August 14, 2005


9/11 Panel Explains Move on Intelligence Unit (DOUGLAS JEHL, 8/14/05, NY Times)

The Sept. 11 commission concluded that an intelligence program known as Able Danger "did not turn out to be historically significant," despite hearing a claim that the program had identified the future plot leader Mohammed Atta as a potential terrorist threat more than a year before the 2001 attacks, the commission's former leaders said in a statement on Friday evening. [...]

The statement was issued by Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton after a week in which the Able Danger program, a highly classified operation under the military's Special Operations Command, rose to public prominence. The Sept. 11 commission report made no mention of the unit, disbanded in 2002, and the statement by Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton defended that omission, saying the operation had not been significant "set against the larger context of U.S. policy and intelligence efforts" that involved Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. [...]

Among the questions left by the commission statement is whether the Special Operations Command received information about Mr. Atta and others from the Able Danger team in the summer of 2000 and chose not to forward it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as Mr. Weldon and the former defense intelligence official have said.

If verified, that would be the first indication that Mr. Atta was identified as a threat by any American agency before the Sept. 11 attacks. The Special Operations Command and the Pentagon have declined to comment, and the statement issued by the commission on Friday evening addressed only its own role in reviewing information about the program.

In an interview this week, a former senior military officer disputed that the unit members had ever presented to their superiors information that identified Mr. Atta or other suspected members of Al Qaeda. A second former officer said any information presented by the team to the leaders of the Special Operations Command would have been unlikely to be shared outside the command in the environment that prevailed before Sept. 11.

The former defense intelligence official, who was interviewed twice this week, has repeatedly said that Mr. Atta and four others were identified on a chart presented to the Special Operations Command. The former official said the chart identified about 60 probable members of Al Qaeda.

The historicial significance doesn't lie in whether Atta was identified by name but in the character of the 60 who were picked out by what seem to be pretty basic data-mining techniques that were seemingly rejected before 9-11 for reasons of political correctness and bureaucratic ineptitude and after because of privacy/civil rights hysteria. We'll need to know about the 60 men identified before we can determine how bad a mistake the failure to share such information with law enforcement was in historical terms. At any rate, the ease with which Hank Asher used freely available data to do something similar on 9/13/01 suggests the mistake may have been significant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 14, 2005 4:51 PM
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