Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer is a very brave fellow. He’s also a glutton for punishment.
Lt. Col. Shaffer is the man who is about to be engulfed by the storm of controversy surrounding the Able Danger revelations. And by engulfed, I mean eaten alive chewed up, and spit out in little pieces by the most powerful forces in government; the national security establishment.
What the left refers to as “The Military-Industrial Complex” is actually a much more complicated network of people, of law firms, lobbying concerns, and career bureaucrats who more or less are responsible for the safety and security of the United States. They make up the backbone of any Administration’s national security apparatus – Republican or Democratic. They fill almost all the appointed positions in the bureaucracies as well as sit on the numerous committees, commissions, advisory councils, and ad-hoc study groups (many of which most of us have never heard of) that decide on policy recommendations, weapons systems, international treaties, and the subtleties of diplomacy, not to mention the monitoring of our intelligence agencies.
And Lt. Col Shaffer has just run afoul of this group by 1) exposing a top secret data mining operation that used information gathered by the extraordinarily secret National Security Agency; and 2) opened up several members of the national security establishment who sat on the 9/11 Commission to embarrassing revelations that they may have missed a key element regarding the attack in their final report.
What Colonel Shaffer did was confirm the information that has been reported since last week; that 9/11 Commission staffers were told back in October, 2003 about Able Danger’s discovery of an al Qaeda cell here in the United States more than a year before the attack. We’ve already discussed the embarrassment such a discovery can cause the Commission. But it was Able Danger’s methods that may ultimately prove most damaging to Col. Shaffer’s prospects for continued advancement in the service of the United States army.
Part of Able Danger’s methods included using information gleaned from NSA intercepts. Anyone who has ever read James Bamford’s intriguing books Puzzle Palace or Body of Secrets : Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency knows that the NSA avoids publicity like the plague. And if one of their operations is outed, they become downright nasty. How many “tell-all” books from former NSA employees have you seen? This is due to incredibly strict non-disclosure forms signed by all employees as a condition of employment. Violation is not just grounds for firing; you can go to jail for a very long time if you’re caught talking about the NSA with anyone. That goes double for writing about the Agency.
Since Able Danger was not strictly an NSA operation (it was an operation carried out by Special Forces Command) Lt. Shaffer, as far as we know, is not subject to any non-disclosure agreements. However, any operation that features involvement by the NSA and is subsequently highlighted in national media will not sit well with the national security establishment. Expect the pushback to begin today when, as Junkyard Blog reports, the Pentagon will have a lot to say about Able Danger, none of it earth shattering. The next step will be to make available to some respected national defense correspondent for either the New York Times or Washington Post an actual Able Danger team member to refute Col. Shaffer’s charges.
Shaffer was not an actual Able Danger team member. He was liaison to the team for the Defense Intelligence Agency:
Colonel Shaffer said that his role in Able Danger was as the program’s liaison with the Defense Intelligence Agency in Washington, and that he was not an intelligence analyst. The interview with Colonel Shaffer on Monday night was arranged for The New York Times and Fox News by Representative Curt Weldon, the Pennsylvania Republican who is vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a champion of data-mining programs like Able Danger.
Colonel Shaffer’s lawyer, Mark Zaid, said in an interview that he was concerned that Colonel Shaffer was facing retaliation from the Defense Department – first for having talked to the Sept. 11 commission staff in October 2003 and now for talking with news organizations.
Mr. Zaid said that Colonel Shaffer’s security clearance had been suspended last year because of what the lawyer said were a series of “petty allegations” involving $67 in personal charges on a military cellphone. He noted that despite the disciplinary action, Colonel Shaffer had been promoted this year from the rank of major.
While this certainly put Col. Shaffer in the loop, it’s barely conceivable that the 9/11 Commission may have justified discounting his revelations due to his position as being one step removed from the actual operation. And note how Col. Shaffer’s lawyer puts his client’s dirty laundry on the table immediately. Any hint that the Colonel is airing these allegations to put his superiors in a bad light as revenge for past slights is countered by full disclosure.
Where Col. Shaffer’s real problem is that he’s ruffling the feathers of some very well connected people. I might mention that the national security establishment, contrary to what the Noam Chomsky’s and Alexander Cockburn’s of the world say, is not some gigantic conspiracy of right wing cabalists who run the government from an office at the Pentagon. It is rather a loose network of individuals who’ve known each other for years, see each other at conferences, socialize together, and make it their business to watch each other’s back. Far from being an organized conspiracy, it’s more like a club.
