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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Able Danger Mystery Deepens

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Pentagon program code-named "Able Danger," a data mining operation using mostly publicly available data which had identified Mohammed Atta, one of the September 11th hijackers, with links to terror cells in New York in 2000.

From the first revelations of the Able Danger program there was been a swirl of confusion surrounding the very existence of the program, what exactly it discovered, what action was taken with the information and what became of the information.

Sadly, after the Wednesday hearings more questions remain unanswered and new ones were raised.

Very troubling, is the news that shortly before the hearing, where witnesses were invited, not subpoenaed, the Department of Defense, through the Defense Intelligence Agency, ordered active duty military personnel slated to testify before the committee to remain silent and the security clearance of Able Danger whistleblower Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer was revoked, effectively ending his career in intelligence.

Yet even though active military officers like Shaffer were prohibited from testifying, they showed up anyway, remaining silent as witnesses testified to what they had earlier reported.

Able Danger Washington Two Step


When news of Able Danger's explosive revelations surfaced earlier this year, it was like a bombshell. Yet even before the ink on the first round of newspaper stories was dry, there was an undercurrent of doubt, denial and deception coming from not just the Pentagon and September 11th Commission, but from usually reliable conservative voices like John Podhoretz in the New York Post.

Congressman Weldon, (R-PA), Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and Vice Chair of the Homeland Security Committee broke the news. Shortly after he was derided as a bit of a kook and Republicans were warned to steer clear of what were described as wild and unsubstantiated charges.

Both the Pentagon and the September 11th Commission denied that there was anything to the Able Danger story, perhaps suggesting it had never existed. When Congressman Weldon produced Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer, who worked on Able Danger, the focus shifted to questioning Shaffer's credibility.

Only after additional Department of Defense personnel came forward to corrorborate Shaffer's story did the Department of Defense admit that yes, Able Danger existed, and later, yes, it had identified Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers.

Why? Why? Why?


So Weldon, a very Senior member of Congress with direct oversight responsibilities on military matters is not a kook. Lt. Col. Shaffer and the other Able Danger staffers are not liars.

What is going on?

The Senate hearings (official site and testimony here) which were broadcast on C-Span and may be replayed via their web page, only one Department of Defense official, William Dugan, Acting Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight, offered rather tepid and unclear answers to what is going on here. If you watch the video, look for the facial expressions of Congressman Weldon sitting behind Dugan. Shaking his head in disbelief pretty much sums up what members of the House, Senate and general public following this story are thinking.

Under direct and repeated questioning by Chairman Specter, a former prosecutor, Dugan admits that the Able Danger team identified Atta, he was NOT considered a "US person" which would have prohibited the Department of Defense from including his information in Able Danger reports and Posse Comitatus was not an issue in why Able Danger was shut down.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, senators on the committee, who came and went during the hearing, expressed absolute incredulity at the Pentagon stonewalling . The most stinging rebuke came from Senator Charles Grassley who vowed that he would work with other members of the committee to see to it that we get to the bottom of this matter.

Finally, if you take the opportunity to see a replay of the hearing, You'll be struck by the testimony of Erik Kleinsmith, former Army Major and Chief Intelligence of the Land Information Warfare Analysis LIWA unit, a component of Able Danger. Army regulations and concerns regarding intelligence that might have been collected on US persons required Major Kleinsmith to destroy all data and files relating to Able Danger in April 2000. After September 11th, he went to bed every night thinking that if they had only continued the work and pushed it up the ladder high enough that September 11th might have been prevented. He fears that links to possible attacks in the future are going uninvestigated as result of Able Danger's shutdown.

Follow-Up


Statements from Senate Judiciary Committee members reveal that there is no way Able Danger is going to get swept under the rug. The next step will be subpoenas to the witnesses that were refused permission to voluntarily testify. Senators will also wish to inquire whether a more informed Department of Defense official might be available to explain why there has been a stonewall on this issue.

That stonewall is particularly perplexing. You can't buck powerful members of both the House and the Senate and get away with it. If there are legitimate national security reasons why this matter should be handled in executive, or secret session, let that argument be made.

Thus far, the fumbling and bumbling has been about as helpful as one way fingerpointing after Hurricane Katrina!

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