Aug 14 2005
New Times Article Here (not covered in this post). Keep this DoD statement in mind while going through this post – if you can stay awake long enough to!
said a Pentagon spokeswoman, Air Force Lieut. Col. Ellen Krenke. “Clearly there was information that was developed through this program, but it is unclear what was provided to the 9/11 Commission.”
Original Post Starts
Since the historic posts have become too cumbersome, and there have been some new information, I decided to re-align the timeline that focuses in the summer of 2000. Able Danger has done one thing for me, it has rekindled my curiousity about Sandy Bergler’s accidental theft and destruction of documents from that time. So I wanted to get more detail from the 9-11 report as well. Sorry for the length, but it is better to pull out the pertinent text than try and wade through the documents.
In the beginning, there was Bin Laden and AQ, and here is a synopsis of how the CIA saw the threat emerge by Deputy Executive Director and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence, Christopher Kojm:
In 1996, as an organizational experiment, undertaken with seed money, the Counterterrorism Center at the CIA created a special issues station devoted exclusively to bin Ladin
The CIA believed that bin Ladin’s move to Afghanistan in May 1996 might be a fortunate development.
The CIA definitely had a lucky break when a former associate of bin Ladin walked into a U.S. Embassy abroad and provided an abundance of information about the organization.
By early 1997, the UBL station knew that bin Ladin was not just a financier but an organize of terrorist activity.
We will stop here, because this is the stage Bin Laden is sufficiently noteworthy that all other mentions of connections to him should raise flags.
Bombings in Africa drive the administration to focus on Bin Laden. From Sandy Bergler’s testimony
After the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, the first time we had established bin Ladin’s role in attacks against Americans, getting bin Ladin and stopping al Qaeda became a top priority. As has been reported, the President gave the CIA broad, lethal and unprecedented authorities regarding bin Ladin and his lieutenants.
Sandy lets us know here that this was the point in time where they thought Bin Laden first attacked us. Over the next few years they realize his attacks went further back to 1993.
Also in this time frame, Richard Clarke’s position is expanded and made a partner to Berger’s NSC position
In 1998, President Clinton signed a presidential directive that created a new title for the chairman of that group [The Counterterrorism Security Group]. The chairman had always been a special assistant to the President. That was the title.
Under the new directive in 1998, the title became national coordinator for counterterrorism.
Fall 1999 – Feb/Mar 2000
Things really kick off with the millenium and the uncovering of a major plot to bomb LAX just prior to the year 2000. Again, from the Bergler testimony we see they had a wave of attacks coming at them, and that they successfully knocked them down:
In late ’99, as we approached the Millennium celebrations, the CIA warned us of five to 15 plots against American targets. This was the most serious threat spike during our time in office. I convened national security principals at the White House virtually every day for a month. During this Millennium period, plots were uncovered in Amman against the Radisson Hotel and religious sites, and against the Los Angeles airport. Terror cells were broken up in Toronto, Boston, New York and elsewhere.
These near misses caused the Clinton Administration to go into high gear because they new it was not their policies alone that thwarted the terrorist but some well placed luck. From the 9-11 commission staff report we have:
In a January 2000 note to Berger, Clarke reported that the CSG drew two main conclusions from the Millennium crisis. First, it had concluded that U.S.-led disruption efforts â€œhave not put too much of a dentâ€ into Bin Ladinâ€™s network abroad. Second, it feared that â€œsleeper cellsâ€ or other links to foreign terrorist groups had taken root in the United States. Berger then led a formal Millennium after-action review next steps, culminating in a meeting of the full Principals Committee on March 10. The principals endorsed a four-part agenda to strengthen the U.S. governmentâ€™s counterterrorism
Increase disruption efforts. This would require more resources for CIA operations, to assist friendly governments, and build a stronger capacity for direct action; Strengthen enforcement of laws restricting the activity of foreign terrorist organizations in the United States; Prevent foreign terrorists from entering the United States by strengthening immigration laws and the capacity of the Immigration and Naturalization Service; and Improve the security of the U.S.-Canadian border.
Some particular program ideas, like expanding the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the United States, were adopted. Others, like a centralized translation unit for domestic intercepts, were not.
