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Inside Able Danger – The Secret Birth and Untimely Death of a U.S. Military Intelligence Program
| Sept, 2005
| Jacob Goodwin
Posted on 09/02/2005 7:10:43 AM PDT by mal
In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with GSN on August 23, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, the military intelligence operative who collaborated with Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) to draw worldwide attention to the Able Danger intelligence unit, described Able Dangers origins, explained how it tracked terrorists as they visited individual mosques around the world, discussed the CIAs refusal to cooperate with the program, acknowledged the supporting technical role played by the Raytheon Company, and described Able Dangers ultimate demise.
(Excerpt) Read more at gsnmagazine.com ...
TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: 911; 911commission; 911commissionreport; abledanger; afghanistan; ajaz; alexbase; anthonyshaffer; aratef; arateff; atta; attah; berger; binladen; cia; gorelick; gorelickswall; hadley; intelligence; iran; iraq; keangorelick; mohammedajaz; mohammedarateff; mohammedatta; mohammedattah; osama; peterschoomaker; peteschoomaker; philpot; philpott; qaeda; raytheon; schoomaker; scottphilpott; shaffer; stephenhadley; stevehadley; stevenhadley; stratusivy; syria; taliban; terrorism; tonyshaffer; weldon; zelikow
posted on 09/02/2005 7:10:46 AM PDT
It is a classic, text book example, of what happens when POLITICS BECOMES MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE COUNTRY AND ITS PEOPLE. And Washington has not changed one bit.
posted on 09/02/2005 7:18:08 AM PDT
To: mal; Rodney King
This is a really good interview. Katrina has pretty much knocked this story out of action but this is worth the (fairly long) read.
Able Danger: The Shaffer Interview
Several CQ readers sent me a link to a lengthy interview with LTC Tony Shaffer in the upcoming issue of Government Security News. Although hardly exclusive, the Pentagon's latest revelation of three more corroborating witnesses lends a lot more credence to Shaffer's testimony, and the broad reach of this interview will provide a touchstone for those who watch the upcoming hearings to see whether Congress really intends on a full investigation.
The interview starts off with a summation of its highlights, which allows readers to understand the scope of the discussion. Among the revelations in the summary is a CIA refusal to cooperate based on turf-protecting attitudes and an explanation of how Able Danger used information from mosques to identify relationships between potential terrorists:
After briefing the CIAs representative stationed at SOCOM headquarters, and explaining that Able Danger would not be competing with the CIAs own separate mission to find and kill Osama bin Laden, Shaffer was surprised by the CIA reps stern resistance to sharing any information, said Shaffer. I clearly understand the difference, the CIA rep told him, according to Shaffer. I clearly understand. Were going after the leadership. You guys are going after the body. But, it doesnt matter. The bottom line is, CIA will never give you the best information from Alex Base or anywhere else. CIA will never provide that to you because if you were successful in your effort to target Al Qaeda, you will steal our thunder. Therefore, we will not support this. Shaffer told GSN that one key to Able Dangers success in identifying suspected terrorists was its willingness to buy information from brokers that identified visits by individuals to specific mosques located around the world. By crunching data about such visits during a six-month period, Able Dangers data miners were able to spot illuminating patterns and identify potential relationships among alleged terrorists, Shaffer explained.
Shaffer's testimony on these points underscore the lack of cooperation and undue competition between intelligence agencies that most had presumed caused some of the intelligence failures prior to the 9/11 attacks. We expected that some streamlining of intelligence units would comprise part of the 9/11 Commission recommendations, instead of the restructuring that allowed all the units to continue operating separately, but with an additional two layers of bureaucracy above them. The issue of cooperation and competition never got addressed at all.
Far more interesting, however, is the timeline Shaffer describes in his dealings with the 9/11 Commission as well as the chain of command for Able Danger after the terrorists attacked. Shaffer once again recounts the call he received, reminding him that their team had identified Atta and his cell as potential terrorists over a year earlier. Shaffer says that the information reached Congress and the NSA as soon as it became apparent, but that the chaos that followed the attacks may have buried the information:
GSN: How soon after the 9/11 attack did you realize that Able Danger had actually identified about a year earlier the Brooklyn cell and several of the actual 9/11 terrorists, including Mohammed Atta? SHAFFER: It was within two weeks of 9/11, when one of my colleagues, who had kept one of the charts, called me and said, Youre not going to believe this. Hes on one of our charts -- Atta. I just felt this sinking in the pit of my stomach like, Youve got to be kidding me. Nope, you want to come see? This [colleague] and I get together for coffee. Here it is, [said the colleague.] Im just sitting there shocked, like I cant believe we have this, and I asked, What are we going to do about this? and [the colleague] said, I dont know yet. I was told later that the information [on Able Dangers findings] was passed by Congressman [Curt] Weldon over to Stephen Hadley [then the deputy national security advisor in the Bush White House]. At that point in time, I was convinced, Okay, we got the word out. Were good to go. At least someone will know now that this happened.
