September 26, 2005

What Shut Down Able Danger?

We know that the Able Danger data-mining operation that uncovered the identity of Mohammed Atta more than a year prior to the 9/11 attacks was shut down abruptly in mid-2000, and that over 2.5 terabytes of data gleaned from that operation was intentionally destroyed. What we don't yet know is why.

The representatives of the Pentagon have used as their justification for the data's destruction the fact that the program had turned up information on U.S. citizens, claiming that to collect such information would violate U.S. law. Andrew C. McCarthy calls such a justification "abject nonsense", and proceeds to demolish that line of argument in his NRO piece today.

The Pentagon's on again-off again decision on allowing the five Able Danger witnesses to testify in congressional hearings is now back on, with the testimony rescheduled for Oct. 5. Ed Morrissey followed up on this post and started looking into one of the key players on the Able Danger technical team. He reports here on Dr. Eileen Preisser, an expert in, and outspoken advocate of data-mining technologies. The 9/11 Commission wasn't interested in what she had to say, but Ed suggests we all might be very interested now.

There has been considerable speculation that the abrupt termination of Able Danger was in response to information that surfaced relative to the Clintons' "Chinagate" campaign funding scandal of the late 90's. These connections were explored in a terrific post by Dafydd at Captains Quarters a few weeks ago, and more recently in this Strata-Sphere post.

McCarthy talks about the Pentagon culture, what he calls the "suicide ethos", which over the years has so grossly distorted our priorities in intelligence gathering, to the detriment of our national security. I don't doubt that this culture exists. It's all part and parcel of the rampant careerism and bureaucratic inertia that has been criticized but not corrected in our intelligence apparatus. (Here is an interesting piece by Peter Brookes that outlines some of the progress being made by Porter Goss in his attempt to reform and reorganize the CIA.)

But at the moment, my concern is with getting the answers to more immediate questions. With the 9/11 Commission's credibility already in tatters, the American people deserve to know if the Commission was actually prevented from seeing the Able Danger data, or if they in fact saw it, but chose to ignore it because it didn't fit their established narratives. Or did they ignore it because disclosing that the government had pre-9/11 knowledge of Mohammed Atta, and failed to act on that knowledge, would outrage the American people to such a degree that a coverup was considered the only option?

Posted by dan at September 26, 2005 4:00 PM