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Context of 'September 21, 2005: Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Public Hearing on Able Danger Unit; Key Officers Barred From Testifying'

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Dr. Eileen Preisser testifies before a congressional briefing. Dr. Preisser was one of four analysts in the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) supporting Able Danger in late 1999 and 2000 (see Fall 1999). While her testimony remains classified, the next day, Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT) gives a brief summary: “In a briefing we had yesterday, we had Eileen [Preisser], 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.” [US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform. Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations, 10/12/2001] Note that according to some media accounts, the CIA monitored Mohamed Atta purchasing large quantities of chemicals in Germany in the spring of 2000 (see January-May 2000). Atta also sends a series of e-mails to the US in the spring of 2000, inquiring about flight school opportunities for himself and a “small group” of his associates (see January-March 2000). Dr. Preisser is apparently willing to testify about her role in how Able Danger uncovered Atta’s name, but in September 2005 she is prohibited from publicly testifying before Congress (see September 21, 2005).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Christopher Shays, Eileen Preisser

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A US Army intelligence officer comes forward, saying he was involved with a secret military intelligence unit, which had identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers by mid-2000. He says the unit, called Able Danger, had tried to meet with agents at the FBI’s Washington field office that summer to share its information, but was prevented from doing so by military lawyers (see September 2000). Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who served as a liaison officer between Able Danger and the Defense Intelligence Agency, is the first military officer associated with Able Danger to publicly acknowledge his involvement with the unit. Shaffer says that, had they been allowed to alert the FBI to Mohamed Atta being in the US, they might have been able to prevent 9/11. [New York Times, 8/17/2005; Guardian, 8/18/2005; New York Post, 8/18/2005] A week prior to Shaffer’s coming forward, Able Danger was brought to the public’s attention in a New York Times front page article (see August 9, 2005). Shaffer says he met privately with staff from the 9/11 Commission in Afghanistan in October 2003, and explicitly mentioned Atta as a member of the “Brooklyn” al-Qaeda cell (see October 21, 2003).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Able Danger, 9/11 Commission, Anthony Shaffer, FBI Washington Field Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Several individuals come forward and corroborate claims made about a military intelligence unit called Able Danger that, by mid-2000, allegedly identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers. Days previously, a US Army intelligence officer called Anthony Shaffer made claims about the unit (see August 17, 2005). On August 22, Scott J. Phillpott, an active-duty Navy captain who managed the Able Danger program for the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command, comes forward and corroborates Shaffer’s claims. He says, “My story is consistent. Atta was identified by Able Danger in January-February of 2000.” Phillpott states that he was the officer who met with staff from the 9/11 Commission in July 2004, and told them about the program (see July 12, 2004). [New York Times, 8/22/2005] Claims about the program are further corroborated when a former employee of a defense contractor who says he worked on the technical side of the unit, also comes forward. James D. Smith, who worked for Orion Scientific Systems [Times Herald (Norristown), 9/22/2005] , states that in 2000 he helped create a chart for Able Danger. He says, “I am absolutely positive that he [Atta] was on our chart among other pictures and ties that we were doing mainly based upon [terror] cells in New York City.” [Fox News, 8/28/2005] Furthermore, the Pentagon admits that they have found three others, apart from Anthony Shaffer and Scott Phillpott, associated with Able Danger who assert that the program identified Mohamed Atta as an al-Qaeda suspect inside the US more than a year before 9/11. An official says that the five individuals associated with the program (including Shaffer and Phillpott) were all considered “credible people,” and that four of them recalled a photo of Mohamed Atta accompanying the chart they produced. [Reuters, 9/1/2005] Eleven people ran Able Danger. [Bergen Record, 8/14/2005] The Pentagon interviewed a total of 80 people who had some kind of association with the Able Danger program. [New York Times, 9/1/2005]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Mohamed Atta, Able Danger, Anthony Shaffer, Al-Qaeda, US Department of Defense, Scott Phillpott, James D. Smith

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


Mark Zaid.
Mark Zaid. [Source: C-SPAN]Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, has his security clearance revoked. [Government Executive, 9/21/2005; Times Herald (Norristown), 9/22/2005] Shaffer alleges that Able Danger identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks (see August 17, 2005). Shaffer’s lawyer, Mark Zaid, states, “I specialize in security clearance cases.… Based on years of experience I can say categorically that the basis for the revocation was questionable at best.” [US Congress, 9/21/2005] Shaffer is due to testify two days later in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee investigating Able Danger, though he is subsequently prohibited from doing so by the Defense Department (see September 21, 2005). His security clearance had been suspended 18 months previously (see March 2004).

