Able Danger Followup

ABLE DANGER FOLLOWUP….I’ve been meaning to write up another post about Congressman Curt Weldon’s “Able Danger” story (background here if you’re not up to speed on this), but I’ve had a hard time getting my hands around the whole mess. The only thing that’s sure is that the NRO crowd is going absolutely batshit over it. “This is clearly becoming the biggest story of the summer,” thunders John Podhoretz. “Clinton, Berger, and the others didn?t want to have to act against terrorist groups inside the United States, so the system didn?t send them information,” explains Michael Ledeen ominously. “Why has the public not been told…what was in the classified documents that Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger illegally pilfered from the archives?” demands Andy McCarthy.

This is a mountain of speculation given that actual facts on the ground seem to be almost nonexistent. We know that the Able Danger program existed, but that’s about it. We don’t really know anything about it aside from the vague description that it was a data mining operation of some kind; we don’t know what it discovered about al-Qaeda; and we don’t know whether it identified any of the 9/11 terrorists a year before the attacks, as Curt Weldon claims. There is, literally, about three sentences worth of information about the nature of Able Danger in the published reports so far, all of it from Weldon and his obviously disgruntled intelligence source.

So: is Able Danger the biggest story of the summer? Did the 9/11 Commission know that Able Danger had identified Mohamed Atta in 2000? Did they nonetheless refuse to mention this in their report?

Maybe. But the commission has now issued a statement based on notes taken in 2003 and 2004, and it sure doesn’t sound like it. Laura Rozen has the entire statement, but here’s an excerpt:

On October 21, 2003…met at Bagram Base, Afghanistan…referred to DOD program known as ABLE DANGER….Commission staff promptly prepared a memorandum for the record…does not record any mention of Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers.

….In February 2004, DOD provided documents [about Able Danger]…None of the documents turned over to the Commission mention Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers.

….In 2004, Congressman Curt Weldon…contacted the Commission….No mention was made in these conversations of a claim that Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers had been identified by DOD employees before 9/11.

….In early July 2004…U.S. Navy officer employed at DOD…claiming that the project had linked Atta to an al Qaeda cell located in New York in the 1999-2000 time frame….The interviewee had no documentary evidence and said he had only seen the document briefly some years earlier….Weighing this with the information about Atta?s actual activities…the Commission staff concluded that the officer?s account was not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation.

The Able Danger program was classified, of course, so we may never know exactly what it was and what it found out ? especially since if the Pentagon was aware of Atta in 2000 it’s not likely to want to admit it in any case. However, I’m going to stick with my original guess: it produced some general information about al-Qaeda, but nothing specifically about Atta or the other 9/11 hijackers. That’s why no one ever mentioned Atta in the original reports. Later on, frustrated because their story wasn’t getting enough attention, Weldon and his source embellished it to suggest that Able Danger had specifically uncovered actionable intelligence about an al-Qaeda cell in Brooklyn headed by Atta. The 9/11 Commission, which was days away from finishing its report, didn’t believe this suddenly revised story and chose not to include it in its report.

If more details come out about this, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, I suspect there’s really nothing here except an intelligence officer disgruntled that his program was shut down and a credulous congressman who wanted to believe him. Stay tuned.