Dec 07 2005
Able Danger got a huge boost today when General Hugh Shelton confirmed he established the program:
Gen. Hugh Shelton, who was the military’s top commander during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, confirmed that four years before the tragedy he authorized a secret computer data-mining initiative to track down Osama bin Laden and operatives in the fugitive terrorist’s al-Qaida network.
Unfortunately the rest of the story requires registration at the site (which is free). In the story Weldon confirms he had two breifings on the matter, both before 9-11. Shelton does confirm my initial view of Able Danger, which I stated back on August 11 to be:
So I can envision this upstart, prototype data mining methodology being given the evil eye by the old guard. Why do you think the FBI and FAA computer systems belong in museums representing 1990 technology? Able Danger was a demonstration effort to show the power of data mining, therefore it was not supposed to actually be â€˜operationalâ€™ – a conceptual state a system must attain through process and paperwork, not simply capability to produce results.
Here are Shelton’s recollection on Able Danger:
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,” Shelton said Tuesday in an interview.
“It was just kind of an experiment,” Shelton said. “What can we do? So, he pulled together a bunch of really bright, computer-literate guys from across the services.”
Which is partially why it might have been dismissed. But since August I am now of the opinion the CIA pushed back because it was in Germany trying to turn people next to Atta and Co. and wanted the mole.
Much of the rest is simply confirmation of what is known in the blogosphere, with some detail added:
But under his direction, Shelton said, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, now Army chief of staff, set up a team of five to seven intelligence officers after Shelton was promoted to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1997 and Schoomaker succeeded him as Special Operations commander.
Shelton says he doesn’t recall hearing Atta’s name, which is obvious since it then name would have been Mohamed el-Amir, not Mohamed Atta. Shelton doesn’t recall the charts eithert, but himself admits this doesn’t mean anything:
“Unless they had a big star by their names saying â€˜potential 9/11 guy,’ then they (the names) wouldn’t jump out at you,” Shelton said.
Well, at least it was not a mirage as many on the commission initially claimed. In fact, all the Able Danger details have withstood the test of time.
Ed Morrissey caught something I missed in my late night, bleary-eyed reading of the article. From the article:
Shelton, though, said that a CIA representative and an FBI representative were present at the second briefing. And he said, “I know for a fact that I was told that they had been a part of the effort” to track al-Qaida through computer data-mining.
To which the good Captain adds:
That puts a much different light on the status of the program. Up to now, we’ve heard that the FBI knew nothing of AD and its efforts. Now we have the FBI attending high-level briefings on its progress. No one before this, to my knowledge, has shown any operational awareness of the program on the FBI’s part prior to the 9/11 attacks. Doesn’t that beg the question of why the FBI never followed up on AD and any information it might supply?
Very good points. Of course, that depends on when these meetings happened. My recollection (and I will check on this later) is Shelton’s second briefing was in Jan-March 2001 – after the purge of data in the spring of 2000 and the rebuff of a SOCOM-FBI meeting in late summer of 2000. Very curious indeed.
Seems the 9-11 commission members were all over the networks yesterday, and many were incredulous about Able Danger. The Able Danger Blog has the transcripts of all the events, but what is surprising is Ben-Veniste’s emotional tirade:
BEN-VENISTE: No. Able Danger is a distraction but ought to be investigated. We ought to have hearings on it. The American public ought to see what Able Danger was about, what it discovered, what it didnâ€˜t discover, why it was shut down and what we ought to be looking at is what the Pentagon is doing in terms of the intrusiveness of its data mining programs: Son of Able Danger, Grandson of Able Danger, the Total Information Awareness Project.
The guy sounds absolutely frightened that Able Danger will get traction! He is so scared he is playing the chicken-little diversion ploy common in DC: “ignore the scandal, look over here at the end of freedom as we know it”.
If there ever was a tell that the democrats fear Able Danger, that was one unambiguous signal from Ben-Veniste. The man is so worried he has gone to ‘the government is spying on you’ conspiracy theory to try and lead the news media away from the real story. Fascinating.