Entity Tags: Mark Zaid, Anthony Shaffer, Able Danger, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Sen. Arlen Specter.
Sen. Arlen Specter. [Source: C-SPAN]The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), holds a public hearing to investigate an intelligence program called Able Danger, to explore allegations that it identified Mohamed Atta and three other hijackers more than a year before 9/11, and to learn why the Pentagon disbanded it and destroyed the information it had gathered. [Government Computer News, 9/21/2005; New York Times, 9/21/2005; United Press International, 9/21/2005] The committee is seeking testimony from several former Able Danger members. Among these are Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, Navy Captain Scott Phillpott, Dr. Eileen Preisser, and civilian analyst James D. Smith; all but Preisser have recently come forward with allegations about the unit (see August 17, 2005; August 22-September 1, 2005). However, the day before the hearing, Defense Department lawyers ordered them and other former Able Danger members not to testify. [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005; United Press International, 9/21/2005] Shaffer says in an interview, “I was told by two [Defense Department] officials today directly that it is their understanding that [Defense Secretary Rumsfeld] directed that we not testify…” [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005] The Defense Department’s only reason for doing so, offered by a spokesman, is that they have “expressed [their] security concerns and believe it is simply not possible to discuss Able Danger in any great detail in an open public forum open testimony of these witnesses.” [New York Times, 9/21/2005] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter says, “That looks to me like it may be obstruction of the committee’s activities, something we will have to determine.” He complains that the Pentagon only delivered hundreds of pages of documents related to Able Danger late on the eve of the hearing, leaving no time for committee staff to review the material. [Reuters, 9/21/2005] Furthermore, the Pentagon’s representative at the hearing, William Dugan, admits that he has very limited knowledge of Able Danger. Specter tells him, “You were sent over—perhaps with the calculation you wouldn’t have the information.” [Associated Press, 9/21/2005; Government Computer News, 9/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Scott Phillpott, Mohamed Atta, US Department of Defense, William Dugan, James D. Smith, Eileen Preisser, Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, Able Danger, Donald Rumsfeld, Anthony Shaffer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A second open Congressional hearing on Able Danger is held. Deputy Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone testifies that an extensive review of Able Danger under his direction failed to locate the chart with Mohamed Atta’s picture and failed to find any other pre-9/11 references to Atta. Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) repeatedly spars with Cambone, and says that since 9/11, “There’s been no investigation! There’s been no analysis [of Able Danger] by the 9/11 commission or anyone else.” Three members of the Able Danger team, Eric Kleinsmith, Anthony Shaffer, and James D. Smith, testify in public. All three of them say that the 9/11 attacks might have been prevented if law-enforcement agencies had acted on the information about al-Qaeda they discovered. The three of them had been prevented from testifying in the first public hearings on Able Danger in September 2005 (see September 21, 2005). [Sacramento Bee, 2/15/2006] Captain Scott Phillpott, the former head of Able Danger, apparently joins other former team members in closed testimony. [McClatchy News Service, 2/15/2006] The Congressional committee asked 9/11 Commission staff member Dietrich Snell to testify. But Snell’s boss, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, said that Snell would not be available. Weldon has said he wants to ask Snell under oath why Snell did not inform any of the 9/11 Commissioners what he had learned about Able Danger. [US Congress, 2/15/2006]

Entity Tags: Stephen A. Cambone, Scott Phillpott, James D. Smith, Eric Kleinsmith, Dietrich Snell, Able Danger, Anthony Shaffer, Curt Weldon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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