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ble Danger: Where is the Data?

The latest Able Danger story in the New York Times strikes me as odd. If you haven't seen it, Weldon produced Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who:

said in an interview on Monday night that the small, highly classified intelligence program, known as Able Danger, had identified the terrorist ringleader, Mohamed Atta, and three other future hijackers by name by mid-2000, and tried to arrange a meeting that summer with agents of the Washington field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to share its information.

Very troubling, if his account turns out to be accurate. But a few later points give me pause:

The Defense Department did not dispute the account from Colonel Shaffer, a 42-year-old native of Kansas City, Mo., who is the first military officer associated with the program to acknowledge his role publicly.

At the same time, the department said in a statement that it was "working to gain more clarity on this issue" and that "it's too early to comment on findings related to the program identified as Able Danger." The F.B.I. referred calls about Colonel Shaffer to the Pentagon.

And then:

The statement said that while the commission did learn about Able Danger in 2003 and immediately requested Pentagon files about it, none of the documents turned over by the Defense Department referred to Mr. Atta or any of the other hijackers.

Now, this information was not obtained through human sources, radio intercepts, or any other confidential communication. Able Danger operated a data mining operation. It accessed "publicly available information from government immigration agencies, from Internet sites and from paid search engines like LexisNexis." In other words, Atta's name must have come up as data through this mining, presumably repeatedly in some sort of pattern in order for his name to have any significance to the miners.

So there must be data referring to Atta then — right? If so, where is it? There must be documents where Atta's name came up, frequently enough so that Atta would stick out among all the other names which come up in through the data mine. And curiously, not one document with Atta's name has yet come to light.

None of the documents turned over to the Commission mention Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers. Nor do any of the staff notes on documents reviewed in the DOD reading room indicate that Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers were mentioned in any of those documents.

A senior staff member also made verbal inquiries to the HPSCI and CIA staff for any information regarding the ABLE DANGER operation. Neither organization produced any documents about the operation, or displayed any knowledge of it.

Which is odd, to say the least. Assuming that Shaffer's account is accurate, there would have to be data somewhere which led to Atta's identification. If the Pentagon has the mined data which led to Atta, why didn't it turn it over to the 9/11 Commission. If it did turn it over, what happened to it? And the Pentagon must have retained the data, even if it turned it over, right?

So where is it?

Martini Republic - Lead, follow, or have a drink.


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