Able Danger: No crucial testimony?

This morning we find that Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and defense contractor John Smith have been forbidden to testify in today's hearing about Able Danger, the Pentagon data mining operation targeted at discovering terrorists before they strike.

In his prepared remarks, [attorney Mark] Zaid was ready to say on behalf of Shaffer and contractor John Smith that Able Danger, using data mining techniques, identified four of the terrorists who struck on Sept. 11, 2001—including mastermind Mohamed Atta.

That is the key testimony, of course. The other important piece is how this information did not get incorporated into the findings of the 9/11 commission. Captain's Quarters indicates that Major (ret.) Eric Klein Smith will be able to testify on that:

However, Shaffer says that former Major Eric Kleinsmith, now a civilian contractor, will still testify at the panel. Kleinsmith received the orders to destroy the Able Danger database. [Senator Arlen] Specter's insistence that the hearings go forward probably hinges on Kleinsmith's ability to testify to the information that got destroyed, who ordered its destruction, and why. From that point, the committee could unravel an entire command sequence that will uncover how Able Danger got missed by the 9/11 Commission.

Another potentially illuminating source is Dr. Eileen Pricer, who testified to the Congressional subcommittee on national security. While her testimony has not been released, the Captain did find mention of it in statements by Congressman Christopher Shays:

Mr. Shays. In a briefing we had yesterday, we had Eileen Pricer, who argues that we don't have the data we need because we don't take all the public data that is available and mix it with the security data. And just taking public data, using, you know, computer systems that are high-speed and able to digest, you know, literally floors' worth of material, she can take relationships that are seven times removed, seven units removed, and when she does that, she ends up with relationships to the bin Laden group where she sees the purchase of chemicals, the sending of students to universities. You wouldn't see it if you isolated it there, but if that unit is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, you then see the relationship. So we don't know ultimately the authenticity of how she does it, but when she does it, she comes up with the kind of answer that you have just asked, which is a little unsettling.

So, apparently she discussed the methods of Able Danger with a congressional subcommittee a month after 9/11. Now we have a trail what “What did they know and when did they know it?” questions to last us a few election cycles.

Let's go back to more statements from Zaid:

On three occasions, Able Danger personnel attempted to provide the FBI with information, but Department of Defense attorneys stopped them because of legal concerns about military-run investigations on U.S. soil, Zaid said in his prepared remarks, encouraging the panel to locate a legal memorandum that he said Defense Department attorneys used to justify stopping the meetings.

It's hard to absolve the 9/11 Commission of incompetence when they missed the chance to examine pre-9/11 intelligence identifying Atta as a terrorist, especially over procedural matters. Atta may have been here in the states, but he was a foreign national with multiple violations of his visa. It's compelling to think we could have stopped 9/11, but I doubt it. There probably were not enough resources to track every person that Able Danger flagged, and certainly the priorities were different then. Even so, the Commission should have taken them seriously, and investigated the impact of not following up on Able Danger.

I'm looking forward to what testimony we will hear, today. So far we have a data warehousing expert, the person that destroyed the Able Danger information, and the Congressman that outed the entire affair to the press. There's also a Navy Capt. Scott Phillpott that will testify. Sounds like a good start.

Josh Poulson

Posted Wednesday, Sep 21 2005 07:01 AM

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Great blog and a great service...Keep it up...



Posted Wednesday, Sep 21 2005 09:38 AM

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