Weekly Blogscan: Able Danger and the Gorelick Wall
There's a balloon floating in Washington lately, wafted in and out of view by hot air from bloggers and other new media. Is the name on that balloon Judith Miller? Tom Delay? Even Karl Rove?
No, it's Able Danger.
Able Danger was the code-name for a Pentagon data-mining surveillance project set up in the 1990s to track Al Qaeda activity worldwide. The project is reported to have identified Al Queda operatives in the US—including Muhammad Atta and three other of the 9/11 hijackers—prior to September 11, 2001.
The backstory on Able Danger comes from Flopping Aces blogger Curt, who wrote in mid-August that what "really sticks out to me is the timeline with Sandy Berger's burglary of Archive documents." But the blogger's piece was titled " The Gorelick Wall & Sandy Berger," indicating hw is also concerned over 9/11 commission-member Jamie Gorelick's "wall of separation" between FBI, CIA, and Pentagon intelligence efforts.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), a champion of integrated intelligence-sharing among U.S. agencies, wrote to the former chairman and vice-chairman of the Sept. 11 commission late Wednesday, telling them that their staff had received two briefings on the military intelligence unit—once in October 2003 and again in July 2004. Weldon said he was upset by suggestions earlier Wednesday by 9/11 panel members that it had been not been given critical information on Able Danger's capabilities and findings.
Austin Bay Blog commented on the "Gorelick Wall" with thoughts about why such a separation was appropriate for its time, saying a wall between military and Federal agencies and the police has a definite civil purpose, and noting that the wall has been lowered in the past when the US was at war.
Until 9/11 America did not consider the terrorists' attacks as war. Washington treated the terrorists as criminals. That was the strategic error, no matter what you think of Clinton or Bush... If Jamie Gorelick wasn’t the weakest commission member, she was the most compromised. Gorelick should have recused herself from participation on the 9/11 Commission—because she did "raise the wall" during the Clinton Administration. Had she done that she would have enhanced her reputation. But she didn't.
A "multi-expert blog dedicated solely to counterterrorism issues," The Counterterrorism Blog, cites a number of writings on the subject of Able Danger, but leads the list with this intro written by Bill West, who served in what was then the Clinton Administration’s Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
If the news about the DoD intelligence is true, that infamous intelligence "wall" truly did create a huge missed opportunity... The INS Headquarters National Security Unit (NSU), which was created in the late 1990s in spite of considerable obstacles generated by the INS High Command... tried to post a liaison officer to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) specifically to tap into DoD intelligence on counter-terrorism matters. The NSU Director at the time approved it and DIA bought off on the plan... but INS senior management above the NSU Director nixed it so it never happened...
If we had gotten that DoD Intel about Atta and crew in 2000/early 2001, lead information about al-Qaeda operatives in our backyard in south Florida, it’s virtually certain that between Miami INS and Miami FBI, we would have worked up a plan and found a way to take those thugs into custody.
Guest-blogger Joseph Cannon wrote in mid-August on The Brad Blog about learning the identity of Weldon's whistle-blower Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer. Cannon's approach is evident from the opening of his essay:
The right continues to make disturbing use of the Able Danger story—which holds that a secretive DIA unit had identified [Al Queda operative Mohammed] Atta well before 9/11.
Rush Limbaugh and a number of right-leaning newspapers have continued to spread the lie, first published in NewsMax, that Jamie Gorelick of the Clinton Justice Department somehow forced the DIA to refrain from sharing the unit's discoveries. John Podhoretz at National Review has also given respectful attention to this tale, although he has steered clear of the NewsMax spin.
Later in that month, we learned the names of two more people involved in Able Danger. Navy Captain Scott Philpott confirmed Lt. Col. Shaffer's claims, as did J.D. Smith, a civilian contractor who worked on Able Danger. "I am absolutely positive that he [Atta] was on our chart among other pictures and ties that we were doing mainly based upon [terror] cells in New York City," Smith said. He explained the project in an interview posted on FoxNews.com:
Smith said data was gathered from a variety of sources, including about 30 or 40 individuals. He said they all had strong Middle Eastern connections and were paid for their information. Smith said Able Danger's photo of Atta was obtained from overseas.