More details on the timeline from Bergler’s 9-11 testimony:
MR. BERGER: Let me put it in context — first of all, I requested the after-action report. It was presented to me in February. We had a principals meeting on it on March 10th.
What this tells us is the Clinton National Security infrastructure is on high alert and watching everything they can – at least that is what they say.
Now we have the odd situation, during this critical time period in the spring of 2000, where supposedly the Gorelick ‘Wall’ stopped Able Danger from passing leads to the FBI. Let’s see Bergler’s recollections on the time period before and after the millenium:
.. .and I do believe it was important to bring the principals together on a frequent basis for a number of reasons. Things happen when the number one person is in the room. So Director Tenet would say I’ve got a lead on so and so, and the attorney general would turn around to a person sitting behind her and say, “Can we get a FISA on this person?” And she’d say “the answer is yes, Attorney General.” We got more FISAs in a shorter period of time than ever before in history.
So it seems unlikely, or unusual to say the least, for FISA to get in the way.
Feb/Mar 2000 – Fall 2000
We know Able Danger was created in 1999, but more importantly from the latest reporting in the Washington Post covering on the 9-11 commission’s CYA statement, we learn when Atta and Al-Shehhi were first sited:
According to the commission, the officer said he briefly saw the name and photo of Atta on an â€œanalyst notebook chart.â€ The material identified Atta as part of a Brooklyn al Qaeda cell and was dated from February through April 2000, the officer said.
So the report was created sometime around the period after April 2000 covering the time of February to April 2000 and was presented at least once in the summer of 2000 for referal to the FBI. The NYTimes story also provides a hint to when Atta came into the country according to Able Danger:
The former intelligence official said the first Able Danger report identified all four men as members of a “Brooklyn” cell, and was produced within two months after Mr. Atta arrived in the United States.
My guess is Atta comes into the US in February 2000 – based on the title of the report, which was probably produced in April, and from the the statement above.
New to the timeline is the idea put forward by Ed Morrissey (here and here) that Atta could have traveled to Prague in April to meet Iraq intelligence. A meeting required to help get the 9-11 muscle in country. A meeting in Prague due to concurrent arrests in Germany of Iraq intelligence agents – too close to Atta’s normal home base of Hamburg)
Instead, let’s take a look at the effect this would have had on Atta and his ability to get the logistical support he needed from his cell in Germany, now apparently compromised. After all, Mohammed Atta still had to get sixteen terrorists safely into the US using the Hamburg cell as his line of communication to the AQ network at the time of the purported trip to Prague.
Until Atta could make a new connection to AQ in Europe, he could not travel or communicate back to Germany. To do so would be an unpalatable risk to his cover. Instead, Atta would need to go somewhere that could give him new logistical support and rebuild his lines of communication.
From a reader we find the dates of the Iraqi arrests also overlap with the Able Danger report
The Germans arrested the Iraqi intelligence agents on February 25th and 27th
The supposed Atta meeting with the Iraqis in Prague is April 9, 200o.
OK, so right at the time Bergler and Clarke are holding their major reviews to step up action against AQ, especially in country, the Able Danger report comes out with at least 60 potential targets, possibly with the names of 4 9-11 terrorists included.
Let’s jump back to the original NYTimes story to recall what we believe happened to the Able Danger report:
In the summer of 2000, the military team, known as Able Danger, prepared a chart that included visa photographs of the four men and recommended to the military’s Special Operations Command that the information be shared with the Federal Bureau of Investigation…
So here we are, in the summer of 2000 where Bin Laden and AQ are the top subject of the entire intel community just coming off some close calls from the millenium celebration. And this is what one source (maybe the same source from the NYTimes report) from another news report has to say about the Able Danger referal:
The intelligence officer recalled carrying documents to the offices of Able Danger, which was being run by the Special Operations Command, headquartered in Tampa, FL. The documents included a photo of Mohammed Atta supplied by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and described Attaâ€™s relationship with Osama bin Laden. The officer was very disappointed when lawyers working for Special Ops decided that anyone holding a green card had to be granted essentially the same legal protections as any U.S. citizen. Thus, the information Able Danger had amassed about the only terrorist cell they had located inside the United States could not be shared with the FBI, the lawyers concluded.
