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September 27, 2005
Arkin Denies What Pentagon Already Admits

A number of people e-mailed me today about the blog entry at the Washington Post by William Arkin regarding Able Danger and the nature of the material it developed. Arkin claims that Able Danger never found any connection to Mohammed Atta, never amounted to an intelligence operation, and got shut down for spying on American citizens. Arkin, a defense analyst, writes:

The Pentagon is hiding something. But its not what Weldon thinks.

First, to debunk the myths:

# As best as I can determine, having spent tens of hours talking to military sources involved with the issue, intelligence analysts did not identify anyone prior to 9/11, Mohammed Atta included, as a suspect in any upcoming terrorist attack.

# It is not even clear that a "Mohammed Atta" was identified, let alone that it is the same Atta who died on 9/11.

# No military lawyers prevented intelligence sleuths from passing useful information to the FBI.

# Able Danger itself was not an intelligence program.

As a representative of U.S. Special Operations Command said at a special Pentagon briefing arranged on September 1, Able Danger "was merely the name attributed to a 15-month planning effort" to begin building a war on terrorism.

Arkin makes careful use of language here. No one associated with Able Danger says they deduced that Atta and the other three al-Qaeda operatives had an attack planned. Nor have they specified that "military lawyers" blocked them from sharing the information from the FBI. In fact, the entire thrust of their assertions has been that the military command in conjunction with the civilian legal staff at the DoD blocked the meetings.

Besides, Arkin appears to write this about four weeks too late. On September 1, the same Washington Post at which Arkin writes this reported that the Pentagon itself found three additional witnesses to the identification of not only Mohammed Atta as a potential AQ operative but the other lead 9/11 hijackers as well. It came as a stunning reversal after a week of denials from the Department of Defense:

Pentagon officials said Thursday they have found three more people who recall an intelligence chart that identified Sept. 11 mastermind Mohamed Atta as a terrorist one year before the attacks on New York and Washington. But they have been unable to find the chart or other evidence that it existed.

Last month, two military officers, Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and Navy Capt. Scott Philpott, went public with claims that a secret unit code-named Able Danger used data mining _ searching large amounts of data for patterns _ to identify Atta in 2000. Shaffer has said three other Sept. 11 hijackers also were identified. ...

They said they interviewed at least 80 people over a three-week period and found three, besides Philpott and Shaffer, who said they remember seeing a chart that either mentioned Atta by name as an al-Qaida operative or showed his photograph. Four of the five recalled a chart with a pre-9/11 photo of Atta; the other person recalled only a reference to his name.

The intelligence officials said they consider the five people to be credible but their recollections are still unverified.

Moreover, Senator Specter and the staff at the Judiciary Committee has interviewed these witnesses in closed session and finds their recollections "credible". If these credible witnesses testify that the program found nothing of the sort, why would the Pentagon stop them from testifying at all? And if they told that to Specter and he found them credible, why would Specter insist on holding the hearings anyway?

Arkin could be correct in that the program got shut down for collecting data on US citizens. We know that Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary William Perry got ID'd for connections to Red China, for instance. Speculation has it that the China probe killed the program as it got too close to politically well-connected people close to the Clinton administration -- but so far, speculation is all we have on that.

It's important to remember that Arkin has a reputation for playing fast and loose with the facts and the quotes, as this incident from 2003 (when I first began blogging) amply demonstrates. In his haste to smear General Jerry Boykin for his outspoken Christianity while having a policymaking role at the Pentagon for the war on terror, he glibly used quote marks to suggest that Boykin endorsed a Christian "jihad" -- when in fact Boykin had never said any such thing. Arkin, if I recall correctly, refused to release the transcripts of the recordings he supposedly used for his Boykin quotes and wound up forcing the Los Angeles Times to issue a retraction for running his opinion piece.

I'm interested in reading the thoughts of credible military observers and analysts on Able Danger. William Arkin doesn't really qualify.

UPDATE: Hugh Hewitt wrote about Arkin at the time for the Weekly Standard:

The answer is best found in Arkin's own speech to an audience at the U.S. Naval War College on September 25, 2002. In this lengthy and vitriolic attack on the Bush administration, Arkin admitted to feeling "cynical about the fact that we are going to war to enhance the economic interests of the Enron class," and declared that "the war against terrorism is overstated." Arkin believed, in fact, that the war "is not the core United States national security interest today." He rhetorically asked the audience: "Aren't I just another leftist, self-hating American?" and condemned the administration for taking "enormous liberties with American freedoms."

"The war against terrorism," he said, "if it is a war at all, is not World War II or the Cold War, and it is grasping at empty patriotism to claim that it is." He warned of "our tendency to fall back upon secrecy and government control." And he concluded by warning that our foreign policy "convey[s] the wrong message, which is that we have no values, that we are for sale"[.]

The entire essay is well worth a read to get a better understanding of the agenda that William Arkin brings to the table.

UPDATE II: Where are my manners? Mark at Decision '08 brought this to my attention first, and AJ Strata has his doubts about Arkin as well. Juliette at Baldilocks has some interesting thoughts as well (hell, as always).

UPDATE III: Mac, an Able Danger skeptic, has some knowledge of Arkin and tends to think Arkin may be closer to the truth than Shaffer and Philpott.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 27, 2005 9:05 PM

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» Able Danger: Barking Up The Wrong Tree? from Decision '08
Sometimes you can be right for the wrong reasons, and wrong for the right ones, and as regards Able Danger, I’m unsure which is which…William Arkin, writing in the Washington Post, has one of the more lucid MSM pieces on the often bewilder... [Read More]

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» Able Danger - Great Summer Story - 9 from Macmind - Conservative Commentary and Common Sense
Perusing the internet today I came across an old friend. Bill Arkin, from the Washington Post. Although we worked together many moons ago, and he might not remember me, I remember him as a pretty squared away guy. [Read More]

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» Able Danger, Arkin Article, 09/27/05 from The Strata-Sphere
Note: I had to whip out the original post in draft form with lots of typos - my apologies. I have since cleaned it up a bit (OK, a lot) since the kids are now in bed and I have a free moment again. Mark Coffey was kind enough to alert me and others ... [Read More]

Tracked on September 27, 2005 10:24 PM

» Able Danger Update from A Blog For All
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Tracked on September 28, 2005 10:16 AM



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