Able Danger

I heard about the Defense Department's “Able Danger” project last night on Victoria Taft's radio show and I'm wondering why I don't see much mention of it in the news sites I read. So far, only Fox News seems to be giving it much space, with two articles.

The gist is that a data mining project in the Defense Department figured out that Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackings, and other hijackers were bad people and here in the country. When this information was brought to the FBI, they refused it and even covered up the picture of Atta under a post-in note because of Jamie Gorelick's interpretation of the needed “wall” between law enforcement and military information sources. Atta was here in the country legally, therefore Gorelick's edict prevented sharing information about him.

When the Able Danger folks wanted to testify to the 9/11 commission, they were rebuffed. It is a interesting coincidence that Gorelick is also on this commission. As a result, the report of the commission says nothing about Defense's early concerns about Atta.

Representative Curt Weldon has tried to bring this information to light, only getting attention on it recently:

In June, Weldon displayed charts on the floor of the U.S. Senate showing that Able Danger identified the suspected terrorists in 1999. The unit repeatedly asked for the information to be forwarded to the FBI but apparently to no avail. Various news outlets picked up on the story this week.
Weldon told FOX News on Wednesday that staff members of the Sept. 11 commission were briefed at least once by officials on Able Danger, but that he does not believe the message was sent to the panel members themselves. He also said some phone calls made by military officials with Able Danger to the commission staff went unreturned.

He goes on further:

According to Weldon, Able Danger identified Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi as members of a cell Able Danger code-named “Brooklyn” because of some loose connections to New York City.
Weldon said that in September 2000, the unit recommended on three separate occasions that its information on the hijackers be given to the FBI “so they could bring that cell in and take out the terrorists.” However, Weldon said Pentagon lawyers rejected the recommendation, arguing that Atta and the others were in the country legally so information on them could not be shared with law enforcement.

Obviously there is more to investigate here, but it sounds as though we weren't as dumb about terrorism as some thought we were, but we were dmb about how we used our information. As a database person (with a recent foray into open source), it bothers me that we have great tools but poor processes when it comes to dealing with information.

One again, I strongly recommend reading the entire 9/11 Commission Report. While it may have weaknesses, it is the unanimous opinion of the commission. Other things may be debatable, but I think we can take what they did say to heart.

I'm sure we'll see more on Able Danger later.

Josh Poulson

Posted Friday, Aug 12 2005 02:42 PM

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There are 2 comments on this entry.

You might recall that the man responsible for the security of the entire nation, under Bill Clinton was Sandy Berger. Hmmm, wasn't he the one who was caught with critical documents stuffed in his pants? Well, he wasn't stopped every time. How many more documents were stolen and destroyed? Was it incriminating evidence pointing to the Able Danger reports? I don't know. I hope we find out.

Leigh Maynard

Posted Friday, Aug 26 2005 09:08 AM

I'm not letting Jamie Gorelick off the hook yet, since it appears that her influence as a Pentagon counsel, then as a Justice counsel, then as a 9/11 Commission member is too coincidental to discount. The fact that the media is doing a full court press to pooh-pooh her connection to all of this is probably the most damning evidence of all.

Josh Poulson

Posted Friday, Aug 26 2005 09:12 AM

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