Again, let’s see what Bergler recalls from this period in time about the internal AQ threat – because there is an interesting bit of information regarding Brooklyn in his 9-11 testimony. Ben-Veniste is questioning Bergler on AQ in the US
… Now with respect to sleeper cells in the United States, did you have at the time you left government, during the transition, have any reason to believe that al Qaeda’s efforts to position sleepers/operatives in the United States had terminated?
MR. BERGER: No. We knew from the Millennium experience that there were al Qaeda operatives, people linked to al Qaeda that we busted up in Brooklyn, in Boston, and I believe two or three other places. The FBI had generally taken the position that there was not a significant al Qaeda presence in the United States. And that was the position that they took quite honestly, Mr. Commissioner, through the end of 2000 and when we left, that there was not a substantial presence and what presence was here was a sense — we have it covered. But I certainly cannot say —
How close were these people to the brooklyn cell of Atta? Was it FBI arrogance which caused the Able Danger report to be dismissed? Did everyone think Able Danger was wrong and the FBI had rolled up the Brooklyn cell?
Now Richard Clarke’s recollections of the time, from his 9-11 commission testimony:
MR. ROEMER: Let me ask you, with my yellow light on, a question about the summer 2000 alert. You were saying, the CIA was saying, everybody was saying, “Something spectacular is about to happen” — spiking in intelligence; something terrible was about to happen.
You told us in some of our interviews you only wish you would have known at that time, in that summer, what the FBI knew with regard to Moussaoui, the Phoenix memo and terrorists in the United States.
I would like to think that had I been informed by the FBI that two senior al Qaeda operatives who had been in a planning meeting earlier in Kuala Lumpur were now in the United States, and we knew that, and we knew their names — and I think we even had their pictures — I would like to think that I would have released or had the FBI release a press release with their names, with their descriptions, held a press conference, tried to get their names and pictures on the front page of every paper — America’s Most Wanted, the evening news — and caused a successful nationwide manhunt for those two, two of the 19 hijackers.
Again, this points to a clear indication that something akin to the Able Danger report should have lit up the alarm fires. But it is interesting to recall the Phoenix memo also slippd by the FBI’s radar screens at this time. Here is an interesting exchange with Ben-Veniste:
MR. BEN-VENISTE: Did you know that the two individuals who had been identified as al Qaeda [one was Moussaoui]had entered the United States and were presently thought to be in the country?
MR. CLARKE: I was not informed of that. Nor were senior levels of the FBI.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: Had you known that these individuals were in the country, what steps — with the benefit of hindsight, but informed hindsight, would you have taken, given the level of threat?
MR. CLARKE: To put the answer in a context, I had been saying to the FBI and to the other federal law enforcement agencies, and to the CIA, that because of this intelligence that something was about to happen that they should lower their threshold of reporting — that they should tell us anything that looked the slightest bit unusual.
In retrospect, having said that over and over again to them, for them to have had this information somewhere in the FBI and not told me I still find absolutely incomprehensible.
More statements by those who were responsible that there should not have been any barriers to a report like Able Danger’s.
Side Note: While writing this Richard Cohen, DoD Secretary, commented on Late Edition about Able Danger. He stated their were many special ops efforts initiated in this time period – Able Danger could be one of them, he just not recall it specifically. He also noted a prime candidate reason for not passsing information to the FBI would be posse comitatus. How’s that for some real time blogging!
Another note: we do find the precise location of the Able Danger unit in the NYTimes story. It is here in Northern Virginia, for those who may know something about that time period and location:
The unit, which relied heavily on data-mining techniques, was modeled after those first established by Army intelligence at the Land Information Warfare Assessment Center, now known as the Information Dominance Center, at Fort Belvoir, Va.
Evidence for Skeptics
All of this could also support the Skeptics Corner’s position that the entire story doesn’t wash. I am beginning to doubt SOCOM lawyers would feel restricted by FISA given all the high priority on AQ and the fact FISA was being dealt with quite efficiently at this point in time.
