Behind The Scenes At Able Danger

An inside source on the Able Danger controversy — one that has provided CQ with reliable background information in the past — gives some interesting background information about the recent hearings on the data-mining program that the 9/11 Commission did its best to ignore. The source writes:

The Able Danger hearing was noteworthy for things that did not happen. One interesting item that everyone seems to have missed is that Steve Cambone did not swear in for his testimony to the subcommittee. (In fact, he refused to swear in, but this was not made an issue by the subcommittee.) Thus, no matter how blatantly erroneous his testimony was, he can’t be charged with perjury as he did not testify under oath.
Also, Zelikow was excoriated in his testimony during the closed session by the Representatives present. He was called a liar to his face.

Steve Cambone was the director of the DoD’s Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation, and reported directly to Donald Rumsfeld; he is the USD/I now. Philip Zelikow held one of the top staff positions on the 9/11 Commission and was Lt. Colonel Tony Shaffer’s initial contact with the commission. At first he encouraged Shaffer to provide more information after their initial meeting in October 2003 in Afghanistan, but when Shaffer returned back to the US in January 2004, Zelikow had suddenly lost his enthusiasm for more discussions about Able Danger. Zekikow now works for Condoleezza Rice at the State Department.
If this is accurate, it appears that Congress has also found Zelikow’s role to hold some interest in how Able Danger got buried. Perhaps more of this curiosity will be evident in the publc hearings to come.
UPDATE: My source mistook Steve Hadley for Steve Cambone. I have corrected the post above.

Able Danger Conference Call

Earlier this evening, I was able to participate in a conference call with Mark Zaid, the attorney representing Lt. Colonel Tony Shaffer in his dispute with the DIA in the Able Danger controversy. Joining in the call were the group of bloggers that has kept the fire burning on this key element in our failure to discover the al-Qaeda terrorists in our midst before they successfully staged the 9/11 attacks:
Mark Coffey of Decision ‘08
Mike of Able Danger Blog
QT Monster
Rory O’Connor
Pierre from Pink Flamingo Bar & Grill
Bluto from Jawa Report and The Dread Pundit Bluto

AJ Strata already posted a good review of the conversation with Zaid over the Congressional hearings this past week, after Shaffer finally got an opportunity to speak publicly about the Able Danger program. The hearings fell rather flat, despite Rep. Curt Weldon’s best efforts. The press has lost interest in covering the program that apparently put lie to the notion that the intelligence community had no idea of the threat profile of AQ in the US before the attacks.
As Zaid points out, the lack of press almost certainly results from the committee members themselves; the only thing that Republicans and Democrats have in common these days is a desire to push Able Danger out of sight. The FBI also appears to have gotten the same disease as the two parties. The FBI, which once acknowledged that several attempts occurred to have meetings between its agents and the Able Danger team now denies that any such contacts occurred.
I have not performed much better, to be fair. Other issues have pushed Able Danger off of my radar screen, and even Zaid noted that no explosive developments have arisen from the story in weeks. Nonetheless, the above bloggers have done an excellent job in maintaining some interest in the story. The conference call gave me an opprortunity to pick the thread back up and start pressing Congress for more hearings. Zaid thinks that three or four more committees may conduct hearings on the matter, and the DoD Inspector General is expected to issue a report on AD sometime in May. Zaid believes that an unclassified summary will be part of that, but if it isn’t, he will take action to get a declassified summary released.
Shaffer and the rest of Zaid’s Able Danger clients can use some donations to their legal fund. Those donations can be sent to:
Mark S. Zaid, Esq.
Krieger & Zaid, PLLC
1920 N Street, N.W.
Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20036
Zaid is deep into out-of-pocket territory on this case, and the men who risked their careers to make sure that the entire story of American intelligence efforts to combat AQ before 9/11can use your support.

The 20-Foot Rings Of Able Danger

AJ Strata has more on the Able Danger story tonight, following the release of a National Journal article at that might fill in some of the blanks on why the program lost its backing in mid-2000, just when it appeared to make headway against al-Qaeda. As Shane Harris reports, the second dry run of the data harvest that eventually spawned Able Danger turned up more politically difficult names in connection to Chinese espionage:

