Profile: Able Danger
Able Danger was a participant or observer in the following events:
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.
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 ] 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
Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer. [Source: Sandy Schaeffer]Capt. Scott Phillpott, head of the Able Danger program, asks Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer to talk to a representative of CIA Director George Tenet and attempt to convince him that the new Able Danger program is not competing with the CIA. Shaffer later recalls the CIA representative replying, “I clearly understand the difference. I clearly understand. We’re going after the leadership. You guys are going after the body. But, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is, CIA will never give you the best information from ‘Alex Base’ [the CIA’s covert action element targeting bin Laden] or anywhere else. CIA will never provide that to you because if you were successful in your effort to target al-Qaeda, you will steal our thunder. Therefore, we will not support this.” Shaffer claims that for the duration of Able Danger’s existence, “To my knowledge, and my other colleagues’ knowledge, there was no information ever released to us because CIA chose not to participate in Able Danger.” [Government Security News, 9/2005]
The new Able Danger team begins collecting data on al-Qaeda. The aim is to gain intelligence that will allow Special Operations forces to conduct strikes against al-Qaeda around the world. Erik Kleinsmith will later claim that he is visited by Special Operations officials and he gives them a demonstration of what the data mining techniques they’ve developed can do. He claims that within 90 minutes, his analysts finds evidence that al-Qaeda has a “worldwide footprint” including “a surprising presence in the US. That’s when we started losing sleep.” [National Journal, 12/3/2005] 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 data harvest is far too huge to be useful, so the analysts try to pare it down by looking at links between known terrorists and finding who they associate with. By the spring of 2000, they are able to isolate about 20 people whom Special Operations wants further analysis. The Able Danger team creates massive charts, measuring up to 20 feet in length and covered in small type, to show all the links between suspects that have been discovered. [National Journal, 12/3/2005]
A blurry photograph of a 2005 reconstruction of the pre-9/11 Able Danger chart showing Mohamed Atta and others. [Source: C-SPAN]A US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identifies five al-Qaeda terrorist cells; one of them has connections to Brooklyn, New York and will become informally known as the “Brooklyn” cell by the Able Danger team. This cell includes 9/11 hijacker leader Mohamed Atta, and three other 9/11 hijackers: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. According to a former intelligence officer who claims he worked closely with Able Danger, the link to Brooklyn is not based upon any firm evidence, but computer analysis that established patterns in links between the four men. “[T]he software put them all together in Brooklyn.” [New York Times, 8/9/2005; Washington Times, 8/22/2005; Fox News, 8/23/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] However, that does not necessarily imply them being physically present in Brooklyn. A lawyer later representing members of Able Danger states, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” Furthermore, “No information obtained at the time would have led anyone to believe criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned.” [CNN, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] James D. Smith, a contractor working with the unit, discovers Mohamed Atta’s link to al-Qaeda. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] Smith has been using advanced computer software and analysing individuals who are going between mosques. He has made a link between Mohamed Atta and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, ringleader of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. [Fox News, 8/28/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] Atta is said to have some unspecified connection to the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment once frequented by Abdul-Rahman, which also contained the notorious Al-Kifah Refugee Center. [Times Herald (Norristown), 9/22/2005] Smith obtained Atta’s name and photograph through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. [New York Times, 8/22/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims the photo is not the well-known menacing Florida driver’s license photo of Atta. “This is an older, more grainy photo we had of him. It was not the best picture in the world.” It is said to contain several names or aliases for Atta underneath it. [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005; Chicago Tribune, 9/28/2005] LIWA analysts supporting Able Danger make a chart, which Shaffer describes in a radio interview as, “A chart probably about a 2x3 which had essentially five clusters around the center point which was bin Laden and his leadership.” [Savage Nation, 9/16/2005] The 9/11 Commission later claims that Atta only enters the United States for the first time several months later, in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224] However, investigations in the months after 9/11 find that Mohamed Atta and another of the hijackers rented rooms in Brooklyn around this time (see Spring 2000). Other newspaper accounts have the CIA monitoring Atta starting in January 2000, while he is living in Germany (see January-May 2000). Atta, Alshehhi, Almihdhar, Alhazmi and other hijackers have connections to associates of Sheikh Abdul-Rahman (see Early 2000-September 10, 2001).
Entity Tags: Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Al-Qaeda, El Farouq, Khalid Almihdhar, Mohamed Atta, Able Danger, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Nawaf Alhazmi, Marwan Alshehhi, Al Farouq Mosque
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Mohamed Atta and another of the 9/11 hijackers (presumably Marwan Alshehhi) rent rooms in New York City, according to a federal investigator. These rooms are in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Following 9/11, Atta is traced back to Brooklyn by a parking ticket issued to a rental car he was driving. However, immigration records have Mohamed Atta entering the US for the first time on June 3, 2000 (see June 3, 2000). The Associated Press article on this subject does not specify if Atta first stayed in New York before or after that date. [Associated Press, 12/8/2001] According to a brief mention in the 9/11 Commission’s final report, in the month of June, “As [Atta and Marwan Alshehhi] looked at flight schools on the East Coast, [they] stayed in a series of short-term rentals in New York City.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224; Washington Post, 8/13/2005] Earlier in 2000, a US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identified an al-Qaeda terrorist cell based in Brooklyn, of which Atta is a member (see January-February 2000). Also, a number of eyewitnesses later report seeing Atta in Maine and Florida before this official arrival date (see April 2000; Late April-Mid-May 2000).
