WP: The True Story of Able Danger

Ever since Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) claimed in August that Pentagon analysts had identified 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta in early 2000, a secret intelligence operation code named Able Danger has become the latest fantasy of left and right wing conspiracy theorists.

The matter was to have come to a head last week when the Senate Judiciary Committee held a special Able Danger hearing. But the Pentagon declined to allow even unclassified testimony at the open hearing, arguing that the matter better rested with the Intelligence Committee.

Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) accused the Pentagon of “stonewalling,” and all of a sudden, Weldon seemed vilified in his claims that the Defense Department, and the 9/11 Commission, had something to hide.

The Pentagon is hiding something. But it’s not what Weldon thinks.

First, to debunk the myths:

As best as I can determine, having spent tens of hours talking to military sources involved with the issue, intelligence analysts did not identify anyone prior to 9/11, Mohammed Atta included, as a suspect in any upcoming terrorist attack.

It is not even clear that a “Mohammed Atta” was identified, let alone that it is the same Atta who died on 9/11.

No military lawyers prevented intelligence sleuths from passing useful information to the FBI.

Able Danger itself was not an intelligence program.

As a representative of U.S. Special Operations Command said at a special Pentagon briefing arranged on September 1, Able Danger “was merely the name attributed to a 15-month planning effort” to begin building a war on terrorism. This is the real story.

Inside the intelligence community, at LIWA and other organizations, data mining and link analysis was being conducted on elite and so-called “crony” networks in Bosnia (and later in Serbia during Kosovo operations), on international drug cartels, on corruption and contract killings in Russia, on weapons proliferation and sensitive trade with China, and on terrorist linkages in the Far East.

In December 1999, LIWA was approached by SOCOM to support Able Danger by conducting data mining and link analysis of the al Qaeda network. The project was initially focused on unclassified data mining using U.S. and foreign news databases, commercially available records of financial transactions, court records, licenses, travel records and phone books. The goal was to find links between potential or known terrorists. Analysts used “spiders” – automated robots – to go out on the Internet and collect whatever they could. “Anything we could get our hands on,” says Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, the Army reserve whistle blower who was assigned to the LIWA effort.

Using the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and associated lists of suspect individuals as a starting point, LIWA began to compile databases of “associated” individuals, and then they began to “data mine” their mountains of collected records to find links between them. What they ended up with—and what is still being hidden today—is the questionable (read: potentially illegal) collection and acquisition of information on American citizens before and after 9/11.


Another great post on The Post’s Early Warning blog which covers intelligence and homeland security issues.