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Context of 'Fall 1999: Army Intelligence Program Begins Gathering Information on Al-Qaeda'

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Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry Shelton will later say, “Right after I left SOCOM [Special Operations Command], I asked my successor to put together a small team, if he could, to try to use the Internet and start trying to see if there was any way that we could track down Osama bin Laden or where he was getting his money from or anything of that nature.” A team of six intelligence officers will be given this task and Shelton will be periodically briefed on the progress of the program. But apparently the team, later to be called Able Danger, will focus on data mining tasks relating to Bosnia and China for most of 1999. [Sacramento Bee, 12/7/2005; US Congress, 2/15/2006] General Peter Schoomaker, the head of SOCOM, helped come up with the idea for Able Danger and helps to set it up. SOCOM, based in Tampa, Florida, is responsible for America’s secret commando units. [Government Security News, 9/2005] Mark Zaid, a lawyer for several Able Danger whistleblowers in 2005, will give this description of Able Danger: “In the most understandable and simplistic terms, Able Danger involved the searching out and compiling of open source or other publicly available information regarding specific targets or tasks that were connected through associational links. No classified information was used. No government database systems were used.… The search and compilation efforts were primarily handled by defense contractors, who did not necessarily know they were working for Able Danger, and that information was then to be utilized by the military members of Able Danger for whatever appropriate purposes.” [US Congress, 9/21/2005] Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will say in 2005 that the military’s purpose for the Able Danger program was to enable it to “manipulate, degrade, or destroy the global al-Qaeda infrastructure.” [Washington Post, 8/13/2005] Apparently, Able Danger does not begin to use real data to fight al-Qaeda until near the end of 1999.

Entity Tags: Curt Weldon, Special Operations Command, Peter J. Schoomaker, Able Danger, Henry Hugh Shelton, Mark Zaid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Gen. Pete Schoomaker.Gen. Pete Schoomaker. [Source: US Defense Department]A data mining program called Able Danger was set up by US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in late 1998. It had been collecting data mostly on Bosnia and China (see Late December 1998). But at this time, it begins collecting data on al-Qaeda. [Government Security News, 9/2005] At least some of the data is collected on behalf of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert, the J3 at US Special Operations Command. [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] Eleven intelligence employees are directly involved in Able Danger’s work. Six are with SOCOM’s Able Danger unit. Four more, including Dr. Eileen Preisser and Maj. Eric Kleinsmith, are with the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA), which joins the effort in December 1999. LIWA had been conducing data mining already on a wide variety of topics, including international drug cartels, corruption in Russia and Serbia, terrorist linkages in the Far East, and the proliferation of sensitive military technology to China (see April 2000). [Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/2005; Government Security News, 8/2005; New York Times, 8/9/2005; St. Petersburg Times, 8/10/2005; Bergen Record, 8/14/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005; US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, running a military unit called Stratus Ivy in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), will also take part in the effort. According to Shaffer, Stratus Ivy is tasked “to take on ‘out of the box’ ideas, and develop them into real intelligence operations.” So the goal is to use the information gathered by Able Danger to conduct real operations against al-Qaeda targets. [US Congress, 2/15/2006 pdf file] Using computers, the unit collects huge amounts of data in a technique called “data mining.” They get information from such sources as al-Qaeda Internet chat rooms, news accounts, web sites, and financial records. Using sophisticated software, they compare this with government records such as visa applications by foreign tourists, to find any correlations and depict these visually. [Bergen Record, 8/14/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] The program will be shut down early in 2001 (see January-March 2001).

Entity Tags: Geoffrey Lambert, Anthony Shaffer, Eric Kleinsmith, Russia, Special Operations Command, Hugh Shelton, Al-Qaeda, Curt Weldon, Peter J. Schoomaker, Bosnia, China, Able Danger, Eileen Preisser

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert.
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert. [Source: Special Forces Command]Members of a US Army intelligence unit tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda have prepared a chart that includes the names and photographs of four future hijackers, who they have identified as members of an al-Qaeda cell based in Brooklyn, New York. The four hijackers in the cell are Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. The members of the intelligence unit, called Able Danger, present their chart at the headquarters of the US military’s Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in Tampa, Florida, with the recommendation that the FBI should be called in to take out the al-Qaeda cell. Lawyers working for SOCOM argue that anyone with a green card has to be granted the same legal protections as any US citizen, so the information about the al-Qaeda cell cannot be shared with the FBI. The legal team directs them to put yellow stickers over the photographs of Mohamed Atta and the other cell members, to symbolize that they are off limits. [Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/2005; Government Security News, 8/2005; New York Times, 8/9/2005; St. Petersburg Times, 8/10/2005; New York Times, 8/17/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer later says that an unnamed two-star general above him is “very adamant” about not looking further at Atta. “I was directed several times [to ignore Atta], to the point where he had to remind me he was a general and I was not… [and] I would essentially be fired.” [Fox News, 8/19/2005] Military leaders at the meeting take the side of the lawyers and prohibit any sharing of information about the al-Qaeda cell. Shaffer believes that the decision to side with the lawyers is made by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert (who had previously expressed distress when Able Danger data was destroyed without his prior notification (see May-June 2000)). He also believes that Gen. Peter Schoomaker, head of SOCOM, is not aware of the decision. [Government Security News, 9/2005]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Special Operations Command, Marwan Alshehhi, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi, Peter J. Schoomaker, Khalid Almihdhar, Anthony Shaffer, Able Danger, Geoffrey Lambert

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will later claim that Captain Scott Phillpott, leader of the Able Danger program, briefs General Peter Schoomaker, head of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that Able Danger has uncovered information of increased al-Qaeda “activity” in Aden harbor, Yemen. Shaffer, plus two other officials familiar with Able Danger later tell the New York Post that this warning was gleaned through a search of bin Laden’s business ties. Shaffer later recalls, “Yemen was elevated by Able Danger to be one of the top three hot spots for al-Qaeda in the entire world.” This warning, plus another possibly connected warning from Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst Kie Fallis (see May 2000-Late September 2000), go unheeded and no official warning is issued. The USS Cole is attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in Aden harbor in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Shaffer later claims that Phillpott tells the 9/11 Commission about this warning in 2004 to show that Able Danger could have had a significant impact, but the Commission’s findings fail to mention the warning, or in fact anything else about Able Danger (see July 12, 2004). [New York Post, 9/17/2005; Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005] Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will similarly tell Fox News: “[T]wo weeks before the attack on the Cole, in fact, two days before the attack on the Cole, [Able Danger] saw an increase of activity that led them to say to the senior leadership in the Pentagon at that time, in the Clinton administration, there’s something going to happen in Yemen and we better be on high alert, but it was discounted. That story has yet to be told to the American people.” [Fox News, 10/8/2005]

Entity Tags: Scott Phillpott, Peter J. Schoomaker, Curt Weldon, Al-Qaeda, Able Danger, Clinton administration, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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