The Able Danger story is…well, I don’t know. Frankly, I am at a total loss as to where this story is much less where it’s going And anyone who claims otherwise can safely be ignored. That includes both righty and lefty bloggers both of whom are engaging in wild speculation involving Bush, the Saudis, the 9/11 Commission, the Pentagon, and a conspiracy involving Republicans. Let’s just present the information that came out yesterday and chew on it for a while to see if we can make any sense at all about what the heck is going on.
WHAT WE KNOW (FACTS WITH SOME REASONABLE SPECULATION)
Two more sources came forward yesterday confirming what Lt. Col Shaffer said last week; that Able Danger had uncovered at least one of the 9/11 hijackers names prior to 9/11 and tied him to al Qaeda. The first thing you notice however is a discrepancy in dates. Here’s the “new” source, Navy Captain Scott Phillpott:
The officer, Scott J. Phillpott, said in a statement today that he could not discuss details of the military program, which was called Able Danger, but confirmed that its analysts had identified the Sept. 11 ringleader, Mohamed Atta, by name by early 2000. “My story is consistent,” said Captain Phillpott, who managed the program for the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command. “Atta was identified by Able Danger by January-February of 2000.”
Col. Shaffer however says that they had ID’d Atta in “the spring of 2000.” Can both be right?
Then there’s the story of a private contractor hired by the Able Danger team to “create a chart in 2000 for the intelligence program that included Mr. Atta’s photograph and name.”
The former contractor, James D. Smith, said that Mr. Atta’s name and photograph were obtained through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. Mr. Smith said that he had retained a copy of the chart for some time and that it had been posted on his office wall at Andrews Air Force Base. He said it had become stuck to the wall and was impossible to remove when he switched jobs.
As Laura Rozen rightly asks, “stuck to the wall?” A top secret chart with Mohamed Atta’s face along with God knows what else stuck on a wall like some bank calendar? For what purpose? And he couldn’t remove it when he changed jobs? And is this the same “chart” that Crazy Curt Weldon says he gave to National Security Adviser Steve Hadley immediately after 9/11?
Is your head starting to hurt too?
Then there’s the Pentagon and the case of the missing files. Or destroyed files. Or misplaced files. Or the files that didn’t exist in the first place. Whatever the case, as I predicted here, they’re hanging Col. Shaffer out to dry:
The Pentagon has been unable to validate claims that a secret intelligence unit identified Sept. 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta as a terrorist more than a year before the attacks, a Defense Department spokesman said Monday.
Larry Di Rita said that some research into the matter continues, but thus far there has been no evidence that the intelligence unit, called “Able Danger,” came up with information as specific as an officer associated with the program has asserted.
But of course, that doesn’t mean that poor Col. Shaffer is lying:
Di Rita said Pentagon researchers have found no evidence that Able Danger had Mohamed Atta’s name. He said he was unsure whether the unit came up with the identities of the other three hijackers but then said that none of Shaffer’s specific claims had been validated.
Shaffer himself has not provided any documentary proof, Di Rita said, and he said Shaffer has presented his information as second hand.
All that’s missing in that description is the sad shaking of the head and a wistful look on the face as Di Rita cuts Shaffer off at the knees.
And as far as “documentary proof” I daresay if Col. Shaffer did have some files he would promptly be arrested and thrown in the clink for a very long time. The Pentagon does not look kindly on people who steal classified material.
So, is the Pentagon stonewalling? Or stalling for time? Or are they genuinely at a loss as to what Col. Shaffer, Captain Phillpott, and Mr. Smith are talking about?
Beats me. Jack Kelly (whose must read post we’ll get into later) has some interesting thoughts:
ABLE DANGER was established by Special Operations Command in 1999, when Gen. Peter Schoomaker headed SOCOM. Schoomaker retired at the end of 2000. A few months after the change of command, ABLE DANGER was deep-sixed.
There are many in the Pentagon who would like to have the ABLE DANGER controversy go away. But in 2003, Rumsfeld brought Schoomaker back from the retired list to become chief of staff of the Army. If he is still as much a fan of ABLE DANGER as he was when he authorized its creation, Schoomaker would be in a position to prevent a whitewash.
The last thing we know for sure is that Col. Shaffer and other members of Able Danger met with members of the Republican leadership before going public and that Shaffer talked to Undersecretary of Defense Mike Cambrone to assess DoD’s attitude:
“I spoke personally to Denny Hastert and to Pete Hoekstra,” Shaffer told United Press International. Rep. Hastert, R-Ill., is speaker of the House, and Rep. Hoekstra, R-Mich., is chairman of that chamber’s intelligence committee.