James D. Smith. [Source: Getty Images/ Alex Wong]James D. Smith is working for the private company Orion Scientific Systems on a contract that assists the Able Danger project. Smith will later claim that around March or April 2000, armed federal agents come into Orion and confiscate much of the data that Orion had compiled for Able Danger. Orion’s contract stops at this time and Smith has no further involvement with Able Danger. However, Smith happens to have some unclassified charts made for Able Danger in the trunk of his car when the agents raid his office. The chart with Mohamed Atta’s picture on it will thus survive and be remembered well by Smith, though it will be destroyed in the summer of 2004 (see August 22-September 1, 2005). Smith will later state, “All information that we have ever produced, which was all unclassified, was confiscated and to this day we don’t know who by.” [US Congress, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 2/15/2006]
Four analysts from the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit are forced to stop their work supporting the Able Danger program. At the same time, private contractors working for Able Danger are fired. This occurs around the time that it becomes known by some inside the military that LIWA had identified future National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and other prominent Americans as potential security risks (see April 2000). It was apparently these LIWA analysts (such as Dr. Eileen Preisser) and contractors (such as James D. Smith) who conducted most of the data mining and analysis of al-Qaeda in the preceding months. One of the four LIWA analysts, Maj. Erik Kleinsmith, will later be ordered to destroy all the data collected (see May-June 2000). LIWA’s support for Able Danger will resume a few months later (see Late September 2000). [New York Post, 8/27/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005; Washington Times, 9/22/2005]
A 1999 study by the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) to look into possible Chinese front companies in the US seeking technology for the Chinese military created controversy and was ordered destroyed in November 1999 (see Mid-1999-November 1999). However, apparently Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) protests, and the issue finally comes to a head during this month. One result of this controversy will be what Major Erik Kleinsmith will later call “severely restricted” support for Able Danger, including a temporary end to LIWA support (see April 2000) In an April 14, 2000 memorandum from the legal counsel in the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Captain Michael Lohr writes that the concern over the LIWA data mining study raises privacy concerns: “Preliminary review of subject methodology raised the possibility that LIWA ‘data mining’ would potentially access both foreign intelligence (FI) information and domestic information relating to US citizens (i.e. law enforcement, tax, customs, immigration, etc.… I recognize that an argument can be made that LIWA is not ‘collecting’ in the strict sense (i.e. they are accessing public areas of the Internet and non-FI federal government databases of already lawfully collected information). This effort would, however, have the potential to pull together into a single database a wealth of privacy-protected US citizen information in a more sweeping and exhaustive manner than was previously contemplated.” Additionally, the content of the study is another reason why it caused what Weldon calls a “wave of controversy.” The study had connected future National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and other prominent US citizens to business transactions with Chinese military officials.(see Mid-1999-November 1999). [New York Post, 8/27/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005; Washington Times, 9/22/2005; Washington Times, 10/9/2005] One article on the subject will comment, “Sources familiar with Able Danger say the project was shut down because it could have led to the exposure of a separate secret data mining project focusing on US citizens allegedly transferring super-sensitive US technology illegally to the Chinese government.” [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] A massive destruction of data from Able Danger and LIWA’s data mining efforts will follow, one month later (see May-June 2000).
Erik Kleinsmith. [Source: C-SPAN]Maj. Eric Kleinsmith, chief of intelligence for the Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit, is ordered to destroy data and documents related to a military intelligence program set up to gather information about al-Qaeda. The program, called Able Danger, has identified Mohamed Atta and three other future hijackers as potential threats (see January-February 2000). According to Kleinsmith, by April 2000 it has collected “an immense amount of data for analysis that allowed us to map al-Qaeda as a worldwide threat with a surprisingly significant presence within the United States.”(see January-February 2000) [Fox News, 9/21/2005; New York Times, 9/22/2005] The data is being collected on behalf of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert, the J3 at US Special Operations Command, who is said to be extremely upset when he learns that the data had been destroyed without his knowledge or consent. [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] Around this time, a separate LIWA effort showing links between prominent US citizens and the Chinese military has been causing controversy, and apparently this data faces destruction as well (see April 2000). The data and documents have to be destroyed in accordance with Army regulations prohibiting the retention of data about US persons for longer than 90 days, unless it falls under one of several restrictive categories. However, during a Senate Judiciary Committee public hearing in September 2005, a Defense Department representative admits that Mohamed Atta was not considered a US person. The representative also acknowledges that regulations would have probably allowed the Able Danger information to be shared with law enforcement agencies before its destruction. Asked why this was not done, he responds, “I can’t tell you.” [CNET News, 9/21/2005] The order to destroy the data and documents is given to Kleinsmith by Army Intelligence and Security Command General Counsel Tony Gentry, who jokingly tells him, “Remember to delete the data—or you’ll go to jail.” [Government Executive, 9/21/2005] The quantity of information destroyed is later described as “2.5 terabytes,” about as much as one-fourth of all the printed materials in the Library of Congress. [Associated Press, 9/16/2005] Other records associated with the unit are allegedly destroyed in March 2001 and spring 2004 (see Spring 2004). [Associated Press, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005; Fox News, 9/24/2005]
Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, has been gathering evidence of an upcoming al-Qaeda attack or attacks. In 2002, he will describe to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry a research process similar to what Able Danger is using at the same time: “I began to notice there was a voluminous amount of information, as others have testified, regarding al-Qaeda. Most of it appeared to be unrelated to other pieces of information. It appeared to be almost chat. By using a piece of [commercial software called ‘Analyst’s Notebook’] I was able to put these small snippets of information into, and graphically represent them as well, I was able to, over a course of many months, to determine certain linkages between these items—linkages that would never be apparent without the use of this tool. It would be lost in the weeds. And there were a lot of weeds to look through.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002; US Congress, 10/8/2002] In his research, he claims to find links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence. By May 2000, he writes a classified report on his conclusion that “terrorists were planning two or three major attacks against the United States. The only gaps were where and when.” Apparently, he envisions at least one of these attacks will use a small boat to blow up a US warship. However, the DIA has already issued a report concluding that such a method of attack would be impossible to carry out successfully, and the agency sticks by this assessment. A video message put out by bin Laden in mid-September convinces Fallis that an al-Qaeda attack will happen in the next month or two.(see Mid-September 2000). Shortly after learning about this message, Fallis reaches “the ‘eureka point‘… in determining an impending terrorist attack.” This comes “from a still-classified intelligence report in September 2000, which he will not discuss.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] This may be a reference to a lead by the Able Danger team on increased al-Qaeda activity in Yemen at this time (see Late September 2000), and/or it may refer to other intelligence leads. Fallis goes to his supervisor and asks that at least a general warning of an attack in the Middle East be issued. He hopes such a warning will at least put US military forces in the region on a higher alert. His superior turns him down, and other superiors fail to even learn of his suggested warning. The USS Cole will be successfully attacked in the port of Aden, Yemen, by a small boat of terrorists on October 12, 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] One day after the Cole attack, Fallis will resign in protest. According to Senator John Warner (R-VA),“What [Fallis] felt is that his assessment was not given that proper level of consideration by his superiors and, as such, was not incorporated in the final intelligence reports provided to military commanders in the [Middle East region].” [CNN, 10/25/2000]
According to an anonymous Able Danger official speaking to the Bergen Record, a US Army intelligence unit tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks worldwide discovers that several of the 9/11 hijackers are taking rooms at motels in New Jersey and meeting together there. The intelligence unit, called Able Danger, which uses high-speed computers to analyze vast amounts of data, notices that Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi take a room at the Wayne Inn (see (Before September 2000-12 Months Later)). After the existence of the Able Danger unit comes to light in 2005, Bergen Record columnist and reporter Mike Kelly says, “The connect-the-dots tracking by the team was so good that it even knew Atta conducted meetings with the three future hijackers. One of those meetings took place at the Wayne Inn. That’s how close all this was—to us and to being solved, if only the information had been passed up the line to FBI agents or even to local cops. This new piece of 9/11 history, revealed only last week by a Pennsylvania congressman and confirmed by two former members of the intelligence team, could turn out to be one of the most explosive revelations since the publication last summer of the 9/11 commission report.”
[Bergen Record, 8/14/2005] The other two hijackers said to be present at the meetings, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, periodically live in the town of Paterson, only one mile away from Wayne (see March 2001-September 1, 2001). However, contradicting this account, a lawyer representing members of Able Danger later testifies, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.”
[CNN, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] Some media accounts have stated that the Able Danger program determined Atta was in the US before 9/11. For instance, Fox News reported in August 2005, “[Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer] is standing by his claim that he told them that the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks had been identified in the summer of 2000 as an al-Qaeda operative living in the United States.”
[Fox News, 8/17/2005]
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
On three occasions, military lawyers force members of Able Danger to cancel scheduled meetings with the FBI at the last minute. Able Danger officials want to share information about the Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell they believe they’ve discovered which includes Mohamed Atta and other hijackers (see January-February 2000). The exact timing of these meetings remains unclear, but they appear to happen around the time military lawyers tell Able Danger they are not allowed to pursue Mohamed Atta and other figures (see September 2000) . [Government Security News, 9/2005] In 2005, it will be reported that Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer contacted FBI agent Xanthig Magnum in attempts to set up these meetings. Magnum is willing to testify about her communications with Shaffer, but apparently she has not yet been able to do so. [Fox News, 8/28/2005] Shaffer will later elaborate that the meetings were set up around early summer. Col. Worthington, then head of Able Danger, is one of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) officials scheduled to meet with FBI Counterterrorism agents. Shaffer ater claims the meetings were cancelled because “SOCOM lawyers would not permit the sharing of the US person information regarding terrorists located domestically due to ‘fear of potential blowback’ should the FBI do something with the information and something should go wrong. The lawyers were worried about another ‘Waco’ situation (see April 19, 1993). The critical counterterrorism information is never passed from SOCOM to the FBI before 9-11; this information did include the original data regarding Atta and the terrorist cells in New York and the DC area.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006 ] Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), who in 2005 helps bring to light the existence of the program, says, “Obviously, if we had taken out that cell, 9/11 would not have occurred and, certainly, taking out those three principal players in that cell would have severely crippled, if not totally stopped, the operation that killed 3,000 people in America.” [Government Security News, 8/2005]
The Able Danger data collection program—which lost the support of the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit last April (see April 2000)—is reconstituted and moved to a private intelligence research center run by Raytheon in Garland, Texas. While the program worked only with unclassified data under LIWA, the new Able Danger, referred to by some as “Able Danger II,” has permission to mine classified information as well. [US Congress, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] SOCOM apparently believes that this new arrangement will allow Able Danger to do its work free of some of the political interference that had hobbled the earlier effort. Other data mining teams at LIWA work on non-al-Qaeda related projects while Able Danger continue to focus on al-Qaeda. [National Journal, 12/3/2005] Most accounts have the first version of Able Danger in early 2000 being the version that identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers. However, according to Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), a Raytheon employee named Bob Johnson will later claim that Atta is independently identified by this second version of Able Danger as well (see November 11, 2005).