The experiment “went well,” the former IDC employee said. “Unfortunately, it went too well.” During construction of those link diagrams, the names of a number of U.S. citizens popped up, including some very prominent figures. Condoleezza Rice, then the provost at Stanford University, appeared in one of the harvests, the by-product of a presumably innocuous connection between other subjects and the university, which hosts notable Chinese scholars.
William Cohen, then the secretary of Defense, also appeared. As one former senior Defense official explained, the IDC’s results “raised eyebrows,” and leaders in the Pentagon grew nervous about the political implications of turning up such high-profile names, or those of any American citizens who were not the subject of a legally authorized intelligence investigation. Rumors still abound about other notable figures caught up in the IDC’s harvest. “I heard they turned up Hillary Clinton,” the official said. The experiment was not continued.
“We determined that there were significant methodological problems,” Hamre said of the IDC’s techniques. Data-correlation analyses on raw information “produce impossibly large numbers of potential correlations. The numbers are too large to be operationally helpful.”
But it appears not everyone in the military establishment agreed. Over the next several months, Kleinsmith estimated he gave more than 200 briefings on the IDC to members of Congress, generals, and senior government officials. “I could tell in three to four minutes if someone ‘got it,’ ” Kleinsmith said. Hamre got it, he noted. And so, it seems, did officials with the Army’s Special Operations Command, who, despite the unease over the China experiment, came to the IDC asking for information about a then-shadowy organization called Al Qaeda.

This history of LIWA and Able Danger makes the timelines a bit more clear than in the past. The Pentagon ran the Chinese experiment in 1999, during the height of the impeachment backlash and well after the worst of the Chinese campaign-funds scandal. Turning up Hillary as part of the research would not have been all that dramatic, as speculation about how closely the Chinese had tied themselves to the Clintons through the efforts of their intelligence agents. In fact, it probably would have culled John Kerry’s name as well.
I doubt that the data proved anything about Hillary other than the connections to the already well-known Johnny Chung and Liu Chaoying. Nevertheless, as the results got wider exposure in Washington, the pressure of having all these important political players sitting in a database must have triggered a case of nerves at the Pentagon. A year later, as the IDC went through the Able Danger exercise using the same data harvest as part of its information, the order came down to kill all data that contained American citizens — and one would have to presume that everyone understood that citizens such as anyone named Clinton would get especial scrutiny. That data cull crippled the ongoing effort to find al-Qaeda assets inside the US, although the AD team continued to focus outside the country for more terrorists using the technology.
Read the rest of this piece for an excellent rundown of Able Danger and the context from which it sprang, and then recheck AJ Strata’s excellent analysis of the information. I’d put this as confirmation of some of the most interesting theories about the program, but it still doesn’t explain why the FBI never went back and rechecked on the status of this promising counterterrorism program.

Shelton: Able Danger My Idea

General Hugh Shelton confirmed that the Able Danger program had backing from the highest levels of the military and that he had at least two personal briefings on the progress of the program tracking al-Qaeda prior to 9/11 — again raising the question as to why the 9/11 Commission ignored this program entirely in its supposedly thorough look into American preparedness for a terrorist attack:

In his first public comments on the initiative, which some former intelligence officers now say was code-named Able Danger, Shelton also confirmed that he received two briefings on the clandestine mission – both well before the Sept. 11 attacks.
“Right after I left SOCOM (Special Operations Command), I asked my successor to put together a small team, if he could, to try to use the Internet and start trying to see if there was any way that we could track down Osama bin Laden or where he was getting his money from or anything of that nature,” Shelton said Tuesday in an interview. …
In Washington, sometime between 1999 and 2001, Shelton received a more extensive briefing from Defense Intelligence Agency officers involved in the program.
Shelton said he doesn’t recall hearing or seeing Atta’s name in those briefings or at any time before the Sept. 11 attacks.
“To be candid, there were not many specifics in it,” Shelton said of the later briefing. “There were no names that surfaced that had not surfaced before through normal intelligence channels. There was no identification of any new players, or anything of that type.”
Shelton, though, said that a CIA representative and an FBI representative were present at the second briefing. And he said, “I know for a fact that I was told that they had been a part of the effort” to track al-Qaida through computer data-mining.

That puts a much different light on the status of the program. Up to now, we’ve heard that the FBI knew nothing of AD and its efforts. Now we have the FBI attending high-level briefings on its progress. No one before this, to my knowledge, has shown any operational awareness of the program on the FBI’s part prior to the 9/11 attacks. Doesn’t that beg the question of why the FBI never followed up on AD and any information it might supply?
Check out AJ Strata for more, and we’ll stay on top of this as developments warrant.

