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September 24, 2005
Who Is Dr. Preisser?

Dr. Eileen Preisser has come up several times in the past few days as a key analyst in the Able Danger project. Originally unnamed in Col. Tony Shaffer's assertions of the determinations of the project, he said that a female PhD reminded him that Mohammed Atta and three of the other 9/11 hijackers had been identified from their data-mining as potential al-Qaeda operatives within the US over a year prior to the attacks. This week, Shaffer supplied the name that had remained elusive until now.

So who is Eileen Preisser? Currently, she works within the Department of Homeland Security, or did at least in 2002 as the head of the group preparing first responders to terrorist attacks. She described herself as a cross between Xena, Warrior Princess and Joan of Arc. She has also been described as the director of the DoD's Homeland Defense Technology Center and a key advocate for aggressive IT approaches to counterterrorism:

Eileen Preisser, director of DOD's Homeland Defense Technology Center, said the ultimate success or failure of the Homeland Security Department will be determined by the intelligence and IT plan that's proposed and the person selected to lead that effort. Preisser spoke at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association's TechNet International 2002 conference in Washington, D.C.

"The kicker that will determine if it succeeds or fails is the intelligence and IT plan that's prepared," Preisser, a congressional fellow who also advises the Executive Office of the President on technology, told Federal Computer Week.

"There has to be a [chief information officer or chief operating officer]-type person to bring together all the disparate capabilities that exist and create a new and exciting virtual information environment that will set the pace for everything else in government," Preisser said. "If you hire a 65-year-old to do it, it will fail. If you hire former military, it will fail."

One has to wonder about the last two admonitions in this analysis. This article came out a year after the Able Danger project was shut down by older military leadership, and Preisser sounds like she's talking from experience. Again speaking from experience, Preisser gets even more specific:

Preisser said she fears that the new department will just add more bureaucracy to a system already overloaded with red tape. She added that agencies were just beginning to move "horizontally over the last nine months, and forcing them to go back will be the hardest cultural shift."

An interagency organization can be successful as long as the various parts are united by their mission and outfitted with the "same standard suitcase and equipment, and put in the field together," she said, adding that the interagency operational security (OPSEC) group is a prime example of one that works.

Able Danger was an example of this kind of interagency operational security group. Preisser sounds as if her experience in these matters gave her confidence in it as a model -- which would again tend to bolster the contention that Able Danger not only functioned well but produced usable data. She expressed no hope that an expanded DHS would alleviate the issues with sharing the data, however, as an expanded bureaucracy would only intensify the obstacles for such sharing, not break them down.

Does this sound familiar, and does anyone see why the 9/11 Commission might have wanted to avoid talking with Preisser? Oddly, for someone already working in this field for the DHS, the Commission never bothered to talk to her about the issues involved in data sharing while the commissioners publicly ridiculed two administrations for failing to connect the dots. Her name appears nowhere in the "final' report.

The same cannot be said of Congress. As I posted earlier this week, the National Security subcommittee in the House spoke to Preisser in closed session exactly one month after the attacks. No one knows what was said during that session, but Rep. Christopher Shays gave a summary the next day during an open hearing (the transcript misspelled Preisser's name):

Mr. Shays. In a briefing we had yesterday, we had Eileen Pricer, who argues that we don't have the data we need because we don't take all the public data that is available and mix it with the security data. And just taking public data, using, you know, computer systems that are high-speed and able to digest, you know, literally floors' worth of material, she can take relationships that are seven times removed, seven units removed, and when she does that, she ends up with relationships to the bin Laden group where she sees the purchase of chemicals, the sending of students to universities. You wouldn't see it if you isolated it there, but if that unit is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, you then see the relationship. So we don't know ultimately the authenticity of how she does it, but when she does it, she comes up with the kind of answer that you have just asked, which is a little unsettling.

It looks like Preisser wanted to tell someone about Able Danger within a month after the attacks, and perhaps did so. Perhaps she still wants to talk about her work and the results she got from her expertise in data mining. The public record on Preisser, which appears to stop in 2002, gives every indication that this expert should have been central to any investigation of the gathering and analysis of intelligence on terrorists. We need to hear from her now.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 24, 2005 7:34 AM

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