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]
A satellite photo of the port of Yemen. [Source: National Geographic]Special Operations Command official Christopher Chope will later claim that in early October 2000, “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 Philpott if that could be briefed at a high level briefing.” The briefing takes place on this day during a VIP visit to Garland, Texas, where the Able Danger program is based in late 2000 (see Late September 2000). [US Congress, 2/15/2006] Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will later describe the warning in more serious terms than Chope, saying, “They saw information that led them to unequivocally understand that something was going to happen in the port at Yemen involving an American entity. Two days before the attack, they were jumping up and down because they knew something was going to happen… at the port of Aden.” [Hearst Newspapers, 11/10/2005] Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will also later describe the warning in serious terms, claiming that the Able Danger team he was on determined that Yemen was one of the three most dangerous locations for al-Qaeda activity in the world (see Late September 2000). According to Shaffer, General Pete Schoomaker, commander of Special Operations Command, attends the briefing. Shaffer says that “Philpott requested they do something with it, they take action on it,” but apparently the warning does not reach the military commanders in Yemen before the USS Cole is bombed in Yemen two days later. Weldon will later say that the commander of the Cole told him in an interview that he “had three options on that day. He could have refueled the ship at sea. He had two other harbors. If he would have had any indication that there was a problem with Aden in Yemen, he would not have gone there. He was never given that information.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006]
Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense Stephen Cambone will later state, “[T]he purpose of Able Danger was to develop a campaign plan. By November of 2000, the Garland effort was terminated—that is, the activity with Raytheon—and resources were shifted to the development of the actual draft of the campaign plan. That is, for a period of about five months or so, continuous effort was made to develop the tools. But by the time we come to the end of 2000, we need the plan. And so, SOCOM decides that it’s going to put its resources against developing the plan, terminate the activity at Garland, Texas, and begins to draft the plan. That plan, in the end, was rolled into a larger activity within the Joint Staff in the early 2001 timeframe, and that larger plan has within it components that are very much connected to the heritage of the Able Danger activity.… As best we can ascertain, US SOCOM had Raytheon, at the end of its effort in November of 2000, take most of the data that had been generated at Raytheon, and take it out of its system, essentially to purge it. A small percentage of information, roughly about one percent of that developed at Garland, was in turn transferred over to US Special Operations Command.” Cambone says the reason for this second massive data purge was, “[W]here we are by the end of the year 2000 is that, information that had been generated at LIWA [Land Information Warfare Activity] runs up against the concern about US persons information being stored improperly, as well as having the authority to do the operation for the Army.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer will later blame the retirement of Gen. Pete Schoomaker in October 2000 and his replacement by Gen. Charles Holland as a major reason for the shut down of the data mining effort. He says, “Gen. Holland, in my judgment, did not understand the concept, and order[ed] the effort to terminate its activities in Garland, Texas, and for the personnel to return to Tampa [Florida, the location of SOCOM headquarters].” Over the next few months, Holland will direct Able Danger to change into the Special Operations Joint Integration Center (SOJIC). According to Shaffer, “the teeth and operational focus [are] removed and the capability to do the complex data mining and mission planning support (leadership support) is eliminated,” effectively ending Able Danger. [US Congress, 2/15/2006 ]
In January, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton is given a three hour briefing on Able Danger. Shelton supported the formation of Able Danger back in 1999 (see Fall 1999). The content of the briefing has never been reported. Then in March, during a briefing on another classified program called Door Hop Galley, Able Danger is again brought up. This briefing, given by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, is attended by Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; Richard Schiefren, an attorney at DOD; and Stephen Cambone, Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense. [Government Security News, 9/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005 Sources: Curt Weldon] In mid-September 2005, Weldon will say, “I knew that the Clinton administration clearly knew about this. Now I know of at least two briefings in the Bush administration.” He calls these two briefings “very troubling.” He wants to know what became of the information presented in these briefings, suggesting it shouldn’t have been destroyed as part of the other Able Danger data purges. [Delaware County Daily Times, 9/16/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005]
Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer will later claim that DIA Deputy Director of Human Intelligence William Huntington is briefed by Shaffer at this time about a project named Dorhawk Galley. Some information about Able Danger’s methodology comes up. According to Shaffer, Huntington refuses to hear it and announces, “I can’t be here, I can’t see this.” Huntington immediately leaves Shaffer’s office and refuses to hear the information. Commenting on the episode, Shaffer later notes, “By doing this, he could later feign ignorance of the project should it have been compromised to the public. It is my belief that he is an example of the cultural problem—senior bureaucrats who are more focused on their own career and having ‘plausible deniability’ to never allow anything ‘controversial or risky’ to ‘touch them.’” Shaffer will also state, “It is of grave concern that Mr. Huntington is the one who is behind the troubling coincidence regarding my security clearance being suspended in March of 2004, just after reporting to my DIA chain of command [to include Mr. Huntington] of my contact with the 9-11 Commission, and my offer to share the Able Danger information to the 9-11 commission.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006 ; US Congress, 2/15/2006]
