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Profile: Special Operations Command (SOCOM)

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Special Operations Command (SOCOM) 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.

Entity Tags: Curt Weldon, Special Operations Command, Peter J. Schoomaker, Able Danger, Henry Hugh Shelton, Mark Zaid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Gen. Pete Schoomaker.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 pdf file] 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

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]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Able Danger, Special Operations Command, Eric Kleinsmith

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert.
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 pdf file] 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]

Entity Tags: Xanthig Magnum, Mohamed Atta, Special Operations Command, Curt Weldon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Able Danger, Anthony Shaffer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Joint Experimentation Directorate of the US Joint Forces Command, in partnership with US Central Command and US Special Operations Command, conducts a three-week exercise called Unified Vision 2001 (UV 01). Over 40 organizations and 350 personnel from all branches of the armed services and other federal agencies participate. [US Joint Forces Command, 6/25/2001; Aerospace America, 12/2001; US Congress, 4/9/2002; Arkin, 2005, pp. 540] UV 01 tests the ability of the military’s provisional Homeland Security Joint Force to respond, following “chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high yield explosives for the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia.” It is based around the scenario of a major regional threat coming from the Middle East, requiring a “global deployment into a landlocked country with hostile terrain and a lack of basing and agreements with neighboring countries for US access.” Dave Ozolek, assistant director of the exercise, says, “The threat we portrayed was an unstable and hostile state, but the primary enemy was not the state itself but a transnational actor based out of that area, globally connected, capable and willing to conduct terrorist attacks in the US as part of that campaign.” As the American Forces Press Service will later report, “real events similar to the Unified Vision scenario unfolded in the attacks of Sept. 11. The al-Qaeda is a global terrorist network hosted by an unstable, landlocked Central Asian regime.” Many of the participants in UV 01 will, following 9/11, become war planners and utilize their experiences from the exercise in the resulting military operations. Ozolek will later remark, “Nostradamus couldn’t have nailed the first battle of the next war any closer than we did.… [T]his time we got it right.” He will say, however, that UV 01 did not foresee the severity of terrorist attacks that occurred on 9/11, and involved terrorists attacking US military targets, rather than civilian ones. The Joint Forces Command will refuse to say whether the Pentagon was among these imagined targets. [American Forces Press Service, 7/30/2002; Washington Times, 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Dave Ozolek, Unified Vision, Special Operations Command, US Central Command, US Joint Forces Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The US military never uses its elite units to hunt Osama bin Laden or any other al-Qaeda leaders before 9/11. US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is said to have less than 1000 operatives, mainly Navy Seals and Army Delta Force, which are the most trained and qualified personnel in the US for hunting fugitives. Professor Richard Shultz at Tufts University’s Fletcher School will be commissioned by the Pentagon shortly after 9/11 to research why such special forces were not used before 9/11 to hunt bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders. He will find that US military leaders always said they needed better intelligence. They did a lot of planning but took no action. Shultz will say, “It’s your strike force, and yet it was never used once for its primary mission before Sept. 11.” JSOC forces will have more successes after 9/11, including playing roles in the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 (see June 8, 2006). [San Francisco Examiner, 3/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard Shultz, Navy Seals, Special Operations Command, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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).

Entity Tags: Information Dominance Center, Mohamed Atta, Dan Burton, Curt Weldon, Al-Qaeda, Special Operations Command, Central Intelligence Agency, Stephen J. Hadley, Able Danger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A blurry image of the chart Rep. Curt Weldon presented to the Heritage Foundation in 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]

Entity Tags: Curt Weldon, Special Operations Command, Able Danger, Al-Qaeda, Heritage Foundation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld issues a secret directive to Special Operations forces allowing them to “capture terrorists for interrogation or, if necessary, to kill them” anywhere in the world. [New Yorker, 12/16/2002] The policy appears to actually prefer the killing or secret interrogation of terrorists over legally arresting and then charging them (see July 22, 2002). Bush already issued a presidential finding authorizing the killing of terrorist leaders (see September 17, 2001), and a list of “high-value” target has been created (see Shortly After September 17, 2001), but this increases such efforts. [New York Times, 12/15/2002] However, Bush has not rescinded a presidential executive order dating from the 1970s that bans all assassinations, claiming that terrorists are military combatants. “Many past and present military and intelligence officials have expressed alarm” at the legality, wisdom, ethics, and effectiveness of the assassination program. Apparently much of the leadership of Special Operations is against it, worrying about the blowback effect. In February 2002, a Predator missile targeting someone intelligence agents thought was bin Laden hit its target, but killed three innocent Afghan farmers instead (see February 4, 2002). [New Yorker, 12/16/2002] The first successful assassination will take place in November (see November 3, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Special Operations Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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