Able Danger II

Rory O’Connor – Media is a Plural Blog
20th November 2005 @ 21:35

How much longer will Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld be able to ignore the growing clamor in Congress over the Able Danger ‘information warfare’ controversy? Rumsfeld never responded to letters regarding the matter sent weeks ago by House Armed Services Committee heads Duncan Hunter and Curt Weldon. Now Weldon has secured the signatures of hundreds of colleagues from both sides of the aisle to yet another letter demanding that Rumsfeld allow Able Danger whistleblowers like Lieutenant Colonel Tony Shaffer to tell the story of how they identified Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers a year before the worst terror attacks ever on US soil. As the latest letter to Rumsfeld notes, “Until this point, congressional efforts to investigate ABLE DANGER have been obstructed by Department of Defense insistence that certain individuals with knowledge of ABLE DANGER be prevented from freely and frankly testifying in an open hearing.” Weldon contends Shaffer and others have been silenced – and Shaffer smeared – by the Defense Department in an effort to cover up key aspects of the massive data-mining intelligence project.

DOD’s objection to open testimony by Shaffer, Navy Captain Scott Phillpott and other Able Danger principals is said to stem from security concerns. But as the letter to Rumsfeld notes, “Testimony from the appropriate individuals in an open hearing on ABLE DANGER would not only fail to jeopardize national security, but would in fact enhance it over the long term,” since “America can only better prepare itself against future attacks if it understands the full scope of its past failures to do so.”

The controversy came to a head two months ago, when the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing at which Shaffer, Phillpott and the others were not permitted to testify as scheduled. Representative Weldon spoke on their behalf, however, basing his testimony on information obtained directly from them. Since Acting Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight William Dugan certified that the hearings did not reveal any classified information, it remains unclear what testimony from the Able Danger whistleblowers – who tried without success to bring their findings to the attention of both the FBI and the 9/11 Commissioners charged with investigating the attacks – would jeopardize.

Since basic elements of the Able Danger project are already well known, why is Rumsfeld so intent on forestalling public inquiry? Continued refusal to allow Able Danger participants to testify in an open congressional hearing, the letter to Rumsfeld notes, “can only lead us to conclude that the Department of Defense is uncomfortable with the prospect of Members of Congress questioning these individuals about the circumstances surrounding Able Danger. This would suggest not a concern for national security, but rather an attempt to prevent potentially embarrassing facts from coming to light.”

This interpretation is consistent with that offered by Representative Weldon, in his many media appearances on the subject, as he puts forth the well-known bureaucratic imperative known as CYA (‘covering your ass’) as the best explanation.

But others close to the investigation suggest a different motive for DOD’s intransigence: the lingering possibility that a copy of the missing and presumed destroyed Able Danger data set may yet come to light. Although Tony Shaffer, Scott Phillpott, and the other key Able Danger participants remain constrained from speaking out on what they know, if given the chance they may well expose at least one as-yet untold piece of the puzzle: ‘Able Danger II.’

A source familiar with the situation but barred from speaking out says ‘Able Danger II’ was created when the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity unit (LIWA) “backed out” of the original Able Danger program in early 2000. The US Army Special Operation Command (SOCOM), which along with LIWA and private contractors was involved in the first Able Danger operation, then funded an effort to move the program from its headquarters in Tampa, Florida to a secret ‘black’ facility in Garland, Texas.

In addition to Scott Phillpott and Tony Shaffer, other Able Danger participants (including an Army Lieutenant Colonel who was his Shaffer’s deputy, and a Reserve Major who was called to active duty to help) were deployed to work in the Garland facility.

This unit, known as Stratus Ivy, provided basic support necessary to allow for the “intelligence mechanisms” to function from the Garland site. A cover plan was devised, and in addition to helping to get the plan approved and providing manpower, the unit provided the Able Danger team with clandestine Internet capabilities to help perform “non traceable/non attributable” searches for the most sensitive data. Shaffer also served, while a reserve major on active duty, as one of the “planners” inside the facility.

Although DOD spokesmen report the Defense Intelligence Agency cannot find any information about the Garland unit in its files, several DIA analysts and officials toured the facility between August 2000 and January 2001. One, then chief of the Transnational Warfare Group, sent an aide to Garland in what was perceived by some as an attempt to undermine the ongoing effort in order “to buy time for them to create their own Able Danger-type capability,” as a source explained.

The Garland facility, run by defense contractor Raytheon, is among those facilities, informally known as “skunk works,” that are run by private contractors but used for clandestine government-related security programs. A special additional clearance from the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) is necessary even to enter.

Along with Dr. Eileen Preisser, who worked on re-creating the original LIWA suite of tools and technology used in Able Danger data mining, Dr. Robert Johnson was the primary scientist working on the effort at Raytheon’s Garland unit. Johnson is the son of Representative Sam Johnson, Republican of Texas, whose congressional district includes Garland. Johnson is among those who signed the latest letter to Rumsfeld, but his office declined to comment about the letter, the Garland facility, or his son’s involvement in the affair.

Nevertheless, it is known that in the summer of 2000, Robert Johnson reported to Congress that LIWA was destroying Able Danger data. This resulted in Representative Dan Burton, Republican from Indiana, issuing subpoenas to get it. As a result, much of the data was saved – at least at first. Since there was not enough room in the congressional warehouse in Suitland, Maryland much of it was left with DOD in its storage facility in Crystal City, Virginia. The data resided there until someone apparently destroyed it without permission within the past year.

