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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).
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.” (Broache 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.” (Stirland 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. (De 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)
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. (Phucas 6/19/2005; Goodwin 8/2005; Jehl 8/9/2005; Garza 8/10/2005; Shenon 8/17/2005; Goodwin 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. (Goodwin 9/2005)
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