Also for the skeptics I note this in the NYTimes story – the chart being shown around now is not the original
During the interview in Mr. Weldon’s office, the former defense intelligence official showed a floor-sized chart depicting Al Qaeda networks around the world that he said was a larger, more detailed version similar to the one prepared by the Able Danger team in the summer of 2000.
So that calls a lot into question. And there is more reason to be skeptical
Weldon spoke with Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, about conversations he has had with several members of the Able Danger intelligence unit. Weldon has urged Hoekstra to investigate the reasons why Able Dangerâ€™s revelations were not shared with the FBI. Hoekstra looked into the matter at the Pentagon, but after several days of fruitless inquiries, was unable to find anyone at the Defense Department who seemed to know anything about Able Danger or would acknowledge the intelligence unit had ever existed, explained Caso in a telephone interview with GSN.
The Bergler Connection
And now is a good time to bring into the timeline the Berger buglary and destruction of Clarke documentation – a topic that still interests me:
The document, written by former National Security Council terrorism expert Richard A. Clarke, was an “after-action review” prepared in early 2000 detailing the administration’s actions to thwart terrorist attacks during the millennium celebration. It contained considerable discussion about the administration’s awareness of the rising threat of attacks on U.S. soil.
Officials have said the five versions were largely similar, but contained slight variations as the after-action report moved around different agencies of the executive branch.
And most important was Berlger’s plead details
The terms of Berger’s agreement required him to acknowledge to the Justice Department the circumstances of the episode. Rather than misplacing or unintentionally throwing away three of the five copies he took from the archives, as the former national security adviser earlier maintained, he shredded them with a pair of scissors late one evening at the downtown offices of his international consulting business.
Here is some more details on the documents themselves
The documents Berger took â€” each copy of the millennium report is said to be in the range of 15 to 30 pages â€” were highly secret. They were classified at what is known as the “code word” level, which is the government’s highest tier of secrecy.
In May, a government official told National Review Online that the report contains a “scathing indictment of the last administration’s actions.” The source said the report portrayed the Clinton administration’s actions as “exactly how things shouldn’t be run.”
And this interesting insight into the documents from AG Ashcroft in a CBS News report:
In his April 13 testimony to the Sept. 11 commission, Attorney General John Ashcroft said the review “warns the prior administration of a substantial al Qaeda network” in the United States. Ashcroft said it also recommends such things as using tougher visa and border controls and prosecutions of immigration violations and minor criminal charges to disrupt terror cells.
The fact the purloined and destroyed files captured the evolving positions of this critical time period is very disturbing. This is more than coincidental in my mind, since Berger and Clarke were responsible for all successes and failures at this time in 2000, and the biggest failure would be having Atta and Al-Shehhi identified and located – and then losing them to kill 3,000 people. While the skeptics may be right, the fact this could be a revelation that was attempted to be covered up in multiple ways warrants a serious and detailed investigation.
The calls in the blogosphere are for Weldon to get his information out and make clear this report did cover 4 9-11 terrorists. It is rumored he has more than one witness to testify. If so, the 9-11 commission may not have heard from everyone. What is clear is the conditions in the intel community at this time make it hard to believe word of an AQ cell in the US would be dismissed. Even if Atta’s name was not in the list, does it seem likely?
Steyn has a lot of good points
There was “no way” that Atta could have been in the United States except when the official INS record says he was? No INS paper trail, “no way” he could have got in?
Here’s one way just for a start. Forget the southern border, insofar as there is such a thing. Fact: On America’s northern border, no record is kept of individual visitors to the United States. All that happens is that a photo scanner snaps your rear license plate. The scanner is said to be state-of-the-art, which is to say, as one Customs & Border official told me, it’s “officially” 75 percent accurate. On the one occasion my own license plate was queried, it turned out the scanner had misread it. So, just for a start, without any particular difficulty, a friend of Mohammed Atta could have rented a car for him in Montreal and driven him down to New York — and there would be never be any record to connect him to the vehicle anywhere in the United States or Canada.
Would al-Qaida types have such contacts in Montreal? Absolutely. The city’s a hotbed of Islamist cells and sympathizers.
