I just received a note from someone with special understanding of the Able Danger sitch. (Suddenly, everyone on the net has only one or two degrees of separation from Tony Shaffer.) The correspondent asked not to be quoted or identified, so I'll speak only in very general terms.
Basically, you'll receive much the same info if you go to Intel Dump
, which relays a message from Shaffer himself. The bottom line: The identification of Atta was squelched by SOCOM lawyers.
As Shaffer tells it:
First - yes - The lawyers involved in this (and similar projects) did interpret the 9-11 terrorists as "US persons" - so while you can second guess them all you want - but that was their "legal" call as wrong as it was and is. Unfortunately, the chain of command at SOCOM went along with them (and this, I expect, will be a topic that will become more clear in the near future).
And lawyers of the era also felt that any intelligence officer viewing open internet information for the purpose of intelligence collection automatically required that any "open source" information obtained be treated as if it was "intelligence information"...does this sound like idiocy to you? It did to me - and we fought it - and I was in meetings at the OSD level, with OSD lawyers, that debated this - and I even briefed the DCI George Tenet on this issue relating to an internet project.
And yes, Virginia - we tried to tell the lawyers that since the data identified Atta and the others as linked to Al Qaeda, we should be able to collect on them based on SecState Albright's declaration of Al Qaeda as transnational terrorist threat to the US...well the lawyers did not agree...go figure...so we could not collect on them - and for political reasons - could not pass them to the FBI...I know because I brokered three meetings between the FBI and SOCOM to allow SOCOM to pass the information to the FBI. And, sadly, SOCOM cancelled them every time...
Do I buy this? Well...
First, note that none of this credibilizes the Republican spin (as heard recently on the O'Reilly and Limbaugh shows) that the whole problem comes down to interference by Clinton's Assistant Attorney General Jamie Gorelick. The Department of Defense and the Department of Justice are two separate things
. I've yet to hear anyone offer a credible argument that Gorelick went around telling folks at DOD what to do.
The moment Shaffer starts peddling that
crap is the moment we will know that he has been handed a disinformation script. So far, he hasn't said that.
At this point, Jon Holdaway's comments on SOCOM are worth noting:
Their attorneys would be normal senior judge advocates, and based on what I've seen of training on intelligence oversight and FBI coordination issues in the Army JAG Corps, these guys most likely didn't know what laws and policies out there actually impinged on intelligence sharing operations.
Investigators also need to look at SOCOM leadership, including GEN Schoomaker. If they kept the rest of the Army and DOD in the dark on Able Danger and the results of their investigation, preventing effective FBI coordination, then they ought to be identified and questioned as to their reasoning for that decision. And finally, there needs to be a look into what the Army's Information Dominance Center knew about Atta pre-9/11. I know there was an effort after 9/11 to check all databases to make sure this sort of problem didn't occur, but INSCOM may need to check again to see what they put together in support of Able Danger.
Yeah, I too would like to hear what these fellows have to say about all this.
So why doesn't the right ever mention SOCOM, Schoomaker, and the rest? Why do the propagandists insist on bringing Gorelick into the equation?
Because they hate
her, not least because she was on the 9/11 Commission.
Lefties who didn't like that commission's work may not understand that righties also disliked that report. The right wanted the commission to say that the 9/11 catastrophe was all Clinton's fault -- because, you know, everything
bad must be all Clinton's fault. And they blame Gorelick for "forcing" the commission to stray from this Approved Party Line.
That said, we can assign some credibility to the idea that lawyers -- of whatever stripe -- might have been particularly worried about privacy rights in those days. The hidden subtext of Able Danger's data mining operation is that the whole thing was of dubious illegality. Maybe not by modern standards -- anything
goes, these days -- but political realities were different then. At that time, you will recall, the same right-wing zealots who now insist on maintaining the Patriot Act were screaming that the Evil KKKlinton wanted to invade our privacy and round us into concentration camps and force us all to the wear the Mark of the Beast.
Remember those days? Kinda puts things into a different perspective, dunnit? That
said, let's keep in mind some very important facts:
According to Eleanor Hill's September, 2002 report to the Goss/Graham 9/11 investigation, inter-agency communication on terrorism within the intelligence community during the Clinton era was much better than many suppose. For example, in 1997 and 1998, the FBI received word from other agencies of planned attacks similar to the 9/11 disaster. Interagency cooperation foiled the millennium plot.
So we still don't know the real
reason why SOCOM did not share the data on Atta with the FBI. If the CIA and FBI could get together (and they did
)...if the NSA and FBI could get together (and they did
)...why not DIA and FBI
In Raw Story
, Mideast expert Nafeez Ahmed notes...
The explanation was disingenuous. "Mohammed Atta and his terrorist cohorts were clearly and factually established as Al-Qaeda functionaries of a foreign government [Taliban of Afghanistan] with Al-Qaeda itself being a Designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (DFTO)", noted Sean Osborne of the US Army's Program Executive Office - Command, Control, Communications Tactical (PEOC3T) within the Special Project Office (SPO).
"Designated terrorists do not receive and retain 'green card' status, and any card so previously attained would have to be considered a priori fraudulent, null and void," Osborne stated.
In fact, there are 13 exceptions within Executive Order 12333 allowing intelligence-collection on US Persons and bona-fide green card-holders, including for Counterintelligence purposes, allowing for collection of against individuals reasonably suspected of involvement in international terrorism, as well as their associates....
But all this is academic. Mohamed Atta was never a green-card holder. Worse still, he never had a valid entry visa.
As noted earlier, Shaffer's reply to all this is a simple "the lawyers did not agree." But is that all
there is to it?
Let's stop asking "Why didn't the government catch Atta?" Let's ask "Why was tape placed over Atta's face at a time when the millennium plot was foiled? Why protect him
and not Ressam?"
By the way, we have yet to see the right-wingers address two other key points:
1. How are we supposed to blame Clinton while absolving Bush? The same data on Atta was available after W took office.
2. If we take the Able Danger story at face value, then the Bush-era investigation into 9/11 -- the most important investigation ever -- was a screw-up. Or maybe something worse than a screw-up. Able Danger apparently identified Atta in 1999. Bush's FBI said he entered the country in June of 2000, and they stuck to that story even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
And why don't the rightists ask "Why?"?