Aug 11 2005
The web is afire today on this critical topic. The latest news is the 9-11 commission waffling about when and what they knew. Important topic, but not as important as to why Atta and his co-ring leader and fellow pilot, Marwan Al-Shehhi, were not only “let go”, but allowed to totally drop from site. What logical explanation is there when Richard Clarke claims finding AQ cells in the US was the top priority at this time and then this is how finding a cell was handled? Not buying it.
The Sept. 11 commission was warned by a uniformed military officer 10 days before issuing its final report that the account would be incomplete without reference to what he described as a secret military operation that by the summer of 2000 had identified as a potential threat the member of Al Qaeda who would lead the attacks more than a year later, commission officials said on Wednesday.
The officials said that the information had not been included in the report because aspects of the officerâ€™s account had sounded inconsistent with what the commission knew about that Qaeda member, Mohamed Atta, the plotâ€™s leader.
But aides to the Republican congressman who has sought to call attention to the military unit that conducted the secret operation said such a conclusion relied too much on specific dates involving Mr. Attaâ€™s travels and not nearly enough on the operationâ€™s broader determination that he was a threat.
The briefing by the military officer is the second known instance in which people on the commissionâ€™s staff were told by members of the military team about the secret program, called Able Danger.
The meeting, on July 12, 2004, has not been previously disclosed. That it occurred, and that the officer identified Mr. Atta there, were acknowledged by officials of the commission after the congressman, Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, provided information about it
I do contract work for the government and many times have I had to go into meetings, boards of reviews, commissions, with these people and try and to explain they have missed something or gone down the wrong path It is not easy and never pleasant. It is simple human nature to not want to hear y0u are wrong or in error, and so is not limited to govies. But it can be accentuated in these people because they weild so much decision power, and they really cannot afford to be seen as wrong.
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 ‘operational’ – a conceptual state a system must attain through process and paperwork, not simply capability to produce results.
So this lowly officer (and yes, unless he/she was a general they would be considered low on the totum poll by the 9-11 commission standards -probably a captain) would simply be making their last statement of the record during the last review for inputs. This would not have been the first time they tried to bring this information to the commission. It may only be the second, having been shot down the first time as irrelevant. But it is safe to assume this was at least the second time it was mentioned.
I had something very similar happen to me when I worked on the original Space Station Freedom. We were discussing in broad, agency wide, meetings how to shrink it back into its budget. One idea was to pack the SW into a single image, which would cause any fixes to require a complete computer load (imagine loading all yourPC SW to update one program). I was trying to explain why this was not a good idea when the chairman, ten minutes in, said that was enough. They had experts who were more senior and they needed to move on. Three months later I was in the same position as this officer, attending the final meeting to review the results (the government uses basically the same processes throughout). I did as this officer did, I made one last stab at why this was wrong – I noted they could never get the SW loaded up the communications link they had shrunk to minimal bandwidth.
In my case it was thunderous impact. The meetings were halted immediately. There were tiger teams and more meetings and just plain havoc for weeks as the realized they needed to simple forget their idea. It was the right response – they had missed something important and had to regroup.
The 9-11 commission wasn’t so alert. They should have known Able Danger had identified two ring leaders who were also pilots from 9-11, Mohammed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi. There is no excuse for letting buerocratic processes run over the uncovering and using of important information. None.
What would have happened in our GWOT if data mining was being exploited over the last few years? Would the London bombings been stopped? This lapse is unexcusable.
Data mining is an inexact science at best. The reason it is controversial is that it is a comprehensive investigation of all of us based on open, public records. We do not allow investigations into our private records without probable cause. And there is the rub between private records and public information and what should be allowed.
But worse yet is that data mining will create false positives (innocent people tagged) and false negatives (bad people cleared), and that is another serious problem. A problem now made worse since the terrorists are taking more care to blend into our society.
Able Danger was probably lucky because Atta and his gang were very clumsy and nearly caught many times. They were easy to mine out of the static of information. But AQ adjusts as we adjust, and the utility of data mining is going to dissipate – all pro-active measures relent to new counter measures. So we had our golden shot with this methodology and we blew it.
I doubt anyone who mistakenly decided to ignore Atta feels good about this. But that does not give them the excuse to cover up their actions and hide this information. And it doesn’t give the 9-11 commission any alibi for dismissing it out of hand – which I no doubt believe is what happened. Enough excuses and enough worrying about which party’s image is going to get hurt. Get to the bottom of this and let the chip’s fall where they may.
In this I throw my support behind the comments and Sundries Shack, it is time for Congressional hearings and a parade of people under oath.