Robert Johnson was unavailable for comment. But a colleague described his involvement in the project as “great - very insightful and helpful. He knew what we were trying to do and provided great assistance.” Although very little of the original 2.5 terabytes of information was transferred from LIWA to Garland, once operations there started in earnest, the original databases were recreated, and the information concerning Mohamed Atta was discovered again, along with information relating to other 9/11 terrorists.

Asked by investigators about Able Danger II and its findings, Johnson told two different stories, according to a Congressional source. “Originally, Johnson said he did recall that Atta was found in their new data runs in the fall of 2000,” says the source. “Subsequently he said he is not so sure.” Given the enormous pressure brought to bear on Tony Shaffer and others who have tried to alert authorities about Able Danger, says the source, “It’s not surprising that Johnson is having second thoughts. After what they’ve done to Shaffer, who would want to get out in front about this?”

“There IS a paper trail on all of this,” another source close to the investigation maintains. “The question is whether anyone still inside the Pentagon will permit it to come out. It is not classified at this point, but they will probably hide behind ’security’ as the reason they will not give up the info.

“There may be one database left of the information - that is what I’ve heard,” he continues. “I know that there is a quiet search for information as we speak. I’m convinced that someone has gone back and attempted to cover all the tracks at the Pentagon - they’ve know this was coming far too long to have done nothing - so I’m personally not sure the data will ever be found.”

Given the groundswell of congressional support, there is a chance of new Able Danger hearings when Congress returns next year from Christmas recess. Meanwhile, Representative Weldon says he has been given a guarantee by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England that DIA will “reinstate” Tony Shaffer – who is currently on extended ‘administrative leave” - at least while the DOD Inspector General investigates charges that the agency has improperly gagged and smeared the veteran of twenty two years of military service.

Meanwhile, Able Danger continues to its inexorable ascent into the mainstream media. Former FBI chief Louis Freeh has now joined those injecting the matter into public discourse – first in an appearance on Meet the Press, and most recently in the Wall Street Journal where he wrote: “The Able Danger intelligence, if confirmed, is undoubtedly the most relevant fact of the entire post-9/11 inquiry.”

As Tony Shaffer wrote recently in an email sent to his supporters, “No one to date has ever been held accountable for the failures that allowed the 9/11 terrorists to conduct a successful attack - yet there is growing evidence (beyond Able Danger) that the clues of the pending attack was very much within the U.S. Government’s grasp - but that the various bureaucrats within the intelligence and law enforcement community failed to act. Many of the very same people who made the pre-9/11 bad decisions remain in place - making the same bad decisions now. Plus the 9/11 Commission may not have ‘connected the dots’ as completely as they could and should have - and that is my concern - and the concern of others working this issue - what else have we missed? Where else are we vulnerable? Was there an effort to ignore specific information? Why is there the appearance of a cover-up?”

Good questions all. Isn’t it time for some answers, Mr. Rumsfeld?

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Editor’s note:

Raw Story has joined Media Is A Plural, MediaChannel, and the growing number of web sites and other outlets investigating the Able Danger cover up. A recent post offers a good explanation of the background of the story thus far: Isn't it ALSO time for some answers from the former Executive Director Philip Zelikow (Now Counsel at State Dept. under Rice) and his Senior Counsel, Dietrich Snell (now back with Eliot Spitzer at the NY Attorney General's office) about how it was they came to the conclusion this program was "historically insignificant" as the former Commissioners wrote in a release of August 12, 2005?

And how about compelling National Security Advisor and suspected Woodward's Plame source, Stephen Hadley to testify and asked in detail about a meeting he had with Representatives Weldon, Burton and Shays on September 25th at which an Able Danger chart was presented? As well as any individuals in Hadley's office who might have seen the chart that Rep. Weldon left with Hadley? The 4' x 5' chart is not something that fits into files. It would have gone noticed!

It's time for an investigation with some teeth by Congress which has fallen woefully short of doing its job of oversight [as reported today in the Boston Globe, "Congress Reduces Its Oversight Role" A1, by Susan Milligan]

Indeed Rumsfeld must come forward with answers and allow Shaffer and the others to testify. However, in the meantime Zelikow and Snell (and the others present at the Oct. 21, '03 meeting with Shaffer at Bagram and the July 12th meeting in D.C. with Capt. Phillpott) should be subpoened immediately and forced to testify under oath and in public to explain their actions, or lack of them relative to Able Danger revelations and the Commission's so-called 'definitive account' of 9/11.

On this note, isn't it time for Co-Chairs of the 9/11 Caucus to end their silence on the subject? When will Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) call for hearings in the Gov't Reform Committee? 9/11 CitizensWatch calls upon Rep. Maloney and Rep. Shay to show bi-partisan leadership on this issue and do the only responsible thing in light of the DoD stonewalling and ask the 9/11 Caucus and those who signed Rep. Weldon's letter to Rumsfeld to call upon the Gov't Reform Committee to hold hearings. And if Rep. Shays can't get his Chairman to hold those hearings then it would be incumbent upon him to quite legitimately hold then under the auspices of his Gov't Reform sub-committee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations.

Rep. Shays said this in August:
Shays told CQ Weekly Aug. 12, "If this wasn't reported by the Commission, what else wasn't reported?"

Yes, indeed Rep. Shays. But let's start with why they left out Able Danger, shall we? And let's see the 9/11 Caucus finally question the questionable findings of a Commission that has put forward such broad and sweeping recommendation based on those increasingly suspect findings. The facts of the case brought forward by decorated and credible military officers demands nothing less. Perhaps with some action here the Congress can begin to rebuild its tarnished image and regain the trust of the American people. They have a long way to go but Able Danger is a good place to begin and it really shouldn't wait til after the Holidays, not with so much at stake.