Bear in mind that Shaffer, who worked on Able Danger liaison as one of several projects on his plate, went back to active duty at this time and moved on to new assignments. General Rod Isler had ordered him to drop the Able Danger project early in the year, which preceded its rapid demise after General Pete Schoomaker retired initially at the beginning of 2001. With a war on, Shaffer assumed that Able Danger data had reached the top and had the attention of investigators and intelligence operatives.
In October 2003, while he served in other intelligence roles in Afghanistan, Philip Zelikow came to visit. Army brass wanted anyone who had information relevant to 9/11 to step forward, and Shaffer compiled his talking points, which he showed GSN but would not allow them to publish. He specifically recalls telling Zelikow about Atta:
SHAFFER: Same thing [in Afghanistan.] It took time to go through these points. The bottomline was, and the way I phrased it was, We found two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, to include Atta. Thats the way I phrased it to them. I dont know if they didnt recognize the Atta part, but I did specifically mention two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, and at the end of that I threw in Atta. Because my focus, honestly, was that we found two of the three cells. That was to me the most important factor, rather than focusing on Atta, as an individual. And that was what I told them. ...
As I recall, at the end of the meeting, there was silence. People were just silent at what Id said.
Now, I dont know how to interpret that, but I do know that two things came out of that meeting, some of which are admitted by the 9/11 Commission now.
First, Zelikow approached me at the end of the meeting and said, This is important. We need to continue this dialogue when we get back to the states. Heres my card.
Now a senior executive handing an [Army] major his card, I would consider that a fairly big indication that Hey, theres something to this.
Second thing, by the 9/11 Commissions own statement of 12 August, it talks about Dr. Zelikow calling back [to the U.S.] immediately. My understanding from talking to another member of the press is that [Zelikows] call came into America at four o clock in the morning. He got people out of bed over this.
So, I dont know what they heard. I can only tell you that I was told by Zelikow to re-contact him and we have their own statement here. So, it seems to me that what theyre saying about [Able Danger] not being important is contradicted by the fact that he did tell me to contact him.
After this, strange events start to transpire. Shaffer completes his tour of duty and takes his 30-day leave. By the time he calls Zelikow in January, Zelikow no longer wants to see him. During his initial briefing, he offered to give Zelikow all of his collected documentation for Able Danger, as he had become the repository of the information. The last time he recalls seeing the data was February 2004. By the time Zelikow says he got the information in March 2004, Zelikow reported that it comprised two briefcase-sized boxes of documents, far less than what Shaffer had archived. By the next month, the Pentagon had suspended his security clearance over $67 worth of disputed cell-phone charges which Shaffer offered to pay just to get rid of the nuisance. Eventually the Army cleared him, but in the meantime his collected information on Able Danger had apparently disappeared.
Several questions come out of this interview, and the answers may make people from both administrations very uncomfortable:
* Who had access to Shaffer's files, and what happened to them?
* Who initiated the clearance suspension for Shaffer?
* Shaffer identifies Pete Schoomaker as the man who specifically recruited him for Able Danger, and indeed as the leading light of the concept. Schoomaker retired, but returned in 2003 to the Joint Chiefs by the request of Donald Rumsfeld. Why has Schoomaker kept silent?
It would appear from this testimony that Shaffer's revelation in October 2003 set off a chain of events that rather conveniently left little from Able Danger except live witnesses. Seeing as how that revelation went to Philip Zelikow, now serving as Condoleezza Rice's right-hand man at State, one has to presume that Zelikow would know something about how that happened. To whom did he make that late-night phone call, and what happened in two months that made Shaffer go from explosive source to persona non grata?
If Congress is inclined to ask questions, they could start with those.
Posted by Captain Ed, http://www.captainsquartersblog.com/mt/
posted on 09/02/2005 8:58:26 AM PDT
Able Danger - Pentagon Press Briefing
The Pentagon held a press briefing on Able Danger today [transcript], and the Associated Press was there:
Pentagon Finds More Who Recall Atta Intel
By ROBERT BURNS
The Associated Press
Thursday, September 1, 2005; 5:06 PM
WASHINGTON -- Pentagon officials said Thursday they have found three more people who recall an intelligence chart that identified Sept. 11 mastermind Mohamed Atta as a terrorist one year before the attacks on New York and Washington. But they have been unable to find the chart or other evidence that it existed.