A secret military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which is tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world, is shut down. Some accounts say the program is shut down in January, some say February, and some say March. [Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/2005; Times Herald (Norristown), 9/12/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] The unit has identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers as members of an al-Qaeda cell operating in the United States (see January-February 2000). According to James D. Smith, a Pentagon contractor involved with the unit, the inspector general shuts down the operation “because of a claim that we were collecting information on US citizens,” and it is illegal for the military to do this. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] Others familiar with the unit later say it is closed down because it might have led to the exposure of another data mining project that was investigating US citizens allegedly illegally transferring sensitive US technology to the Chinese government. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer blames the change in leadership brought by the new Bush administration. “Once the four star [General Schoomaker] went away, it was pretty much like the world closing around us [Schoomaker retired in November 2000, but returned as Army Chief of Staff in 2003]. There was no political will to continue this at that point in time. Plus, my direct leadership: Colonel [Jerry] York and General [Bob] Harding had moved on as well. Therefore, I had a new chain of command above me. They were very risk adverse. This [Able Danger] operation, as with other operations which were very high risk / high gain, some of which are still ongoing—seemed to not be appreciated by the incoming leadership.” [American Forces Press Service, 6/17/2003; Government Security News, 9/2005] For example, Shaffer will say that Col. Mary Moffitt, who replaces Col. Gerry York around this time (“spring 2001”), “dismantled the Defense [human intelligence] support to Able Danger just months before the 9-11 attacks… [and ] became focused on shutting down our support to Able Danger under the guise of ‘reorganization’ and in the end, disestablished Stratus Ivy [the unit Shaffer headed] and its cutting edge focus.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006 ]
In addition to briefings about Able Danger with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (see Early 2001) and other military leaders (see March 2001), Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims that there are other briefings about the project in the same early 2001 time frame. In one briefing, Shaffer says CIA Director George Tenet approves “our conduct of this special project—I did specifically mention the Able Danger effort to him regarding the use of its methodology to separate out US Person issues.” Shaffer also claims that the National Security Counsel (NSC) is briefed twice on Able Danger around this time. He says, “I cannot recall the specific dates of, or individuals present at, the briefing.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006 ]
Maj. Gen. Rod Isler.
[Source: US Defense Department]The new Director of Operations for the DIA, General Ron Isler, has Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer brief him on a series of operations. According to Shaffer, Isler strongly objects to Shaffer assisting Able Danger. “I said, ‘Well, sir, with all due respect, this is an important operation focused on the global al-Qaeda target,’ and he said, ‘You’re not hearing me, Tony. This is not your job.’” After further disagreement, Shaffer recalls the argument ending, “‘Tony, I’m the two star here. I’m the two star. I’m telling you I don’t want you doing anything with Able Danger.’ ‘Sir, if not us then who?’ ‘I don’t know, but it’s not your job.’ And that effectively ended my direct support and my unit’s [Stratus Ivy] support to Able Danger.” Recalling how this helped end Able Danger, Shaffer says, “I remember the last conversation I had with Captain Scott Phillpott on this was a desperate call from him asking me to try to help use one of my operational facilities to at least try to exploit the information [Able Danger had collected] before it got lost.” However, Isler says he cannot recall any discussion with Shaffer about Able Danger. [Government Security News, 9/2005]
During a briefing on another classified program called Dorkawk Galley, Able Danger is again brought up. This briefing, given by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, is attended by Vice Adm. Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency; Richard Schiffrin, an attorney at DOD; and Stephen Cambone, Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense. [Government Security News, 9/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005 Sources: Curt Weldon] In mid-September 2005, Weldon will say, “I knew that the Clinton administration clearly knew about this.” Referring to this meeting and another meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (see Early 2001), he will add, “Now I know of at least two briefings in the Bush administration.” He calls these two briefings “very troubling.” He wants to know what became of the information presented in these briefings, suggesting it shouldn’t have been destroyed as part of the other Able Danger data purges. [Delaware County Daily Times, 9/16/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005]
According to a later account by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, Capt. Scott Phillpott calls him “in desperation” around this time. Able Danger has been effectively shut down, but Phillpott wants to know if he can bring the Able Danger options that had been presented to higher officials in early 2001 (see Early 2001, January-March 2001 and March 2001) and use one of Shaffer’s Stratus Ivy facilities to continue to work. Shaffer claims that he replies, “I tell him with all candor that I would love nothing better than to loan him my facility and work the options with him (to exploit them for both [intelligence] potential and for actual offensive operations) but tell him that my DIA chain of command has directed me to stop all support to him and the project. In good faith, I ask my boss, Col. Mary Moffitt if I can help Scott and exploit the options—and that there would be a DIA quid pro quo of obtaining new ‘lead’ information from the project. She takes offense at me even mentioning Able Danger in this conversation, tells me that I am being insubordinate, and begins the process of removing me from my position as chief of Stratus Ivy. As a direct result of this conversation, she directs that I be ‘moved’ to a desk officer position to oversee Defense [human intelligence] operations in Latin America.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006 ]
