August 9, 2005


Four in 9/11 Plot Are Called Tied to Qaeda in '00 (DOUGLAS JEHL, 8/09/05, NY Times)

More than a year before the Sept. 11 attacks, a small, highly classified military intelligence unit identified Mohammed Atta and three other future hijackers as likely members of a cell of Al Qaeda operating in the United States, according to a former defense intelligence official and a Republican member of Congress.

In the summer of 2000, the military team, known as Able Danger, prepared a chart that included visa photographs of the four men and recommended to the military's Special Operations Command that the information be shared with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the congressman, Representative Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, and the former intelligence official said Monday.

The recommendation was rejected and the information was not shared, they said, apparently at least in part because Mr. Atta, and the others were in the United States on valid entry visas. Under American law, United States citizens and green-card holders may not be singled out in intelligence-collection operations by the military or intelligence agencies. That protection does not extend to visa holders, but Mr. Weldon and the former intelligence official said it might have reinforced a sense of discomfort common before Sept. 11 about sharing intelligence information with a law enforcement agency. [...]

The account is the first assertion that Mr. Atta, an Egyptian who became the lead hijacker in the plot, was identified by any American government agency as a potential threat before the Sept. 11 attacks. Among the 19 hijackers, only Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi had been identified as potential threats by the Central Intelligence Agency before the summer of 2000, and information about them was not provided to the F.B.I. until the spring of 2001.

Mr. Weldon has long been a champion of the kind of data-mining analysis that was the basis for the work of the Able Danger team.

The former intelligence official spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying he did not want to jeopardize political support and the possible financing for future data-mining operations by speaking publicly. He said the team had been established by the Special Operations Command in 1999, under a classified directive issued by Gen. Hugh Shelton, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to assemble information about Al Qaeda networks around the world.

"Ultimately, Able Danger was going to give decision makers options for taking out Al Qaeda targets," the former defense intelligence official said.

He said that he delivered the chart in summer 2000 to the Special Operations Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., and said that it had been based on information from unclassified sources and government records, including those of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"We knew these were bad guys, and we wanted to do something about them," the former intelligence official said.

The unit, which relied heavily on data-mining techniques, was modeled after those first established by Army intelligence at the Land Information Warfare Assessment Center, now known as the Information Dominance Center, at Fort Belvoir, Va., the official said.

It's crazy not to make use of these data-mining techniques and of readily available information.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 9, 2005 1:46 PM

Most of the Able Danger information is probably in Sandy's shredder.

Posted by: Palmcroft at August 9, 2005 5:37 PM

Gotta ask Jamie Gorelick about this.

Posted by: jim hamlen at August 9, 2005 10:16 PM

The CIA is furiously fighting a rear-guard action (as in CYA) to conceal their intelligence failures before 2001. They are trying to paint Rep. Weldon as an intelligence crackpot, though he sits on the House Intelligence Committee. This ignores the fact that Able Danger apparently correctly identified an Al Qaeda cell containg 4 of the hijackers, and that this information was either blocked from going to the CIA/FBI by Jamie Gorelick's wall of separation, was ignored by the CIA, or was tabled by Richard Clarke and/or Sandy Berger. Perhaps this is what Mr. Berger was trying to conceal with his theft of classified documents.

Further, CIA is trying to discredit Weldon's Iranian sources, who, according to Weldon, correctly predicted the unexpected hard-line victory in the recent Iranian elections and have given him accurate information for the last 5+ years. There is an excellent discussion of this at Captain's Quarters: Dafydd: Tangled Webs, Contrasting Countdowns.

Traditional intelligence has been broken down into two categories, the collectors and the analysts. The analysts must tell the collectors what types of information are of interest, the collectors must be able to get such information and pass it back to the analysts, who must then correctly connect the dots. Failure to foresee threats, to collect the required information, or communication breakdowns in either direction will result in an intelligence failure, of which we have had many.

Perhaps it is time for a new paradigm, particularly when dealing with amorphous groups like Al Qaeda. The DoD is (or was) apparently using data mining of open sources combined with social network mapping software to locate terrorist cells, which was apparently successful in identifying a terrorist cell. If this were combined with NSA's secret communications data, it would be that much more effective. This is like Bacon's enumeration program for science or the brute force algorithms of computer chess: they can not be done by humans because of the amount of data and labor involved, but they can now be done effectively by computer, and they have the advantage of having no preconceptions about threats or means.

Posted by: jd watson at August 10, 2005 12:43 AM