Intelligence Agencies Multiplying Out Of Control

In yet another example of how the 9/11 Commission got its facts and its recommendations completely wrong, the Washington Post reports this morning that the Pentagon has expanded its domestic intelligence surveillance — mainly by creating even more agencies and bureaucracies in competition with other resources already in place. Now, Walter Pincus doesn’t write the article with that point in mind; he wants to frighten people with the thought that Bush has become Big Brother, or wants to allow Don Rumsfeld to do so:

The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world.
The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts — including protecting military facilities from attack — to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.
The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.
The proposals, and other Pentagon steps aimed at improving its ability to analyze counterterrorism intelligence collected inside the United States, have drawn complaints from civil liberties advocates and a few members of Congress, who say the Defense Department’s push into domestic collection is proceeding with little scrutiny by the Congress or the public.
“We are deputizing the military to spy on law-abiding Americans in America. This is a huge leap without even a [congressional] hearing,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a recent interview.

The efforts even include an Able Danger-like program, serviced by AD contractor White Oak Technologies, to perform data harvesting on commercially-available information databases. Each branch of the military service now has its own domestic surveillance program, even the Marine Corps, which as part of the Department of the Navy should have had access to naval intelligence. While civil libertarians will scream bloody murder at these efforts, in wartime our military bases as well as our cities, power plants, water supply, food infrastructure, and many other key domestic points require protection from sabotage.
The problem doesn’t spring from domestic surveillance itself but the ridiculous number of agencies now set up to perform it. That alphabet soup creates two main problems, both of which could easily be foreseen in the Omission Commission’s glib solution of slapping two layers of bureacracy on top of the intelligence structure at the time, rather than really reorganize American intelligence to fit the current threat posture we see in today’s world.
The first problem comes from gap and overlap; with this many agencies all looking at the same mission, each with its own bureaucracy and turf to protect, expect a lot of inefficient duplication of effort and lack of sharing of data. Since these little agencies will in all likelihood follow the same kinds of dynamics that all little agencies exhibit and communicate poorly with each other, we can expect gaps to develop without any detection or accountablity.
The second problem comes closer to Pincus’ concern — how to manage all of these agencies to ensure that they follow the rules properly while generating good data for enforcement. The more of these independent agencies that get spawned, the more difficult oversight becomes. In fact, it becomes more difficult to understand even basic borders like jurisdiction, let alone overreach.
All of this mischief started with the Commission’s celebration of bureaucracy as the salvation of intelligence. Rather than demand a complete restructuring of the myriad intelligence entities in the US into two or three agencies — one each for foreign, domestic, and military intel — the Commission claimed that data-sharing was hampered not by artificial divisions of labor between bureaucracies but not enough layers of bureaucracy above the agencies themselves. It demanded (and received) two additional layers of management between the actual intel gatherers and the decision makers of the government.
Now we continue to pay the price, with a new explosion of intel agencies. History has shown us that these discrete groups will work professionally but insularly, and that the pieces that each discover will only generate the threat assessment necessary after a catastrophic attack — when everyone demands to see the records leading up to the disaster to determine what went wrong. It will apparently take another 9/11 to wake Americans up to the danger of this wrongheaded approach, unfortunately.

Weldon Covers Able Danger Details On Busy News Day

As I reported on Tuesday night, Curt Weldon held a press conference to keep the spotlight on Able Danger. His timing, as AJ Strata notes, left a little to be desired; the testimony of oil executives guaranteed the better part of media attention would be diverted, and the later bombing in Amman would soon supercede everything else. AJ has a great review of the conference.
It garnered little media coverage, in any event, and what little it did tended to repeat what we already know. Weldon once again asserted that Able Danger gave the Pentagon two week’s notice on the USS Cole bombing, as reported in the Myrtle Beach Sun:

Citing information provided to him by Navy Capt. Scott Philpott, the former manager of the Able Danger project, Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said that two weeks before the Oct. 12, 2000, attack – and then again two days before – the intelligence unit uncovered evidence of a plot against an unnamed U.S. target in Yemen.
“They saw information that led them to unequivocally understand that something was going to happen in the port at Yemen involving an American entity,” said Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
“Two days before the attack, they were jumping up and down because they knew something was going to happen … at the port of Aden,” Weldon told a Capitol Hill news conference.