All eyes turn to Stephen Hadley, who may have received a copy of the chart from Congressman Weldon immediately after 9/11.
Last month, two military officers, Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and Navy Capt. Scott Philpott, went public with claims that a secret unit code-named Able Danger used data mining _ searching large amounts of data for patterns _ to identify Atta in 2000. Shaffer has said three other Sept. 11 hijackers also were identified.
In recent days Pentagon officials have said they could not yet verify or disprove the assertions by Shaffer and Philpott. On Thursday, four intelligence officials provided the first extensive briefing for reporters on the outcome of their interviews with people associated with Able Danger and their review of documents.
They said they interviewed at least 80 people over a three-week period and found three, besides Philpott and Shaffer, who said they remember seeing a chart that either mentioned Atta by name as an al-Qaida operative or showed his photograph. Four of the five recalled a chart with a pre-9/11 photo of Atta; the other person recalled only a reference to his name.
The intelligence officials said they consider the five people to be credible but their recollections are still unverified.
"To date, we have not identified the chart," said Pat Downs, a senior policy analyst in the office of the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. "We have identified a similar chart but it does not contain the photo of Mohamed Atta or a reference to him or a reference to the other (9/11) hijackers."
She said more interviews would be conducted, but the search of official documents is finished.
A "similar" chart? All eyes turn away from Hadley, and back to the Pentagon - just what was on this "similar" chart, who produced it, where did the Pentagon find it, and did any of the folks who remembered a chart remember this one, too?
And let's review - Shaffer did not remember seeing Atta on the chart prior to 9/11 - after 9/11, someone jogged his memory. Do these other folks think Atta was on the chart before or after 9/11? The obvious answer would be "before", since Able Danger was shut down in early 2001. OTOH, a colleague might have reminded them, post 9/11, about the Atta chart. Eventually, the transcript should appear here, and we will see if this was covered [transcript, and no - a reporter asked, but the response focused on Phillpott's recollection that he saw the chart in Feb 2000. See EXTRACTS].
And where are the documents relating to Able Danger?
Downs and the other officials said they could not rule out that the chart recalled by Shaffer, Philpott and three others had been destroyed in compliance with regulations pertaining to intelligence information about people inside the United States. They also did not rule out that the five simply had faulty recollections.
Navy Cmdr. Christopher Chope, of the Center for Special Operations at U.S. Special Operations Command, said there were "negative indications" that anyone ever ordered the destruction of Able Danger documents, other than the materials that were routinely required to be destroyed under existing regulations.
OK, what does "materials that were routinely required to be destroyed under existing regulations" mean? Is there some record of Able Danger documents having been destroyed routinely? I am having a hard time believing that we can't learn more about the program than this.
Chope said there is no evidence that military lawyers blocked the sharing of Able Danger information with the FBI.
That may conflict with the reports from Sen. Specter, who seems to be confirming that meetings with the FBI were scheduled and cancelled. A possible answer - some non-military lawyers blocked the meeting - I'll nominate OIPR of the DoJ.
And here is a baffling wrinkle - per the Pentagon, Able Danger did not target individuals, and Phillpott was the "team leader":
Chope also said the nature of Able Danger has been misrepresented in some news stories. He said it was created as a result of a directive in early October 1999 by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to U.S. Special Operations Command to develop a campaign plan against transnational terrorism, "specifically al-Qaida."
He called it an internal working group with a core of 10 staffers at Special Operations Command. Philpott was the "team leader," he said. "Able Danger was never a military unit," and it never targeted individual terrorists, he said. It went out of existence when the planning effort was finished in early 2001, he said.
Well, the team leader ought to be able to address this. [Per the transcript, the media was also baffled by the distinction between targetting individuals and targetting "transnational terrorism" - terrorists are people, too! But the explanation was opaque.]
UPDATE: Sgt. Sara Wood of the American Forces Press Service was also at the briefing.
Through interviews, DoD officials did find three people who recall a chart with either a photo or a reference to Atta, Downs said. The three are in addition to Army Reserve Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Navy Capt. Scott Phillpott, a military intelligence officer with U.S. Special Operations Command, who originally came forward with allegations that Atta had been identified before Sept. 11.
One person who recalled the chart was a SOCOM civilian analyst; one was an analyst with the Land Information Warfare Activity; and one was a contractor, said Thomas Gandy, the Armys director of counterintelligence and human intelligence.