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) later claims that about two weeks after 9/11, he is given a chart by friends of his from the Army’s Information Dominance Center, in cooperation with special ops. The chart indicates various al-Qaeda cells that were identified by a military intelligence unit called Able Danger. Early in 2000, this unit identified, amongst others, an al-Qaeda cell based in Brooklyn, New York, which included Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers (see January-February 2000). Atta’s name is said to be on the chart given to Weldon. Shortly after being given the chart, Weldon meets with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and shows the chart to him. Weldon claims, “Hadley looked at the chart and said, Congressman, where did you get that chart from? I said, I got it from the military.… Steve Hadley said, Congressman, I am going to take this chart, and I am going to show it to the man. The man that he meant… was the President of the United States. I said, Mr. Hadley, you mean you have not seen something like this before from the CIA, this chart of al-Qaeda worldwide and in the US? And he said, No, Congressman. So I gave him the chart.” [US Congress. House, 6/27/2005; Delaware County Daily Times, 8/12/2005; Fox News, 8/22/2005] However, a spokesman for Hadley later disputes this account, and says, “Mr. Hadley does not recall any chart bearing the name or photo of Mohamed Atta. [National Security Council] staff reviewed the files of Mr. Hadley as well as of all [National Security Council] personnel… That search has turned up no chart.” [Washington Post, 9/24/2005] Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) later recalls attending the meeting and remembers the chart, but can’t recall if Atta was on it or not. [New York Times, 10/1/2005] Curt Weldon also later claims that the copy of the chart he gives to Hadley is his only one. [Time, 8/29/2005] However, apparently contradicting this, Weldon will give a speech in 2002 showing the chart (see May 23, 2002).
A blurry image of the chart Rep. Curt Weldon presented to the Heritage Foundation in 2002.
[Source: Heritage Foundation]During a speech before the Heritage Foundation, Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) unfurls a chart, which, his comments suggest, was produced by Able Danger. He says it is “the unclassified chart that was done by the Special Forces Command briefing center one year before 9/11. It is the complete architecture of al-Qaeda and pan-Islamic extremism. It gives all the linkages.” However, he does not mention Mohamed Atta or any other 9/11 hijackers during the speech. Video footage of the speech shows the chart, but the picture quality is too poor to determine whether Atta is on it. [NewsMax, 8/29/2005] Weldon later claims to have given up his only copy of the chart showing Atta’s face in late 2001 (see September 25, 2001). [Time, 8/29/2005] In September 2005, Weldon will refer to the chart shown in this 2002 speech and suggest it may not have been the same chart that contained Atta’s face. He also says he cannot find the chart used in the speech anymore. [Office of Congressman Curt Weldon, 9/17/2005]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow. [Source: Jurist]Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, along with two members of the commission’s staff and an unnamed “representative of the executive branch,” meets at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan with three individuals doing intelligence work for the US Defense Department. [CNN, 8/17/2005; Sacramento Bee, 11/24/2005] Among these is Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which between fall 1999 and spring 2001 was tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world (see Fall 1999 and January-March 2001). According to Shaffer’s own later account, he gives the commission staff a detailed account of what Able Danger was, and tells them, “We found two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, to include [Mohamed] Atta.” At the end of the meeting, Philip Zelikow approaches him and says, “This is important. We need to continue this dialogue when we get back to the states.” [Government Security News, 9/2005] Following the meeting, Zelikow calls back to the 9/11 Commission’s headquarters in Washington to request that staff draft a document request, seeking information on Able Danger from the Department of Defense. [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 ] According to Anthony Shaffer, “My understanding from talking to another member of the press is that [Zelikow’s] call came into America at four o clock in the morning. He got people out of bed over this.” [Government Security News, 9/2005] Shaffer subsequently tries contacting Philip Zelikow in January 2004 (see Early January 2004). After it is revealed in the press that the commission, which includes no mention of Able Danger in its final report, had been briefed on the unit, spokesmen for commission members will insist that while they were informed of Able Danger at this time, they were not informed that it had identified Mohamed Atta or any other hijackers as threats. [New York Times, 8/10/2005] Head commissioners Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton will later say in an official statement that a memorandum prepared by the commission staff after the meeting “does not record any mention of Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers, or any suggestion that their identities were known to anyone at [Defense Department] before 9/11. Nor do any of the three Commission staffers who participated in the interview, or the executive branch lawyer, recall hearing any such allegation.” [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 ]
Following an October 2003 meeting with three members of the 9/11 Commission’s staff (see October 21, 2003), Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer tries contacting Philip Zelikow, the commission’s executive director, as requested by Zelikow himself. Shaffer is an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers in early 2000 (see January-February 2000). He phones Zelikow’s number the first week of January 2004. The person who replies tells him, “I will talk to Dr. Zelikow and find out when he wants you to come in.” However, Shaffer receives no call back, so a week later he phones again. This time, the person who answers him says, “Dr. Zelikow tells me that he does not see the need for you to come in. We have all the information on Able Danger.”
