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Profile: Able Danger

 
  

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Able Danger actively participated in the following events:

 
  

Fall 1999: Army Intelligence Program Is Set Up to Gather Information on Al-Qaeda      Complete 911 Timeline

      
Gen. Pete Schoomaker.
On the orders of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the head of the military's Special Operations Command (SOCOM), sets up an intelligence program called Able Danger, to assemble information about al-Qaeda networks around the world. SOCOM, based in Tampa, Florida, is responsible for America's secret commando units. [Government Security News, 9/05] At least some of the data is collected on behalf of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert, the J3 at US Special Operations Command. [Curt Weldon Statement, 9/21/05] Mark Zaid, a lawyer for several Able Danger whistleblowers in 2005, will give this description of Able Danger: “In the most understandable and simplistic terms, Able Danger involved the searching out and compiling of open source or other publicly available information regarding specific targets or tasks that were connected through associational links. No classified information was used. No government database systems were used. In addition to examining al-Qaeda links, Able Danger also handled tasks relating to Bosnia and China. The search and compilation efforts were primarily handled by defense contractors, who did not necessarily know they were working for Able Danger, and that information was then to be utilized by the military members of Able Danger for whatever appropriate purposes.” [Mark Zaid Testimony, 9/21/05] Eleven intelligence employees are directly involved in Able Danger's work. Six are with SOCOM's Able Danger unit. Four more, including Dr. Eileen Preisser and Maj. Eric Kleinsmith, are with the US Army's Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA), which joins the effort in December 1999. LIWA had been conducing data mining already on a wide variety of topics, including international drug cartels, corruption in Russia and Serbia, terrorist linkages in the Far East, and the proliferation of sensitive military technology to China (see April 2000). Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer running a unit called Stratus Ivy in the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) will also take part in the effort. [Government Security News, 8/05; Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/05; New York Times, 8/9/05; St Petersburg Times, 8/10/05; Erik Kleinsmith Statement, 9/21/05; Government Security News, 9/05; Bergen Record, 8/14/05; Curt Weldon Statement, 9/21/05] Using computers, the unit collects huge amounts of data in a technique called “data mining.” They get information from such sources as al-Qaeda Internet chat rooms, news accounts, web sites, and financial records. Using sophisticated software, they compare this with government records such as visa applications by foreign tourists, to find any correlations and depict these visually. [Government Security News, 9/05; Bergen Record, 8/14/05] The program lasts for 18 months, and is shut down early in 2001 (see January-March 2001).
People and organizations involved: Peter J. Schoomaker, Russia, Bosnia, al-Qaeda, Geoffrey Lambert, China, Curt Weldon, Hugh Shelton, Mark Zaid, Special Operations Command, Anthony Shaffer, Eric Kleinsmith, Eileen Preisser, Able Danger
          

October 1999: CIA Does Not Share Information with Able Danger Program      Complete 911 Timeline

       Capt. Scott Phillpott, head of the Able Danger program, asks Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer to talk to a representative of CIA Director George Tenet and attempt to convince him that the new Able Danger program is not competing with the CIA. Shaffer later recalls the CIA representative replying, “I clearly understand the difference. I clearly understand. We're going after the leadership. You guys are going after the body. But, it doesn't matter. The bottom line is, CIA will never give you the best information from ‘Alex Base’ [the CIA's covert action element targeting bin Laden] or anywhere else. CIA will never provide that to you because if you were successful in your effort to target al-Qaeda, you will steal our thunder. Therefore, we will not support this.” Shaffer claims that for the duration of Able Danger's existence, “To my knowledge, and my other colleagues' knowledge, there was no information ever released to us because CIA chose not to participate in Able Danger.” [Government Security News, 9/05]
People and organizations involved: Able Danger, Anthony Shaffer, Scott Phillpott, Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet
          

January-February 2000: Secret Military Unit Identifies al-Qaeda ‘Brooklyn’ Cell; Mohamed Atta is a Member      Complete 911 Timeline

      
A blurry photograph of a 2005 reconstruction of the pre-9/11 Able Danger chart showing Mohamed Atta and others.
A US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identifies five al-Qaeda terrorist cells; one of them has connections to Brooklyn, New York and will become informally known as the “Brooklyn” cell by the Able Danger team. This cell includes 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta, and three other 9/11 hijackers: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. According to a former intelligence officer who claims he worked closely with Able Danger, the link to Brooklyn is not based upon any firm evidence, but computer analysis that established patterns in links between the four men. “[T]he software put them all together in Brooklyn.” [Government Security News, 9/05; Fox News, 8/23/05; Washington Times, 8/22/05; New York Times, 8/9/05] However, that does not necessarily imply them being physically present in Brooklyn. A lawyer later representing members of Able Danger states, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” Furthermore, “No information obtained at the time would have led anyone to believe criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned.” [CNN, 9/21/05; Mark Zaid Statement, 9/21/05] James D. Smith, a contractor working with the unit, discovers Mohamed Atta's link to al-Qaeda. [WTOP News, 9/1/05] Smith has been using advanced computer software and analysing individuals who are going between mosques. He has made a link between Mohamed Atta and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, ringleader of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. [Government Security News, 9/05; Fox News, 8/28/05] Atta is said to have some unspecified connection to the El Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment once frequented by Abdul-Rahman. [Norristown Times-Herald, 9/20/05] Smith obtained Atta's name and photograph through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. [New York Times, 8/22/05] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims the photo is not the well-known menacing Florida driver's license photo of Atta. “This is an older, more grainy photo we had of him. It was not the best picture in the world.” It is said to contain several names or aliases for Atta underneath it. [Chicago Tribune, 9/28/05; Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/05] LIWA analysts supporting Able Danger make a chart, which Shaffer describes in a radio interview as, “A chart probably about a 2x3 which had essentially five clusters around the center point which was bin Laden and his leadership.” [Savage Nation, 9/16/05] The 9/11 Commission later claims that Atta only enters the United States for the first time several months later, in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000). [9/11 Commission Final Report, 7/24/04, p. 224] However, investigations in the months after 9/11 find that Mohamed Atta and another of the hijackers rented rooms in Brooklyn around this time (see Spring 2000). Other newspaper accounts have the CIA monitoring Atta starting in January 2000, while he is living in Germany (see January-May 2000).
People and organizations involved: Mohamed Atta, Able Danger, Marwan Alshehhi, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, al-Qaeda, El Farouq
          