Lou Dobbs had Weldon as a guest on his CNN show later yesterday, and noted that Slade Gorton remarked that Able Danger was “simply irrelevant” to the 9/11 probe. That set Weldon off:

Slade Gorton is into what the 9/11 commission is doing, Lou.
It’s called c, y, a. Cover their butts, pretend it didn’t
How can you say something is historically insignificant that
Louis Freeh just two weeks ago on national TV said Able Danger
information was the kind of intelligence that could have
prevented the hijackings.
That’s Louis Freeh saying that two weeks ago. Able Danger was
briefed to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in January
of 2001. How could you call that historically insignificant?
Lou, this is a cover-up. It’s not a third-rate political
burglary. It’s a cover-up of information on the largest attack
in the history of the country.

With the DIA smearing one of the whistleblowers and the Pentagon blocking Congressional investigations, it certainly appears that Weldon is right about the cover-up. If Able Danger was “simply irrelevant”, we would have had a hearing in no time on it and allowed it to pass discredited into history. Instead, both the Pentagon and the Congress appear scared to death of Able Danger. Why?

Another Set Of Able Danger Documents To Surface?

Another shoe may drop in the Able Danger story tomorrow, when Rep. Curt Weldon plans on holding a press conference to announce new developments in the case. Weldon’s office released a statement today announcing the media event tomorrow at 12:30 PM ET, which can also be found on his website, I believe. Weldon’s invitation promises the following:

The latest findings include: information Able Danger provided to defense officials about terrorist activity in the Port of Aden prior to the terrorist attack on the USS Cole back in October 2000; a discovery of another Able Danger member who confirms a set of Able Danger data not accounted for by the Pentagon; recent statements by the 9-11 Commission about Able Danger; and the latest efforts by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to smear Able Danger member Lt. Col. Shaffer who broke the silence about the Pentagon’s efforts to track al-Qaeda worldwide prior to September 11 [emphases mine — CE].

We already know about the smear attempt, and also the DIA’s railroading of Shaffer in stripping him of his clearances for picayune offenses that go far back into his past — which should have already been part of his security reviews several times over. I won’t get a chance to listen into the press conference, but I will be following up with great interest later in the evening.

Shaffer Loses His Appeals

Earlier today, I received a message from Mark Zaid, attorney for Able Danger whistleblower Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer. The Defense Intelligence Agency has decided to proceed in revoking Col. Shaffer’s clearance, a necessary component for his civilian job at the agency, and will likely terminate his employment. Zaid says:

Ed, in record breaking speed that to me clearly denotes selective retaliatory attention, the DIA’s SAB has affirmed the revocation of Tony’s security clearance. Unfortunately DIA has seen fit to completely disregard our submissions, and Cong Weldon and Hunters’ formal requests to refrain from acting against Tony.
This was the final stage of the process. There are no more administrative appeals left with respect to the clearance.
A response to the indefinite suspension will be filed tomorrow. I expect that Tony will receive a notice of termination also in record breaking speed. That will take effect no sooner than thirty days from when received.

Since the Judiciary Committee has decided to schedule the Alito hearings in January, that gives them some free time between now and the end of their work sessions to haul the DIA in front of them and demand some answers. Given the old and picayune nature of the infractions that the DIA has used to challenge Shaffer’s security clearance, their haste in closing this case strongly suggests that Zaid has it pegged; this termination surely comes as a vindictive ploy to warn other potential Able Danger witnesses not to cooperate with Congress.
That sounds like a terrible message to allow to pass unnoticed by the American public. While we understand the need for secrecy in dealing with some issues about the war on terror, we need to know that we have all the effective assets of intelligence work on line and functioning properly. We need to know exactly what Able Danger found, and what information got passed along and which got blocked by the DIA and Pentagon lawyers. Mostly, though, when the people’s representatives demand that a government agency opens its books, it damned well better cooperate.

Was Snell Gorelick’s Staffer?

Newsmax has an accusation from Rep. Curt Weldon that the 9/11 Commission staffer that ignored Captain Scott Philpott in June 2004 and his information on Able Danger was Dietrich Dieter Snell, one of the Commission’s senior staffers. However, Weldon also asserts that Snell worked for Gorelick, presumably at the Department of Justice:

An aide to former Clinton Justice Department official Jamie Gorelick blocked the 9/11 Commission from hearing bombshell testimony about the findings of the elite Able Danger military intelligence team, Rep. Curt Weldon said late Friday.
“The person who debriefed [Able Danger analyst] Scott Philpot was, in fact, the lead staffer for Jamie Gorelick,” Weldon told the Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes.” “His name was Dieter Snell.”
Weldon contended: “It was Dieter Snell who did not brief the 9/11 Commission. The 9/11 Commissioners were never briefed on Able Danger.”