[Government Security News, 9/2005] Yet the commission doesn’t even receive the Able Danger documentation they had previously requested from the Defense Department until the following month (see February 2004). [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 ]
The 9/11 Commission receives documents that it had requested from the Department of Defense, relating to a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which had allegedly identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks. [New York Times, 8/9/2005; Times Herald (Norristown), 8/13/2005] The commission requested the documents in November 2003, after a meeting in Afghanistan with Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, an Army intelligence officer who had worked closely with the unit (see October 21, 2003). Some documents are given directly to the commission, others are available for review in a Department of Defense reading room, where commission staff make notes summarizing them. Some of the documents include diagrams of Islamic militant networks. However, an official statement later claims, “None of the documents turned over to the Commission mention Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers. Nor do any of the staff notes on documents reviewed in the DOD reading room indicate that Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers were mentioned in any of those documents.”
[Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 ; Washington Post, 8/13/2005] Shaffer responds, “I’m told confidently by the person who moved the material over, that the Sept. 11 commission received two briefcase-sized containers of documents. I can tell you for a fact that would not be one-twentieth of the information that Able Danger consisted of during the time we spent.”
[Fox News, 8/17/2005]
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Washington, DC apparently destroys duplicate copies of documentation relating to a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, for unknown reasons. The documents had been maintained by one of the DIA’s employees, intelligence officer Anthony Shaffer. [US Congress, 9/21/2005] The Able Danger unit was established in fall 1999, to assemble information about al-Qaeda networks worldwide (see Fall 1999). Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer had served as a liaison officer between the unit and the DIA. [New York Times, 8/17/2005; Guardian, 8/18/2005] Able Danger allegedly identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks (see January-February 2000). Other records relating to the unit were destroyed in May and June 2000, and March 2001 (see May-June 2000). [US Congress, 9/21/2005; Fox News, 9/24/2005]
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, has his security clearance suspended for what his lawyer later describes as “petty and frivolous” reasons, including a dispute over mileage reimbursement and charges for personal calls on a work cell phone. [Fox News, 8/19/2005] According to Shaffer, allegations are made against him over $67 in phone charges, which he accumulated over 18 months. He says, “Even though when they told me about this issue, I offered to pay it back, they chose instead to spend in our estimation $400,000 to investigate all these issues simply to drum up this information.” No formal action is ever taken against Shaffer, and later in the year the Army promotes him to lieutenant colonel. [Fox News, 8/17/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] A few months previous, Shaffer had met with staff from the 9/11 Commission, and allegedly informed them that Able Danger had, more than a year before the attacks, identified two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, including Mohamed Atta (see October 21, 2003). According to Shaffer’s lawyer, it is because of him having his security clearance suspended that he does not later have any documentation relating to Able Danger. [Fox News, 8/19/2005] Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) will later comment: “In January of 2004 when [Shaffer] was twice rebuffed by the 9/11 Commission for a personal follow-up meeting, he was assigned back to Afghanistan to lead a special classified program. When he returned in March, he was called in and verbally his security clearance was temporarily lifted. By lifting his security clearance, he could not go back into DIA quarters where all the materials he had about Able Danger were, in fact, stored. He could not get access to memos that, in fact, he will tell you discussed the briefings he provided both to the previous administration and this administration.” [Fox News, 8/19/2005] These documents Shaffer are trying to reach are destroyed by the DIA roughly around this time (see Spring 2004). In September 2005, Shaffer has his security clearance revoked, just two days before he is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about Able Danger’s activities (see September 19, 2005).
Ten days before the 9/11 Commission releases its final report, a senior member of its staff, Dietrich Snell, accompanied by another commission staff member, meets at one of the commission’s Washington, DC offices with a US Navy officer who worked with a US Army intelligence program called Able Danger, which had been tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world. This officer, Captain Scott Phillpott, tells them he saw an Able Danger document in 2000 that described Mohamed Atta as part of a Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell. He complains that this information about Atta, and information about other alleged members of the Brooklyn cell, was deleted from the document soon after he saw it, due to the concerns of Department of Defense lawyers. However, despite having this meeting with Phillpott, and having met previously with an Army intelligence officer who was also involved with Able Danger (see October 21, 2003), the 9/11 Commission makes no mention of the unit in their final report. The commissioners later claim that Phillpott’s information “[does] not mesh with other conclusions” they are drawing from their investigation. Consequently, the commission staff conclude “that the officer’s account [is] not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation.” Able Danger is not mentioned in their final report, they claim, because “the operation itself did not turn out to be historically significant.”
[Associated Press, 8/11/2005; New York Times, 8/11/2005; Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 ; New York Times, 8/13/2005; Washington Post, 8/13/2005; New York Times, 8/22/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer additionally claims, “Captain Phillpott actually told the 9/11 Commission about the fact that Able Danger discovered information regarding the Cole attack.… There was information that Able Danger found that related to al-Qaeda planning an attack. That information unfortunately didn’t get anywhere either. So that is another clue that was given to the 9/11 Commission to say, hey, this [Able Danger] capability did some stuff, and they chose not to even look at that.” [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005]
A front page article in the New York Times reveals the existence of a highly classified military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which had identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers as likely members of an al-Qaeda cell operating in the United States more than a year before the attacks. [New York Times, 8/9/2005] Members of the unit had recommended that the FBI be called in to take out the cell, but Pentagon lawyers had blocked their request (see September 2000). The incident was first described in a June 2005 speech on the House floor by Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), and in an interview with Weldon around the same time in the Norristown Times Herald, neither of which had garnered much attention. [Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/2005; US Congress. House, 6/27/2005] Weldon, who is vice chairman of both the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee, claims he only recognized the significance of the incident after contacting members of the Able Danger unit during research for a book about terrorism. [New York Times, 8/10/2005]
In response to new revelations about a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which allegedly identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks, Al Felzenberg—formerly the chief spokesman for the 9/11 Commission—acknowledges that a uniformed officer briefed two of the commission’s staff members about the unit in early July 2004 (see July 12, 2004). He also admits that the officer said the program had identified Mohamed Atta as part of an al-Qaeda cell in Brooklyn. This information was not mentioned anywhere in the commission’s final report. [New York Times, 8/11/2005] The existence of the Able Danger program was first revealed two days ago in an August 9 New York Times article (see August 9, 2005). In that article, the Times reported that Felzenberg had confirmed that an October 2003 briefing had taken place which did not include any references to Mohamed Atta or the Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell. But Felzenberg did not tell the newspaper about the July 2004 briefing, which apparently had provided the commission with far more details about the Able Danger program. [New York Times, 8/9/2005; New York Times, 8/11/2005] It is not clear who exactly in the commission was aware of the program. Former 9/11 Commissioners Tim Roemer and John Lehman say they were never briefed about Able Danger before the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report was published. [Government Security News, 8/2005 Sources: Curt Weldon]
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).
