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Published: Saturday, 2/18/2006

The suppression of Able Danger

"WE were sitting on the north coast watching the fighters come in, and we couldn't do anything about it," Eric Kleinsmith told the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday.

The allusion Mr. Kleinsmith made was to the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but he was speaking of the more devastating surprise attack which took place on Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. Kleinsmith and the two colleagues who testified with him in open session are convinced that had the information they developed been acted on, not only 9/11, but also the October, 2000, attack on the destroyer USS Cole in which 17 sailors died could have been prevented.

In 1999 and 2000 then-Maj. Kleinsmith was the chief of intelligence for the Army's Land Information Warfare Activity at Ft. Belvoir, Va. LIWA was using the then-novel capabilities of data mining to help a top secret unit of Special Operations Command locate al-Qaeda cells around the world. The unit had the code name "Able Danger."

Through computer scanning of some 2.5 terabytes of classified and unclassified data, the Able Danger team identified five "nodes" of al-Qaeda activity. One was in Brooklyn, N.Y. Another was in the port of Aden in Yemen, where the USS Cole was attacked.

Able Danger linked Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers to the Brooklyn cell, said Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, who was the liaison between the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Able Danger team.

"It shocked us how entrenched a presence al-Qaeda had in the United States," Mr. Kleinsmith said.

Colonel Shaffer testified he tried three times to have Able Danger data on the Brooklyn cell presented to the FBI, but that on each occasion Pentagon lawyers forbade the meeting.

In a commentary in the Wall Journal last November, Louis Freeh, who was FBI director at the time, said that if he had been told about what Able Danger had learned, 9/11 likely would have been prevented.

In March, 2000, Mr. Kleinsmith was ordered to stop all work on Able Danger, and, later, to delete all the information collected.

Special Operations Command didn't want to lose the capability, so it transferred Able Danger to a private contractor, Raytheon, at its Garland, Texas, facility.

A subcontractor for Raytheon at Garland was the Orion Corp., which made charts of the linkages the data miners identified. J.T. Smith worked for Orion on the project. Mr. Smith told the committee he acquired through an Arab source in Los Angeles a grainy photograph of Mohamed Atta to illustrate a chart on the Brooklyn cell.

"I'm absolutely certain [it was Atta]," Mr. Smith said. "I used to look at [the chart] every morning."

Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, told the committee his office was unable to find a copy of the chart or any other evidence supporting the claims of Colonel Shaffer and Mr. Smith.

The thoroughness of his "investigation" was called into question when neither Mr. Cambone nor the three underlings he had with him could name the man who ran Able Danger during its Garland phase.

That embarrassing admission was elicited by U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, a Philadelphia-area Republican.

When Colonel Shaffer was interviewing to become an intelligence officer, he admitted that at age 13, he had taken a box of pens from the embassy where his father worked. After he went public, the Defense Intelligence Agency tried to use that, $180 in disputed travel expenses, and $67 in disputed telephone charges, as grounds for firing him.

Mr. Smith testified he'd lost two jobs since coming forward. Because of what's happened to Colonel Shaffer and Mr. Smith, other witnesses insisted on testifying behind closed doors, so they would be protected from retaliation from superiors whose negligence kept Able Danger's findings from the FBI and the captain of the Cole.

It's unclear why the Bush Administration is covering up, since the suppression of Able Danger occurred on President Clinton's watch. But it is clear there is a cover-up. One would think a Washington press corps obsessing about a hunting accident in Texas would be more curious about it.



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