And we get this on the background of the group:
Able Danger was started in early October 1999, when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tasked U.S. Special Operations Command to develop a campaign plan against transnational terrorism, specifically al Qaeda, Chope said. It was a 15-month effort in which Special Operations Command worked with different partners, including DoD and the Department of the Army, he said. He stressed that Able Danger was never anything except a planning effort.
Able Danger was never a special-access program, he said. Able Danger was never a military unit. Able Danger was never a targeting effort; it was not a military deception operation. It was merely the name attributed to a 15-month planning effort.
In January 2001, Special Operations Command submitted the final plan to the joint staff, and Able Danger ended, Chope said. The effort never targeted specific individuals, but was used to determine vulnerabilities and linkages among and within al Qaeda, he said.
That is essentially consistent with other information that Able Danger was shut down in Feb 2001, and with Weldon's May 2002 speech saying that Gen. Shelton received a briefing in Jan 2001.
MORE: Follow the link to the AP story at the WaPo, and you will see that the WaPo presents a side box using Technorati to track the bloggers following their story. Very cool.
I have no idea how long or how often this has been going on - I clicked this story at random, but don't see the Technorati box.
EXTRACTS: We have some extracts from the DoD briefing. A version of the "Two Attas" theory is offered, as one briefer suggests that folks may be remembering a different Mohammed. No one asks about the point that Mohammed Atta went by a different name prior to his US visa application in May 2000:
Media: If these people are credible, what could account for this difference in your view?
Down: I don't know. We've seen a chart with different Mohammed's on them. Is it possible that Mohammed Ajaz, Mohammed -- what's the other one.
Down: Arateff, thank you. So we have charts with those names but not Mohammed Attah. Is there confusion there? Again, we don't know. We simply don't know.
Here is the exchange on dating the alleged chart:
Media: On this chart, can you say approximately what the date of the chart is these five people recall? And do all of them recall not only Attah, but the other hijackers?
Down: Maybe Tom can help with the details of the interviews, but I believe Captain Philpot says he saw the chart in January, February 2000. That's the general reference point.
That is not Shaffer's story, but it is consistent with Phillpott's version as described by the 9/11 Commission in their Aug 12 statement (on p. 3).
MORE: The NY Times coverage - they have forgotten what Shaffer never knew, which is to say, they describe Shaffer as knowing about the Atta ID before 9/11.
posted on 09/02/2005 9:16:26 AM PDT
To: OESY; Peach; Fedora; Grampa Dave; STARWISE; justshutupandtakeit; Lancey Howard; Howlin; xzins; ...
"SHAFFER: Same thing [in Afghanistan.] It took time to go through these points. The bottomline was, and the way I phrased it was, We found two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, to include Atta. Thats the way I phrased it to them. I dont know if they didnt recognize the Atta part, but I did specifically mention two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, and at the end of that I threw in Atta. Because my focus, honestly, was that we found two of the three cells. That was to me the most important factor, rather than focusing on Atta, as an individual. And that was what I told them. ... As I recall, at the end of the meeting, there was silence. People were just silent at what Id said."
9/11 O-mission knew, at least Zelikoff.... Did he talk with Gorelicker when he got back from Afghanistan, did she turn the screws on him???
posted on 09/02/2005 9:51:22 AM PDT
Thanks for ping. I am reading the GSN article. Looks like it is the best so far as how different entities fit into the over all scheme. Been wondering what best I can email or show some folks links to that does not confuse due to the large amount of stuff we have been able to gather. This article just might be a great starting point to share with people.
Thanks. No other comment, lots of digestion, burp, required at this point.
posted on 09/02/2005 11:49:41 AM PDT
(Honor must be earned)
posted on 09/02/2005 12:11:16 PM PDT
(Honor must be earned)
Thanks for the ping, Enchante. Now that I found a tank of gas for my car, we're going to be out for most of the weekend. I'll look forward to coming back and reading these articles carefully.
Have a nice weekend, everyone.
posted on 09/03/2005 12:06:42 AM PDT
To: Enchante; An.American.Expatriate
I must have missed something in the GSN interview or maybe I need to reread it. IMHO, Lt. Col. Shaffer appears arrogant at best and at worse an extortionist. Notice how every name and/or meeting has another super duper secret program being discussed?
One thing I did get out of it was the answer to the question "Why is this coming out now?". It appears to me that Shaffer is just your better than average lobbyist. Seems to have more to do with a $50 million dollar appropriation than with information AD found, (other than perhaps his ego being hurt that he didn't get mentioned in the Omission Commission report).
Hope I'm wrong about this, but any hope for meaningful hearings on the Omission Commission just went to nil. Just so I don't put a damper on things, in Business Law classes I always got the ROL and reasoning right, almost always got the verdict wrong.