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]
Former members of the 9/11 Commission dismiss recent allegations regarding a secret military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which had been set up in 1999 to bring together information about al-Qaeda. Several former members of the unit have come forward claiming the program identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks (see August 17, 2005; August 22-September 1, 2005). The 9/11 Commission has been criticized for not mentioning Able Danger in its final report. In response, its former chairman, Thomas Kean, claims there is no evidence that anyone in the government knew about Mohamed Atta before 9/11, and there are no documents that verify the claims made by former members of the unit. However, the Pentagon has recently confirmed that documents associated with Able Danger were destroyed in accordance with regulations about gathering intelligence on people inside the US. Another former commissioner, Slade Gorton, says, “Bluntly, it just didn’t happen and that’s the conclusion of all 10 of us.” But a spokesman for Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), who helped bring to light the existence of the program, says that none of the commissioners met with anyone from Able Danger, “yet they choose to speak with some form of certainty without firsthand knowledge.” [Associated Press, 9/15/2005; Fox News, 9/16/2005] The commission’s claim that no one in the US knew about Mohamed Atta before 9/11 is further contradicted by reports stating that the CIA had been tracking him while he was still in Germany, early in 2000 (see January-May 2000). And soon after 9/11, Newsweek reported US officials stating that Atta “had been known as [an associate] of Islamic terrorists” well before 9/11. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ]
[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).
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
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) claims in a press conference that Bob Johnson, an employee of the defense contractor Raytheon, claims to have independently identified Mohamed Atta prior to 9/11. The second version of Able Danger in late 2000 was associated with Raytheon while the first version was not, so presumably Johnson’s identification of Atta would have taken place then. If true, that would mean that both versions of Able Danger identified Atta independently of each other in early 2000 and late 2000, respectively. Weldon claims that this is the sixth person to corroborate the claim that Atta was identified prior to the 9/11 attacks. [Times Herald (Norristown), 11/11/2005]
Louis Freeh, FBI Director for the duration of the Able Danger program, calls Able Danger “a missed opportunity that could have potentially prevented 9/11.” He also says, “The Able Danger intelligence, if confirmed, is undoubtedly the most relevant fact of the entire post-9/11 inquiry.… Yet the 9/11 Commission inexplicably concluded that it ‘was not historically significant.’ This astounding conclusion—in combination with the failure to investigate Able Danger and incorporate it into its findings—raises serious challenges to the commission’s credibility and, if the facts prove out, might just render the commission historically insignificant itself.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/17/2005]
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) sends Defense Secretary Rumsfeld a letter signed by 246 members of Congress demanding that Able Danger program officers and contractors be allowed to testify in open congressional hearings. There is a nearly even split between Democrat and Republican signatures. [Sacramento Bee, 11/24/2005]
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) says of Able Danger: “I am convinced this is a bigger cover-up than Watergate.… More than 3,000 people were slaughtered and [the 9/11 Commission] deliberately kept the story from being part of its report because it would have embarrassed some of its members.” [Delco Times, 11/30/2005]
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) says that he is in contact with people who are still able to do data mining on pre-9/11 data, and, in “those data runs that are now being done today, in spite of what DOD [Department of Defense] said, I have 13 hits on Mohamed Atta.” He also says that additional Able Danger material continues to be found in Pentagon files, and that in early February, a general was present as Able Danger was recovered from filing cabinets. This came from the early 2000 version of Able Danger that supposedly had all of its data destroyed by Erik Kleinsmith. Weldon also claims, “At least one additional witness has come forward who just retired from one of the intelligence agencies, who will also testify under oath that he was well aware of and identified Mohamed Atta’s both name and photo prior to 9/11 occurring.” The Defense Department claims to have performed recent data mining on pre-9/11 data and failed to find Mohamed Atta’s name. A Defense Department official also says one day after Weldon’s claims: “It is true that in the course of this more recent review, we have indeed unearthed additional documents related to Able Danger. These documents were found, I must say, with some considerable effort, only because they were filed and misfiled and in a place where they weren’t easily gotten to, not because they were being hidden.” [Associated Press, 2/14/2006; CNS News, 2/15/2006; US Congress, 2/15/2006]
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]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.