in the U.S., Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

From a Pentagon news briefing on October 19, 2000:

Q: On September 22nd, Osama bin Laden and members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad went on Qatar TV -- it was probably a tape, not a live shot -- but there was a tape played of Osama bin Laden and Egyptian Islamic Jihad officials making pretty specific threats against American forces, and specifically threatening attacks on ships. Now, there are some within the administration who said they were unaware of these bin Laden threats. Did the Pentagon, did CENTCOM, did the U.S. Navy, did the Cole, get any kind of threat assessment or warning as to the threats being made Osama bin Laden and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad?

Bacon: Well, that's precisely the type of question that the various panels will look at. And I think rather than rifle shoot at questions like that, it's better to look at the whole pattern.

That's one of the reasons Secretary Cohen is setting up this Cole Panel. It will look at the full panoply of intelligence factors that were available, whether intelligence reached the right people at the right time, whether the information was as accurate as it could be, whether there was a proper distinction between general threats and specific threats. These are the type of questions they'll be looking at. Rather than try to answer these questions piecemeal, I think it's better just to let the panel do its work and try to release a complete report as soon as possible.

Of course, the panel did nothing of the sort, but what would you expect? As it is, warnings of an attack were available from sources besides Osama.

From the New York Times on October 20, 2000:

American intelligence officials said yesterday that they received reports in late May that a militant Egyptian Islamic group was in the final stages of preparing a terror attack against American targets and that they passed on the warning to all American posts and foreign governments in the Middle East.

The group said to be preparing the attack was the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a faction of which is closely associated with Osama bin Laden, the Saudi financier who tops the United States list of most-wanted terrorists. The Jihad and Mr. bin Laden's organization, Al Qaeda, or ''the base,'' have come under scrutiny by American and Yemeni officials as possible culprits in the bombing last Thursday of the American destroyer Cole in Aden, Yemen, an attack that killed 17 sailors....

American officials said the administration had received two separate warnings about a possible terrorist attack against American forces. The first, in late May, warned that the Egyptian Islamic Jihad was in the final stages of preparing an attack against American forces. The second, received in mid-September, warned about a possible attack against an American warship, but did not specify where or when.

From the Complete 9/11 Timeline:

July 2000: CIA Learns Al-Qaeda Related Group Plans to Attack US Naval Ship

A CIA informant reveals that a militant group based in Sidon, Lebanon that is affiliated with bin Laden is planning to attack a US naval ship somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean, probably off the coast of Lebanon. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 215] This is a probable reference to Asbat al-Ansar, the only group that fits such a profile. [US Department of State, 5/21/2002] The CIA and Defense Department discount the threat, pointing out the US is not deploying ships near Lebanon. However, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later say he was alarmed by the warning because it showed increased ambitions for al-Qaeda in going after hardened military targets. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 215] Al-Qaeda will successfully bomb the USS Cole several months later in Yemen (see October 12, 2000).

August-Early October 2000: FBI Notices Increased Al-Qaeda Telephone Activity in Yemen before Cole Attack

The FBI and other US intelligence agencies have been monitoring an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, since the attacks on US embassies in East Africa, and have used it to map al-Qaeda’s global network (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). In the run-up to the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, the FBI notices that there is increased telephone activity to and from the Sana’a hub. One of the messages says that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” (see (August 2000)). [PBS, 10/3/2002]

Late Summer 2000: Informant Says Al-Qaeda to Attack US Warship

According to PBS, an Egyptian informant warns US intelligence that al-Qaeda will attack an American warship. [PBS, 10/3/2002] The FBI also notices increased telephone activity by al-Qaeda in Yemen around the same time (see August-Early October 2000). The USS Cole is attacked in the autumn of this year (see October 12, 2000).

A quote from Kie Fallis in "Breakdown" by Bill Gertz:

"I obtained information in January of 2000 that indicated terrorists were planning two or three major attacks against the United States," he said. "The only gaps were where and when."

...As September ended, the DIA and the rest of the intelligence community - the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research - received extremely solid information, supported by several sources, that an attack was imminent.

"I went to my supervisor, and he told me there wasn't going to be a warning issued," Mr. Fallis said.