Thanks Jane for the ping - I'll read this later and see...
BTW - I generally don't flame, even when I totally disagree with someone - I prefer to debate normally ;)
posted on 09/03/2005 3:28:25 AM PDT
(Here's my strategy on the War against Terrorism: We win, they lose. - with apologies to R.R.)
I didn't get the same "arrogance" that you did, nor do I think he is a "lobbyist", although he does want AD's hier to be financed.
Being former US Army CI myself, it is not uncommon to have knowledge of / be involved with more than one project at any one time. Considering that he seems to be very good at what he does, his participation in several "super duper secret program[s]" does not really cause any alarms in my mind.
Furthermore, his experiences with the "powers that be" are common from my experience. Thus, I would tend to believe his claims in the interview.
What worries me though is this:
" Plus, I [Schaffer] offered them access to my full copy of Able Danger documents. I let him know that because I was operating as Able Dangers forward headquarters -- because they were in Tampa or Texas -- to preclude having to bring all this classified information back and forth. I became their repository of both briefing charts, summations and authority documents, so they didnt have to worry about bringing all this classified material on aircraft.
Therefore, I had a full copy of this. I just kept it because I was worried about something like this happening one day. My former deputy was a finance officer. She kept immaculate records of all the legal documents. We had all this. I informed Dr. Zelikow that I had a copy of all this stuff and I offered it to him. I think that was one of the reasons he wanted me to re-contact him; so he could look at it."
" There are some troubling facts that remain. The last time I saw the data Im referring to is also the February 2004 timeframe. Since then, the data regarding the Able Danger set of documents has not been located."
If he had the documents up to February 2004 - what did he do with them / where did they go?? - Are these the ones that were ordered destroyed?? If so - this really WOULD be explosive!
posted on 09/03/2005 6:42:30 AM PDT
(Here's my strategy on the War against Terrorism: We win, they lose. - with apologies to R.R.)
ing for later. Thanks for this post.
posted on 09/03/2005 7:39:17 AM PDT
Let's hope you are right and I am wrong. According to Weldon, there are 15 boxes of documents somewhere, in addition to the two briefcases of info that were given to the Omission Commission. This interview with GSN is surprisingly honest, so it is well worth the read. Still have a bad feeling that the Congressional Hearings will end up at best a wash.
How does he go from this:
New York Times interview: Post 119
"I was at the point of near insubordination over the fact that this was something important, that this was something that should have been pursued," Colonel Shaffer said of his efforts to get the evidence from the intelligence program to the F.B.I. in 2000 and early 2001.
So the information gets blocked, basically because of these legal objections. Whats the reaction from you and your Able Danger colleagues? Here you are working hard to get the information together, which you consider very important, and youre being prevented from sharing it with the FBI by the SOCOM lawyers.
You have to understand two factors were in play at that time. First off, we did not know Al Qaeda to be the threat it is now. There was no drum beat for us to do something immediately.
My second point is that this [objection by the lawyers] is only one of about a dozen operations I was dealing with in any given day, so when SOCOM blew off the meetings I had set up with the FBI, I was perturbed, but it was one of a dozen things I had to deal with in a given day as the overall leader of Stratus Ivy.
So, youre saying the Able Danger guys didnt go ballistic.
No. We were concerned by the fact that this kept getting turned off, but again we had no fire under our butts to do something. This was but one other bureaucratic roadblock that well have to fight. Well get to it. But, Ive got other things right now that Ive got to do
posted on 09/16/2005 11:28:22 AM PDT
(The Katrina disaster area extends miles beyond N.O., but from TV, even FNC, you wouldn't know that!)
It's a crying shame that the gov. is more afraid of admitting a mistake and following up on what Col. Shaffer had to offer. This is consistent with the neocons and the cabal they espouse. This reminds me of when Nixon was giving his speech about how we (military)wasn't in Laos or Cambodia. We asked ourselves (the unit I was with, while on Lao's soil) where are then?
The name changes (Nam-Irag)but the story remains the same, feed them BS and keep them guessing. I really feel that by the time Cong. Weldon gets this thing moving the Bushites will have been long gone. If you want to read a great book about following a time-line on what was an indictment on the FBI, read "1000 years for Revenge" by Peter Lance.
It's along the lines of what Col. Shaffer describes giving information and it not been taken serious by egos greater than you can possibly imagine.
posted on 11/06/2005 2:24:41 PM PST
Care to elaborate?
And what brings you to a thread from September?
posted on 11/06/2005 2:26:28 PM PST
(I'm not suspicious & I hope it's nutritious but I think this sandwich is made of mime.)
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