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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).
Rep. Curt Weldon later claims that while he never learns about Able Danger prior to 9/11, he does become aware of the Land Information Warfare Activity’s (LIWA) similar data mining efforts in 1999 and is very impressed. He says that on this day, he is part of a meeting with the deputy directors of the FBI and the CIA and others. Using LIWA as a model, Weldon proposes a national collaborative center that would use open source data as well as classified information from 33 government agencies “to basically assess emerging transnational terrorists threats. The CIA, two years before 9/11, said, we don’t need that. We’ve put language in three successive defense bills, in spite of that, calling for a national collaborative capability. Prior to 9/11, we didn’t have that capability, and we were hit.” (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). (Lathem 8/27/2005; US Congress 9/21/2005; Gertz 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). (Lathem 8/27/2005; Office of Congressman Curt Weldon 9/17/2005; US Congress 9/21/2005; Gertz 9/22/2005; Maloof 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.” (Green 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).
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)
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. (Harris 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).
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 )
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) is not yet familiar with Able Danger, though he will help bring information about the program to light in 2005. However, he is familiar with the closely related Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) program, having had dealings with it before 9/11. He says he is frustrated at the apparent lack of understanding about programs like LIWA based on the lines of questioning at public 9/11 Commission hearings in early 2004, so, “On at least four occasions, I personally tried to brief the 9/11 Commissioners on: NOAH [Weldon’s pre-9/11 suggestion to have a National Operations and Analysis Hub]; integrative data collaboration capabilities; my frustration with intelligence stovepipes; and al-Qaeda analysis. However, I was never able to achieve more than a five-minute telephone conversation with Commissioner Thomas Kean. On March 24, 2004, I also had my Chief of Staff personally hand deliver a document about LIWA, along [with] questions for George Tenet to the Commission, but neither was ever used.” (US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary 9/21/2005) He says: “The next week, they sent a staffer over to pick up some additional materials about the NIWA, about the concept, and about information I had briefed them on. They never followed up and invited me to come in and meet with them. So they can’t say that I didn’t try.” (Office of Congressman Curt Weldon 9/17/2005)
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