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In the immediate aftermath of a decision not to attack bin Laden with cruise missiles for fear of collateral damage (see December 18-20, 1998), the US military looks for other options than the inaccurate cruise missiles. On this day, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton formally directs Generals Anthony Zinni and Peter J. Schoomaker to develop plans for an AC-130 gunship attack against al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. The AC-130 is an aircraft designed specifically for special forces missions. It can fly in fast or from a high altitude, undetected by radar. It is capable of rapidly firing precision-guided projectiles that are much less likely to cause collateral damage. The two generals do submit such a plan on January 12, 1999, but the plan will never be developed beyond this initial document. One reason is that Zinni is against the idea. Another obstacle is that due to technical reasons the AC-130s would need to be based in a nearby country (most likely Uzbekistan, which is the most supportive of US efforts to get bin Laden at this time (see 1998 and After)). Political agreements allowing for basing and overflight rights would have to be arranged, but there is never any attempt to do so. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 135, 486)
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. (Rosen 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. (Goodwin 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.” (Eggen 8/13/2005) Apparently, Able Danger does not begin to use real data to fight al-Qaeda until near the end of 1999.
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).
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)
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). (Lathem 9/17/2005; Shaffer 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)
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.” (Rosenberg 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)
Donald Rumsfeld selects retired Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker as the Army’s chief of staff, bypassing several highly qualified active generals. Schoomaker is the general who failed to locate bin Laden during the Clinton administration (see December 23, 1998-January 12, 1999). Senior defense officials tell the Associated Press that Rumsfeld’s decision to bypass senior active-duty generals in favor of a retired officer is highly unusual and likely to raise eyebrows. (Burns 6/10/2003)
A few months after being publicly, and humiliatingly, contradicted by his top civilian Pentagon bosses Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz (see February 27, 2003), Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki retires. Neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz attend Shinseki’s retirement ceremony, a choice which many see as another public snubbing of the retiring general. Shinseki spends 20 minutes listing the people who had helped the Army during his tenure as Army chief of staff; Rumsfeld’s name is conspicuously absent from the listing. And in a veiled jab at his former boss, Shinseki says that “arrogance of power” is the worst substitute for true leadership. In another unusual move, Rumsfeld had already named Shinseki’s replacement, General Peter Schoomaker, nearly a year before Shinseki’s retirement. (Honolulu Advertiser 6/13/2003; Cannon 6/15/2003)
Richard Holbrooke, now Kerry’s senior foreign policy advisor, and Wesley Clark are filmed laughing and conversing with KLA gun runner and fundraiser Florin Krasniqi at a fundraising event for the Kerry presidential campaign. Krasniqi is a registered campaign donor to the Kerry campaign. (Nelson 10/24/2004) Krasniqi is an Albanian who illegally emigrated to the US in 1989. He now runs a construction business in Brooklyn and raises money and supplies weapons to the KLA. (Sullivan 5/26/1998; CBS News 3/21/2005)
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, author of a hard-hitting report on Abu Ghraib prison abuse, is summoned to meet Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for the first time. Rumsfeld is scheduled to testify about Abu Ghraib before Congress the next day (see May 7, 2004). Also attending the meeting is Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, Army chief of staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant Lt. Gen. Bantz Craddock, and others. According to Taguba, when he walks in, Rumsfeld declares in a mocking voice, “Here… comes… that famous General Taguba—of the Taguba report!” Asked if there was torture at Abu Ghraib, Taguba recalls, “I described a naked detainee lying on the wet floor, handcuffed, with an interrogator shoving things up his rectum, and said, ‘That’s not abuse. That’s torture.’ There was quiet.” Rumsfeld asks who leaked Taguba’s report to the public, but Taguba says he doesn’t know. Rumsfeld then complains that he has not seen a copy of his report or the Abu Ghraib abuse photographs and yet he has to testify to Congress tomorrow. Taguba is incredulous, because he sent over a dozen copies of his report to the Pentagon and Central Command headquarters, and had just spent several weeks briefing senior military leaders about it. He also was aware that Rumsfeld, Myers, Craddock, and others were notified about the abuse and the photographs back in January, before Taguba even began his investigation (see January 15-20, 2004). Taguba will later suspect that the military leaders were trying to remain ignorant of the scandal to avoid responsibility and accountability. For instance, when Taguba urged one lieutenant general to look at the photographs, he got the reply, “[I] don’t want to get involved by looking, because what do you do with that information, once you know what they show?” Taguba will later complain of the meeting, “I thought they wanted to know. I assumed they wanted to know. I was ignorant of the setting.” (Hersh 6/17/2007)
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