Friday, September 23, 2005

Able Danger - The Continuing Story

There's a fascinating series of posts spread around the blogosphere speculating on the reason for the current standstill in the Able Danger story - the story of the Pentagon program that correctly identified Mohammed Atta and three of his hijacking cronies who perished on September 11th as connected to Al Qaeda in the year 2000.

Last week, on Wednesday morning, Senate hearings, scheduled to be held before the Judiciary Committee, were supposed to shine a long awaited light on the nuts and bolts of this program, with several of the program's members speaking about what and who they had identified for the first time publicly using data mining sources. And why, after collecting 2.5 terabytes of data, they were forced, on pain of arrest, to destroy the majority of it.

Only at the last minute, as Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer revealed, the green light for the hearings changed to a red one, as the Department of Defense ordered the men not to testify.

And the question became, why had Rummy suddenly changed his mind so drastically? Why, at the very moment when Able Danger had been revealed to be a real program that got near miraculous results, had he decided that the public had no right to know about it and put a cabash on the hearings?

However, at that point, last Wednesday morning, Macsmind received a tip-off that the reason the Senate hearings on Able Danger were stalled was not because Rumsfeld ordered them stalled, but because Cheney had.
I watched closely, because at 8am, my cell was buzzing, a call from a friend. I had asked him to get some clarification on Shaffer's story that Rummy told 'em not to testify. The word I got from him was that contrary to popular knowledge, Rummy didn't pull the plug on the witnesses, it came from "Cobweb", which is just a little - OK, a lot higher up the chain.
Cobweb is Cheney, as I learned at that point.

And so the shell of the hearings went on, with none of the principals that the public wanted to hear from allowed to speak. And a great big question mark hanging over the story.

Then, on Friday, the story reversed itself again. New hearings are to be held, this time on October 5th. This hearing " will focus on what happened with pre-attack charts and information allegedly destroyed at the behest of military leaders."

And then, later that day, a contradictory report came out from the Pentagon that it may not have changed its position at all on the five crucial witnesses testifying publicly.
On Friday, the Senate committee announced the Pentagon had reversed its position and would allow the five witnesses to testify at a new public hearing scheduled for October 5. Among them, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, Navy Capt. Scott Phillpott and defense contractor John Smith.

The Pentagon denied anything had changed, despite behind-the-scenes negotiations to reach a solution agreeable to both sides.

"Our position has not changed," Defense spokesman Bryan Whitman told Reuters. "This is a classified program and there are still aspects of it that are not appropriate for an open hearing. And that's what we have told the committee."

Not so, responded William Reynolds, the judiciary committee's director of communications.

"The Pentagon has agreed to make five witnesses available. Although there was no talk at the time when they made that offer, the assumption was that it would be in an open committee hearing," Reynolds said in an interview.

"If the Pentagon has issues with that, they need to let us know," he added.
Now this to-ing and fro-ing, right before the public eye, is showing off the enormous divide between factions that exist in the Pentagon, and just how unwieldly this Department is.

Now Macsmind is offering a new update to this story to explain the recent, embarrassing, public back and forth as to whether these hearings will be held. And it all comes down to moolah. Curt Weldon wants funding for restart a data mining intelligence program. And now it appears he has received more funding. "Word is - and it's light at this point, that Weldon is going to get a bit of "plussed up funding" for his trouble." More funding to replicate this program, which would be called Able Providence, was one of the reasons that Representative Weldon began to open the inquiry into Able Danger in the first place. And if he has received the money, he'll likely cease to be a public gadfly on the issue.

Last week was an interesting period for this political shuffle. The week started off with President Clinton speaking against the Iraq war for the first time on Meet the Press. And then by the end of the week, President Bush countered by speaking against President Clinton's lack of retaliation against continuing Al Qaeda attacks.