“I was given assurances by (them) that this was the right thing to do … I was given assurances we would not suffer any adverse consequences for bringing this to the attention of the public,” Shaffer said, adding that the conversations took place before he and members of the Able Danger team spoke to the media anonymously in the offices of Republican firebrand Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, Aug. 8.
Shaffer also said he was given what he interpreted as tacit approval from senior Pentagon officials before going on the record to Fox News and the New York Times last week, thus revealing his identity and adding both credibility and a new twist to the story.
Shaffer he said he had met the previous day with Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Steven Cambone and Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, the staff director for outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers.
While the left has tried to spin this as some kind of Republican plot, it makes eminently good sense if you’re a whistleblower about to take on the national security establishment that you line up some pretty powerful people to cover your backside. It showed some smarts on Shaffer’s part not to rely on Weldon for protection. The Pentagon has just started to push back and they will think twice about getting too rough with an officer with the record and experience of Shaffer if they think they’ll have some angry Republicans to deal with.
That said, it should be made clear right here and right now; there are dangers for both the right and left in this story. As Jack Kelly asks “Why was Able Danger stopped in March of 2001?” Republicans may not want to know the answer to that question any more than Democrats would just wish the whole issue would go away and not remind people that the Clinton Administration did precious little to stop al Qadea from planning and executing the biggest terrorist attack (and consequent intelligence failure) in history.
QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS
As I mentioned earlier, read this post by Jack Kelly who asks some pretty damn pertinent questions. Here are just a few:
The next question is: WHO KILLED ABLE DANGER? Remember that the program was terminated in the early months of the Bush administration, not the last months of the Clinton administration.
Did Bush’s national security team order ABLE DANGER to be shut down?
Did Bush’s national security team know of, and acquiesce in, a decision to shut down ABLE DANGER made at a lower level?
Was Bush’s national security team even aware of the existence of ABLE DANGER before it was terminated?
The answers to these questions could shed some light on what otherwise seems puzzling behavior.
For those who want to make this a partisan issue – right and left – it’s time to let go of petty bulls**t like that and start thinking about what’s best for the country.
When the 9/11 Commission was holding its very public and very partisan hearings in the middle of an election year, it became an absolute necessity for the right to push back against the smearing and slandering testimony of self-serving lickspittle bureaucrats like Joe Wilson and Richard Clarke. They are both beneath contempt for their efforts to self-aggrandize themselves at the expense of Condi Rice, John Ashcroft, and the President himself. To act that way in public hearings on the biggest terrorist attack in history showed them to be people without honor or scruples. Both went on to advise John Kerry on his campaign and one can only speculate that their nauseating performance before the Committee served as an audition of sorts for getting those positions – not to mention a way to get a huge amount of free publicity for selling their books.
The revelations regarding Able Danger show that at the very least, the 9/11 Commission was so infected with partisan politics that they failed to do their job. I don’t know why the information about Atta and Able Danger was not included in the Commission’s Final Report. But if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that part of the reason was the necessity to reach a consensus on a narrative with both partisan camps on the Committee. Able Danger’s revelations could very well have upset a timeline we had for Mohamed Atta and when he was in this country. Changing the timeline would have meant substantially changing the narrative, something that was probably carefully worked out between various partisan staffers in the months leading up to the release of the Final Report.
Another possible explanation is that they lost or misplaced the file on Col. Shaffer’s October, 2003 meeting with staffers in Afghanistan. Sometimes, the simplest explanation – stupidity – is the most logical. And since Captain Phillpott was interviewed by a different staffer (Deitrich Snell) it’s barely possible that Able Danger was dismissed because one part of the committee staff didn’t know what the other part was doing. Again, the simplest explanation could apply; incompetence.
What is no longer a possibility is that three different people are lying through their teeth. Which brings us back to the Pentagon and their lack of success in finding any documentary proof of the allegations. Here’s Jack Kelly asking the right questions:
Shaffer says the records of ABLE DANGER are no longer where they were put when the group was shut down. This doesn’t surprise me at all.
Shaffer claims he was ordered by a two star general at the Defense Intelligence Agency to stop trying to bring ABLE DANGER’s findings to the attention of the FBI. Suppose you were that two-star general. If ABLE DANGER did in fact identify Atta’s cell a year before al Qaeda struck, then what you did was the single greatest act of negligence leading up to the 9/11 attacks. Your career and reputation would not survive disclosure. Nor would it be good for the careers of the Pentagon lawyers who blocked the meetings to have their identities disclosed.
The Pentagon purportedly has been carrying out a search for the missing ABLE DANGER documents. Opponents of ABLE DANGER have been predicting for more than a week that a statement debunking ABLE DANGER was imminent. But no such statement has yet been forthcoming. I have a theory as to why.
