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A report commissioned in mid-1999 by Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) looks into possible Chinese front companies in the US seeking technology for the Chinese military. Dr. Eileen Preisser and Michael Maloof are commissioned to make the report. Dr. Preisser, who runs the Information Dominance Center at the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) and will later become closely tied to Able Danger, uses LIWA’s data mining capabilities to search unclassified information. According to Maloof, their results show Chinese front companies in the US posing as US corporations that acquire technology from US defense contractors. When the study is completed in November 1999, the General Counsel’s office in the Office of the Defense Secretary orders the study destroyed. Weldon complains about this to Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, and apparently delays the destruction of the report. Weldon also writes a letter to FBI Director Louis Freeh requesting an espionage investigation into these Chinese links, but Freeh never responds to this. (Maloof 10/9/2005) As part of this report, LIWA analysts had produced a chart of Chinese strategic and business connections in the US. But this data mining effort runs into controversy when the chart apparently shows connections between future National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and other prominent US figures, and business deals benefiting the Chinese military. (Lathem 8/27/2005; Gertz 9/22/2005) The China chart was put together by private contractor James D. Smith, who will come forward in August 2005 to corroborate revelations about the Able Danger unit and its findings (see August 22-September 1, 2005). The New York Post later says there is “no suggestion that Rice or any of the others had done anything wrong.” (Lathem 8/27/2005) However, articles first appear one month later and through 2001 in the conservative publications WorldNetDaily and NewsMax, which connect Perry and Rice to Hua Di, a Chinese missile scientist and possible spy, and question the nature of their relationship with him. (Smith 12/21/1999; Smith 4/5/2000; Smith 1/24/2001) Di defected to the US in 1989 and worked most of the 1990s at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Arms Control, which was co-directed by Perry. Di later returned to China and is subsequently sentenced to ten years in prison for writing influential articles said to reveal vital Chinese state secrets. (Trei 2/7/2001) However, other accounts claim that he was in fact passing on disinformation through these articles, successfully misleading the US military for a couple of years about the abilities of certain Chinese missile programs. (Smith 12/21/1999) Additionally, Hua Di teamed in 1994 with Stanford professor Dr. John Lewis and William Perry to buy an advanced AT&T fiber-optic communications system for “civilian” use inside China that instead is used by the Chinese army. The General Accounting Office later criticized the sale. In 1997, Stanford University investigated Dr. Lewis for his role in it, but Condoleezza Rice, serving as a Stanford provost at the time, apparently stopped the investigation. (Smith 4/5/2000; Smith 1/24/2001) Able Danger and LIWA’s data mining efforts will be severely proscribed in April 2000 as part of the fallout from this China controversy (see April 2000), and the destruction of their collected data will follow shortly thereafter (see May-June 2000).
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. (Goodwin 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). (Phucas 6/19/2005; Goodwin 8/2005; Jehl 8/9/2005; Garza 8/10/2005; Kelly 8/14/2005; Goodwin 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. (Kelly 8/14/2005; Goodwin 9/2005) The program will be shut down early in 2001 (see January-March 2001).
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). (Lathem 8/27/2005; US Congress 9/21/2005; Gertz 9/22/2005)
Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer will later claim that he receives a call from Dr. Eileen Preisser, who worked with him on the Able Danger program before 9/11. He claims that they meet and “she shows me a chart she had brought with her—a large desk top size chart. On it she has me look at the ‘Brooklyn Cell’—I was confused at first—but she kept telling me to look—and in the ‘cluster’ I eventually found the picture of [Mohamed] Atta. She pointed out (and I recognized) that this was one of the charts [we] had produced in January 2000, and had a sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach—I felt that we had been on the right track—and that because of the bureaucracy we had been stopped—and that we might well have been able to have done something to stop the 9/11 attack. I ask Eileen what she plans to do with the information/chart—she tells me that she does not know but she plans to do something.” Shaffer claims that Dr. Preisser shows the chart to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and others a few days later. However, as of early 2006, Dr. Preisser herself has never publicly commented on this or any other matter relating to Able Danger. (US Congress 2/15/2006 )
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).
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. (Wait 9/21/2005; Shenon 9/21/2005; Waterman 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. (Shaffer 9/20/2005; Waterman 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…” (Shaffer 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.” (Shenon 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. (Morgan 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; Wait 9/21/2005)
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