...For Mr. Fallis, the "eureka point" before the Cole bombing in determining an impending terrorist attack came from a still-classified intelligence report in September 2000, which he will not discuss. But after the bin Laden video surfaced that same month, Mr. Fallis said, he "knew then it would be within a month or two."

Another excerpt from "Breakdown" by Bill Gertz:

The National Security Agency, which conducts electronic eavesdropping around the world, received an intelligence intercept about terrorists planning for an attack against the United States. On the day the Cole bombing was carried out, NSA produced a top secret intelligence report warning that terrorists were planning an attack on an American target in the Middle East. But the NSA report was not dispatched until several hours after the bombing. The report, according to officials who were familiar with the top secret intelligence, stated that unidentified terrorists were involved in "operational planning" for an attack on U.S. or Israeli personnel or property in the Middle East. One official said the warning was specific as to an attack in Yemen. Congressman Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican and a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, agreed that the NSA report was specific. He investigated the NSA warning and told me that the warning "related specifically to Yemen." But other officials claimed the NSA's intercept was more general and referred to the Persian Gulf region. Either way, it was accurate. The intercept stated that a member of a terrorist group had been tracked to Dubai and Beirut and was planning terrorist operations.

Now back to Able Danger. You might recall the New York Post scoop:

September 17, 2005 -- WASHINGTON — Members of a secret Pentagon intelligence unit known as Able Danger warned top military generals that it had uncovered information of increased al Qaeda "activity" in Aden harbor less than three weeks before the attack on the USS Cole, The Post has learned.

In the latest explosive revelation in the Able Danger saga, two former members of the data-mining team are expected to testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee next week that they uncovered alarming terrorist activity and associations in Aden weeks before the Oct. 12, 2000, suicide bombing of the U.S. warship that killed 17 sailors.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, the Defense Intelligence Agency's former liaison to Able Danger, told The Post that Capt. Scott Phillpott, Able Danger's leader, briefed Gen. Peter Schoomaker, former head of Special Operations Command and now Army chief of staff, about the findings on Yemen "two or three weeks" before the Cole attack.

"Yemen was elevated by Able Danger to be one of the top three hot spots for al Qaeda in the entire world," Shaffer recalled.

Shaffer and two other officials familiar with Able Danger said contractors uncovered al Qaeda activities in Yemen through a search of Osama bin Laden's business ties.

The Pentagon had no immediate comment.

Of course, they never testified in the Senate, but there was some related testimony in the House.

From the House Armed Services Committee on February 15, 2006:

SHAFFER: My understanding -- and this is not my direct knowledge, but information I received from Captain Philpot -- they discovered information about two weeks before the Cole attack, about the 1st of October, that there was activities of interest within the Port of Aden in Yemen. That information was researched by the intelligence analysts, and two days before the attack, was briefed to General Schoomaker, the commander of Special Operations Command.

WELDON: Do you know what happened to it?

SHAFFER: I know that one of the individuals who was integrated within the Able Danger element at Garland, Texas, was a CENTCOM intelligence representative. It is my understanding that information was provided from Captain Philpot to the CENTCOM intelligence representative, at which time Captain Philpot requested they do something with it, they take action on it.

As expected, General Chope had a slightly different view:

CHOPE: Sir, in the days preceding 12 October 2000, which was the day the Cole was attacked in Aden harbor, one of the intelligence analysts assigned to the Able Danger effort began to get what he calls gut feel that things were going awry in Yemen; he didn't have any hard intelligence.

He asked then Commander Scott Philpot if that could be briefed at a high level briefing that took place on 10 October, during a VIP visit to the Garland facility, and it was.

To the best of our knowledge, and through the course of our interviews, that information was not of actionable quality. It was not of predictive quality. It was a general feel and a general beginning of bad things, for lack of a better way to put it, in Yemen in general, sir.

Leave it to a general to fit the word "general" in the same sentence three times. Two bombers in a kamikaze boat, directed by Bin Laden to bomb a USS warship steaming independently, somewhere in the Middle East at the same time that Yemen as a whole, and the Port of Aden specifically, are tagged as having a high threat of a terrorist attack. Generally speaking, not sending a "Blue Dart" sounds like negligence to me.