In fact, right wing paranoia over the Tri-Lateral Commission, although silly and misplaced, is probably close to the truth, at least as far as there being a few places like the TLC, Bohemian Grove, and the Council on Foreign Relations where large numbers of the establishment come together to socialize. To say there’s a conspiracy presupposes common aims among a large number of them which is demonstrably untrue. Politics, ideology, and personality divide the establishment as much as it divides any other large group. To posit conspiracy out of this is, well, loony.
But that won’t stop the pushback from a Defense Department that wants to cover its arse over an allegation that it let a bunch of lawyers dictate national security. Nor will it stop a similar effort by 9/11 Commission staffers. The Executive Director of the staff is now one of the most powerful people in Washington, a top aide to Secretary of State Condi Rice Philip Zelicow:
The Able Danger papers shown to the 9/11 Commission at the Pentagon after the Afghanistan meeting did not feature anything mentioning Atta. So the 9/11 Commission says. So either the Commission staff is lying. Or no paper mentioned Atta and Shaffer is just wrong. Or the Defense Department misplaced the paperwork mentioning Atta. Or somebody at the Defense Department deliberately didn’t give the Commission the material.
In the first case, if the 9/11 commission staff is lying, the hell to be paid is going to be colossal. Among other things, it could shake the current State Department to its foundations, since the 9/11 commission staff director, Philip Zelicow, is one of Condi Rice’s most trusted aides.
In the second case, if the Defense Department withheld critical information on this matter, it’s almost impossible to imagine the intensity of the bloodletting that will follow.
That bloodletting will partly be because of who was commanding officer of SOCOM at the time that Able Danger was in operation:
The current Chief of Staff of the US Army is Gen. Peter Schoomaker. He rose through the ranks of Special Operations Command, and was in charge of that command at MacDill Air Force Base at the time Able Danger did its work. If the Pentagon is reticent to confirm Lt Col Shaffer’s story, you have two data points to consider as reasons why. One, the likely involvement of NSA, the most secretive and most effective (largely because it’s so secretive) intel agency we have. They stay out of the limelight and generally because of that run rings around the CIA. Anything that puts a spotlight on NSA is bad, so that in and of itself could be a reason to pour cold water on Able Danger. The second data point is that it could boomerang around on the Army Chief of Staff if he was in any way involved in bottling up Able Danger in his old command. The Pentagon does not want this scandal, not now and not ever. So I’ll be surprised if they say anything interesting anytime in the next hundred years about Able Danger.
Colonel Shaffer is counting on Congressman Curt Weldon to run interference for him. I’m afraid this is an illusion. And damn Weldon if he was able to convince the Colonel that he could protect him. The Congressman should know better. When it comes to protecting its own, the establishment has a history of closing ranks.
I hope the Colonel has a strong constitution. He’s going to need it.
I thought many of the folks serving on the 9/11 panel were weak, pompous politicos â€” placed there because of personal political connections, not defense and intelligence acumen or reputation for careful analysis. However, Lee Hamilton and Tom Kean have credibility, and they were the men who led the commission. If Able Danger had evidence, I expected Kean and Hamilton to demand to see it and vet it.
Yesterday Fox, the AP and NY Times changed the dimensions of this story. Iâ€™m still not certain where the allegations will lead, but we now have an officer involved providing details. How clear and detailed was the Able Danger information? We still donâ€™t knowâ€“ Weldonâ€™s and Shafferâ€™s allegations could still unravel if the information amounts to â€œhearsay.â€
Tom Maguire whose skepticism is diminishing…slowly:
Let’s end with an easy question – do people think they have seen enough to merit a Congressional investigation? And do people want the investigation to be in Curt Weldon’s House, or over in the Senate?
My answer – if the Defense Dept. now denies everything, I may not believe them, and if they admit that they sat on Atta’s name, I really won’t believe it – send it to the Senate, start putting people under oath, and sort this out.
Weldon’s credibility is zero. But a joint House-Senate Committee wouldn’t be out of the question. Besides, Weldon would insist on face time for the cameras seeing as its his witnesses who would play the starring role.