A "mostly Political weblog" on Slate, kausfiles, includes blogger Mickey Kaus' speculations on the Able Danger phenomenon from August. Kaus thinks the blogosphere is zeroing in on the real reason Able Danger's report was rejected by the 9/11 inquiry. Kaus cites two other bloggers in his revelation:
J.D. Smith [one of the Abel Danger whistle-blowers] also said that Able Danger had gotten Atta's name by linking him to Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind sheikh implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing... It turns out, as blogger A.J. Strata discovered, that there are links—whether accurate or inaccurate... in the public domain between Rahman and a doctor, Magdy El-Amir... who has a brother named Mohamed El-Amir who has apparently been linked by Dateline—again, perhaps erroneously—to some intrigue or other. Mohammed El-Amir... Wasn't that the same name used by Mohammed Atta at the beginning [of] 2000?... It was just a different Mohamed El-Amir.... Why do I feel that through the power of the blogosphere we are asymptotically approaching the truth?
The "two Attas theory" is crisply debunked by Chris Regan of JunkYard Blog as ridiculous. He writes that this
...seems to fall into the category of the rush to deny or explain away the Able Danger story. The world's most critical data mining surveillance program should be able to distinguish between two identically-named people far better than any other method known to man. They would have flagged many unique indicators in order to profile personal preferences... Plus there's the Atta photo that was mentioned. Nobody else in the world looks like the 9/11 Mohammed Atta. He's a guy you could pick out of a lineup with his identical twin after seeing him only once in passing. He would be the evil twin of course.
On September 21st, according to NewsMax.com, the Pentagon ordered members of the Able Danger group not to testify about their findings at an open Senate hearing. This prompted Michelle Malkin to recall two-year-old statements from the 9/11 commission, saying that "It seems like just yesterday the 9/11 Commission was demanding access to every 9/11-related document, no matter how sensitive." She cites a Common Dreams Newscenter report dated October 25, 2003:
"Any document that has to do with this investigation cannot be beyond our reach," Mr. Kean said on Friday in his first explicit public warning to the White House that it risked a subpoena and a politically damaging courtroom showdown with the [9/11] commission over access to the documents, including Oval Office intelligence reports that reached President Bush's desk in the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks.
William M. Arkin wrote quite recently (Sept. 27) an entire column detailing the "Secret History of Able Danger," in which he appears to debunk (but actually supports) the "Gorelick Wall" as a factor in the suppression of Able Danger's findings prior to the 9/11 attack.
Like most government activity associated with counter-terrorism in the late 1990's, Able Danger was a "compartmented" effort. After the 1998 embassy bombings, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger directed that a tightly compartmented process be put in place to keep all counter-terrorism military planning secret.... U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM)... worked with the Joint Chiefs to develop a set of 13 military options against Al Qaeda under a war plan called Infinite Resolve.
As the Able Danger cell began its work, its first questions were: What is al Qaeda? How big is it? Where is it?
As the 9/11 Commission said in its final report: "Despite the availability of information that al Qaeda was a global network, policymakers knew little about the organization. The reams of new information that the CIA’s Bin Laden unit had been developing since 1996 had not been pulled together and synthesized for the rest of the government."
Finally, Captain Ed writes today on his Captain's Quarters blog that one of the Able Danger whistle-blowers has been discharged from the DoD. Not for whistle-blowing, he hastens to point out, but for ancient offenses like stealing pens in 1985 and "going over his chain of command to do briefings."
Col. Tony Shaffer has had his security clearances revoked by the DoD and [they] have officially notified his attorney of the circumstances surrounding the revocation. Although it does not technically affect his membership in the Army reserve, the action effectively ends the career of the former DIA liaison to the Able Danger project. Shaffer cannot pursue his specialties within the Army or DoD without security clearances.
On the other hand, he can now testify (albeit with reduced credibility) before the Senate. That testimony may turn out to be more interesting than anything we learn from journalist Judith Miller.
Please join us at BlogCritics to comment on this review.