This scenario plays with a suggestion from A.J. Strata, that one of the reasons the Clintonian's might have been so keen to destroy the results of Able Danger is that 1999-2000 was the period when Chinagate seemed likely to blow up into a great big scandal, further weakening the Clinton administration after Impeachment. And there were many people charging that the great weakness Clinton showed in facing up against the incursion of Chinese spying in the US came about because his Administration had been bought off with cash donations.
It is now generally conceded that the People's Republic of China (which I hereafter call Red China, because I'm an old fogey who doesn't like changing terms of long usage and perfect clarity) established a spy network of stunning breadth during the Clinton administration, primarily focusing on obtaining our most up-to-date nuclear technology and strategy. Of more controversy is why: the Right asserts, and the Left hotly denies that Clinton himself turned a blind eye to Chinese espionage because of the very large campaign contributions funneled into the Clinton war chest by the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) and various intelligence agencies of Red China; the last estimate I saw indicated that the PLA eventually donated as much as $4 million to Clinton's campaign and library funds and to the Democratic National Committee, channeled through various cutouts, including Maria Hsia, Johnny Chung, John Huang, and Charlie Trie.
Able Danger was investigating Chinese connections as well as Al Qaeda. And, as Strata reminds us, it appears to have been the Chinese data coming to light that killed the program.
The Pentagon canceled its contract with the private firm shortly after the analysts — who were working on identifying al Qaeda operatives — produced a particularly controversial chart on proliferation of sensitive technology to China, the sources said.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, the veteran Army officer who was the Defense Intelligence Agency liaison to Able Danger, told The Post China "had something to do" with the decision to restructure Able Danger.

Sources said the private contractors, using sophisticated computer software that sifts through massive amounts of raw data to establish patterns, came up with a chart of Chinese strategic and business connections in the U.S...

The China chart was put together by James Smith, who confirmed yesterday that his contract with the military was canceled and he was fired from his company because the military brass became concerned about the focus on U.S. citizens.

"It was shut down in a matter of hours. The colonel said our service was no longer needed and told me: 'You just ended my career.' "
Meanwhile, Captain's Quarters has an article discussing Dr. Ellen Preisser, the Ph.D. who was a key player in the development of the program. And "an advocate for aggressive IT approaches to counterterrorism."

Today's new development: National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley now denies that representative Curt Weldon ever gave him the chart. Maybe. But as Tom Maguire points out, his denial is deniable, too.
"Mr. Hadley does not recall any chart bearing the name or photo of Mohamed Atta," said the spokesman, Frederick L. Jones II. "NSC staff reviewed the files of Mr. Hadley as well as of all NSC personnel" who might have received such a chart.

"That search has turned up no chart," he said.

Hadley does recall seeing a chart used as an example of "link analysis" -- the technique used by the Able Danger program -- as a counterterrorism tool, but is not sure whether it happened during a Sept. 25, 2001, meeting with Weldon or at another session, Jones said.

Weldon's chief of staff, Russ Caso, said that "the congressman sticks by his account" of the meeting, adding that it was understandable Hadley may have forgotten or misplaced the chart, given the demands of his job.
So first, Hadley does not "recall" the chart, which gives him a lot of room to later change his mind. And then Weldon's chief of staff points out - most helpfully - that due to the pressures of the job, Hadley may simply have forgotten. So there is plenty of room built into this denial for a mid course correction.

It's also interesting that one of the main spokesman for this story, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, seems to be the target for escalating unpleasantness from the Pentagon. His security clearance has been revoked - it had previously been suspended, during which time many of the documents he had been retaining from Able Danger were removed from his possession and destroyed. And now people appear to be disputing his obtainment of a service medal. Both of these measures certainly look like retaliation, given the timing.

UPDATE:
Captain Ed makes note of the slipperiness of Hadley's response as well - and further points out that this kind of languague was previously used the first time the Pentagon denied knowledge of Able Danger, before rescinding that position.

Previous Posts on Able Danger:

4. Uh Oh
3. Enable Danger
2. Watching Enabled
1. Defending America From The Truth

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