Fact: The only Islamist terrorist attack prevented by the U.S. government in the period before 9/11 was the attempt to blow up LAX by Ahmed Ressam, a Montrealer caught on the Washington/British Columbia frontier by an alert official who happened to notice he seemed to be a little sweaty. A different guard, a cooler Islamist, and it might just have been yet another routine unrecorded border crossing.
So, when the 9/11 Commission starts saying that there’s “no way” something can happen when it happens every single day of the week, you start to wonder what exactly is the point of an official investigation so locked in to pre-set conclusions.
For example, they seemed oddly determined to fix June 3, 2000, as the official date of Atta’s first landing on American soil — even though there were several alleged sightings of him before that date, including a bizarre story that he’d trained at Maxwell/Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. Atta was a very mobile guy in the years before 9/11, shuttling between Germany, Spain, Afghanistan, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, the Philippines with effortless ease. I’ve no hard evidence of where he was in, say, April 2000. The period between late 1999 and May 2000 is, in many ways, a big blur. He might have been in Germany, he might have been in Florida, attempting to get a U.S. Farm Service Agency loan for the world’s biggest cropduster, as reported by USDA official Johnell Bryant
Well end this with a comment from Mark Steyn:
Sept. 11 happened, in part, because the various federal bureaucracies involved were unable to process information that didn’t “mesh” with conventional wisdom. Now we find that the official commission intended to identify those problems and ensure they don’t recur is, in fact, guilty of the very same fatal flaw. The new information didn’t “mesh” with the old information, so they disregarded it.
History repeats itself, or did it?
If you cannot tell I am swinging like a pendulum from skeptic to supporter you are not seeing things. Today Ed Morrissey and Geraghty and Podhoretz fall into the skeptic”s circle. And so I go over to the MinuteMan’s site to be more convinces to go skeptic – and of course I find information that puts me squarely back on the wacth-and-see fence! From the detailed, 9-11 commission response on the first briefing on Able Danger:
The other, sent on November 25, treated ABLE DANGER as a possible intelligence program and asked for all documents and files associated with â€œDIAâ€™s program â€˜ABLE DANGERâ€™â€ from the beginning of 1998 through September 20, 2001. In February 2004, DOD provided documents responding to these requests. Some were turned over to the Commission and remain in Commission files. Others were available for staff review in a DOD reading room. Commission staff reviewed the documents. Four former staff members have again, this week, reviewed those documents turned over to the Commission, which are held in the Commissionâ€™s archived files. Staff who reviewed the documents held in the DOD reading room made notes summarizing each of them. Those notes are also in the Commission archives and have also been reviewed this week.
Summary: there was an Able Danger group in the Defense Intelligence Agency apparantly out of Fort Belvoir VA (that all makes 100% sense). Much of the documentation reveiwed by the 9-11 commission stayed in the DoD libraries and the commission only reviewed their notes from the time they reviewed the documents. This means they could have missed something and have no way of knowing they did. They need to review the DoD original documents.
More importantly, if you wanted to knock down Weldon’s story completely you would also challenge the claim a report was generated in April 2000 covering activities from Feb-Apr 2000 – the commission did not do that. You would challenge that SOCOM lawyers were asked to allow an alert on a probable AQ cell in the US to the FBI – the commission did not deny this. You would knock down the claim the SOCOM lawyers denied the request to alert the FBI and told Able Danger to stop monitoring the people they identified in the US – the commission did not deny this.
Since the only thing the commission is denying is they heard the name Atta it seems this denial is incredibly focused down to a marginal issue.
Did Able Danger have a report on a cell in 2000 in the US? Did they make a request to pass this information to the FBI? Was their request rebuffed?
I did not hear anything about these basic questions. Sorry skeptics – I have decided to stay out on my limb a bit longer.
Lot’s people walking into the Skeptic’s Corner with a Weldon Waffle posted on Michelle Malkin’s site here. Now he claims he is not sure Atta’s name was in the report.
I think I will stay out here on the fence a few more days. I want to see statements from Able Danger people, now we know it existed. Did the request to alert the FBI on a cell in brookyln and were they rebuffed. One that we see above was taken out (according to Bergler’s testimony).