The implication, of course, is that Snell blocked the information to help keep Gorelick from getting blamed over the inability of Able Danger’s team to share its information with the FBI. The only problem with this scenario is that no one seems to know when Snell worked for Gorelick. Snell participated in the prosecution of Ramzi Yousef for WTC I in the Southern District of New York. As such, he would have worked with Mary Jo White — who so strenuously objected to Gorelick’s rules that one of her memoranda remains classified.
The fact that Snell interviewed Philpott isn’t a revelation; I noted it in this post on August 13. If Snell has a long relationship with Gorelick, it might prove interesting; if he helped Gorelick with implementing the “wall”, then his presence on the staff would create a great deal of suspicion about his meeting with Philpott. However, after two hours of Googling, I find nothing that shows Snell worked for Gorelick at DoJ as anything but a prosecutor.
Readers? (h/t: several CQ readers and Big Lizards)

An Insider’s Look At The DIA

After the DIA has decided to run a smear campaign on LTC Tony Shaffer and to destroy his credibility, apparently for his revelations about Able Danger, the credibility of the agency itself has come under serious question. A CQ reader wishing to remain anonymous but with personal knowledge of the situation the Defense Intelligence Agency sends this description of the senior leadership at the agency:

Deputy Director of DIA is Mark Ewing. He won’t be in that position for very long, seeing as how he recently put in his paperwork to resign. This action comes after he had a spat with the outgoing director, Admiral Lowell Jacoby, the subject of which is not clear … there is the recent revelation that Ewing may very well have pulled a three-monkeys trick (see/hear/speak no evil) when presented with the findings of Able Danger. As the senior leadership exodus at DIA continues (see below) Ewing would have been the last one standing and facing the music. He would like to flee the intelligence community completely but that is apparently not possible: through a curious set of administrative circumstances he has ample government service time under his belt, but cannot retire and collect his pension (details require a long explanation). If anyone needs to panic it is Ewing.
Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby is the outgoing director of DIA. His previous assignment, in the late 2001 time-frame, was the J2 (the DOD’s top officer for warning). Not many outside the business know this but his retirement timetable seemed to accelerate about the time ABLE DANGER hit the fan. This is a guy who never met a mission that he didn’t want to kill or ignore if there was any chance that it would prevent him from achieving that next star on his collar. Jacoby is a naval officer but not a “ship-driver”. If he were, you tell me, would you want serve on the ship being captained by a guy would didn’t think it would be prudent to put the vessel in the water due to the risks involved in actually sailing? When he does go sailing he likes to make sure that there are plenty of familiar hands to help man the sails. Once he was firmly in the director’s chair, he began a purge of the old executive corps at DIA, replacing most of them with friends from the office of naval intelligence. When he couldn’t easily force incumbents out of their seats, he simply created new executive positions to put his pals into.
The head of HUMINT at DIA is a guy named Bill Huntington (he spoke during the DOD briefing on Able Danger). Technically he’s the vice deputy director for HUMINT, but in all of these jobs the civilian deputy is the long-term head of office, while the military officer who is named the head of the office is the short-timer. Huntington is in the process of attempting to flee DIA for the DNI.
The deputy director of intelligence (head of the analysis office) is Earl Sheck. Sheck was one of the first cronies Jacoby brought over from ONI. As the keeper of the analytical resources at DIA, the odds that Sheck also knew something about Able Danger are pretty good. Able Danger was a SOCOM/LIWA show, but if they were using tools from Orion (also have contracts at DIA) and working CT issues, inevitably they would have talked to relevant offices in DIA, if nothing else than to bounce ideas off of each other or to request additional intel support. DIA’s CT mission is run by the J2, but to think that Sheck would not be aware to some extent is inconceivable. Sheck is also rumored to have one foot out the door.
An intelligence agency, full of cronies who all botched their respective roles during the decades preceding and years after September 11th, thought they could handily weather the Able Danger storm. When it became clear that the ship was about to capsize, they all couldn’t move fast enough for the life rafts. Not like they would have much to worry about given the tendency to not punish intelligence officers for negligence, but then the DIA isn’t the CIA, and military officers (like Jacoby) have the UCMJ to worry about.

It sounds like a whole host of people want out of the DIA. Just as with the weird allegations used against Shaffer, this portrait — if accurate — begs the question of what the DIA dreads so much. Exposure and embarrassment? Or something worse?
Vi Adkins has a transcript of Curt Weldon’s latest media appearance, an interview with Sean Hannity, at QTMonster.