Was there a shredding party at DoD in the immediate aftermath of 9/11?
It wouldn’t be unprecedented. Following the assassination of John F. Kennedy both J. Edgar Hoover and CIA Director John McCone scrambled to cleanse their files of references to Oswald. They didn’t do a very good job as was found out later when thousands of pages of documents were released by the FBI and CIA showing that both agencies showed more than a passing interest in the assassin. These documents were not supplied to the Warren Commission. And while the documents wouldn’t have changed the Commission’s conclusions, it would have showed that the FBI knew all about Oswald and were probably using him as something of an informal informant, spying on the small group of Russian emigres in Dallas that Oswald’s wife Marina had become friendly with. And the CIA was covering up the fact that they suspected Oswald could have been a Soviet spy.
What this suggests is that there may have been more than one shredding party following 9/11. The German police had been watching an associate of Mohamed Atta’s for years prior to 9/11. This associate lived with Atta in Hamburg and his name was also on the lease where Atta lived. While the CIA swears up and down they had never heard of Atta prior to 9/11 there is some evidence – tantalizing and unconfirmed – that Mohamed Atta was known as an al Qaeda operative prior to 9/11 by the CIA:
During the 28 months Atta’s name is on the apartment lease, 29 Middle Eastern or North African men register the apartment as their home address. From the very beginning, the apartment was officially under surveillance by German intelligence, because of investigations into businessman Mamoun Darkazanli that connect to Said Bahaji. [Washington Post, 10/23/01] The Germans also suspect connections between Bahaji and al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/02 – link not available] German intelligence monitors the apartment off and on for months, and wiretaps Mounir El Motassadeq, an associate of the apartment-mates who is later put on trial in August 2002 for assisting the 9/11 plot, but apparently do not find any indication of suspicious activity. [Chicago Tribune, 9/5/02]
So if the CIA knew of Atta as far back as 1999 – admittedly a speculative possibility – it’s also possible that Able Danger would have known of him as well.
All of this doesn’t get us any closer to the truth. For that, it appears to me that we’ll have to re-open the entire investigation. As the Captain points out, even the interrogations of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed may have to be viewed in a different light:
How good was the data for the Atta timeline, and how solid did the Commission nail down his movements? Looking at the data on pages 167 and 168 of the report, it appears that all of the information that the Commission used to establish travel timelines for the Atta cell came from interrogations of Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. These two AQ officers later also discounted Atta’s travel to Prague in April 2001, despite the insistence of Czech intelligence that he met with the Iraqi envoy and an IIS agent at that time.
It seems most likely that Atta and his team may have traveled to the US, either under their own names or variants, and performed some scouting for suitable locations before moving themselves to the US for good. The Able Danger squad has insisted that their requests to coordinate with the FBI got denied on the basis that Atta had become a resident of the US. Binalshibh and KSM could have created a disinformation scenario for the FBI; only the interrogators there know for sure how reliable the pair’s information proved to be.
If the 9/11 Commission whitewashed anyone’s incompetence including mistakes by the Bush or Clinton Administrations or even more costly errors by the CIA and FBI, it’s time to find this out now. The 9/11 Commission was the most important investigative body since Watergate and it appears to have dropped the ball. I hope everyone can agree – right and left – that we owe it to the 3000 dead and their grieving families to find out what happened and let the political chips fall where they may.
Here are a couple of other links you should check out.
Bryan Preston (subbing for Michelle Malkin) has a great way to find out if Mr. Smith’s story is true:
This is truly one strange saga we have on our hands. But his story should be easy enough to confirm with a quick road trip to the base with Smith in tow. Someone has to remember a large chart stuck to a wall with Mohammed Atta’s easily noticed scowl, if it’s not actually still there.
AJ at the Strata-Sphere has some react to Slade Gorton’s appearance on Fox last night:
I was watching Sen Slade Gorton on Oâ€™Reilly make a complete fool of himself by getting out on a limb and saying there is nothing at all to the Able Danger story, and had to come post an update. I believe there is something here because of all the strange responses in 200o and now. But I am not willing to say one way or the other whether Able Danger is a real issue or not. No one should be saying that until all three criteria for burying this story are met, as I posted earlier. Slade is taking a huge risk coming out and basically calling Lt. Col. Schaffer a liar, or at least an extreme exaggerator.
AJ also has the observation of the day:
It looks like this will come to a head quite soon. I find it hard to believe these career people would go out on a limb if there was nothing to the Able Danger story?
Additional thoughts by Captain Ed here and here.