Spring 2000: Atta and Alshehhi Rent Rooms in Brooklyn and the Bronx      Complete 911 Timeline

       Mohamed Atta and another of the 9/11 hijackers (presumably Marwan Alshehhi) rent rooms in New York City, according to a federal investigator. These rooms are in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Following 9/11, Atta is traced back to Brooklyn by a parking ticket issued to a rental car he was driving. However, immigration records have Mohamed Atta entering the US for the first time on June 3, 2000 (see June 3, 2000). The Associated Press article on this subject does not specify if Atta first stayed in New York before or after that date. [Associated Press, 12/8/01] According to a brief mention in the 9/11 Commission's final report, in the month of June, “As [Atta and Marwan Alshehhi] looked at flight schools on the East Coast, [they] stayed in a series of short-term rentals in New York City.” [Washington Post, 8/13/05; 9/11 Commission Final Report, 7/24/04, p. 224] Earlier in 2000, a US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identified an al-Qaeda terrorist cell based in Brooklyn, of which Atta is a member (see January-February 2000). Also, a number of eyewitnesses later report seeing Atta in Maine and Florida before this official arrival date (see April 2000; Late April-Mid-May 2000).
People and organizations involved: al-Qaeda, Able Danger, Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta
          

April 2000: LIWA Support For Able Danger Program Ends; It Later Restarts      Complete 911 Timeline

       Four analysts from the US Army's Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit are forced to stop their work supporting the Able Danger program. At the same time, private contractors working for Able Danger are fired. This occurs around the time that it becomes known by some inside the military that LIWA had identified future National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, and other prominent Americans as potential security risks (see April 2000). It was apparently these LIWA analysts (such as Dr. Eileen Preisser) and contractors (such as James D. Smith) who conducted most of the data mining and analysis of al-Qaeda in the preceding months. One of the four LIWA analysts, Maj. Erik Kleinsmith, will later be ordered to destroy all the data collected (see May-June 2000). LIWA's support for Able Danger will resume a few months later (see Late September 2000). [Erik Kleinsmith Statement, 9/21/05; Washington Times, 9/22/05; New York Post, 8/27/05]
People and organizations involved: James D. Smith, William Perry, Able Danger, Eileen Preisser, Condoleezza Rice, Land Information Warfare Activity
          

May-June 2000: Army Officer Told to Destroy Able Danger Documents      Complete 911 Timeline

      
Erik Kleinsmith.
Maj. Eric Kleinsmith, chief of intelligence for the Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit, is ordered to destroy data and documents related to a military intelligence program set up to gather information about al-Qaeda. The program, called Able Danger, has identified Mohamed Atta and three other future hijackers as potential threats (see January-February 2000). According to Kleinsmith, by April 2000 it has collected “an immense amount of data for analysis that allowed us to map al-Qaeda as a worldwide threat with a surprisingly significant presence within the United States.”(see January-February 2000) [Fox News, 9/21/05; New York Times, 9/22/05] The data is being collected on behalf of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert, the J3 at US Special Operations Command, who is said to be extremely upset when he learns that the data had been destroyed without his knowledge or consent. [Curt Weldon Statement, 9/21/05] Around this time, a separate LIWA effort showing links between prominent US citizens and the Chinese military has been causing controversy, and apparently this data faces destruction as well (see April 2000). The data and documents have to be destroyed in accordance with Army regulations prohibiting the retention of data about US persons for longer than 90 days, unless it falls under one of several restrictive categories. However, during a Senate Judiciary Committee public hearing in September 2005, a Defense Department representative admits that Mohamed Atta was not considered a US person. The representative also acknowledges that regulations would have probably allowed the Able Danger information to be shared with law enforcement agencies before its destruction. Asked why this was not done, he responds, “I can't tell you.” [CNET News, 9/21/05] The order to destroy the data and documents is given to Kleinsmith by Army Intelligence and Security Command General Counsel Tony Gentry, who jokingly tells him, “Remember to delete the data—or you'll go to jail.” [Government Executive, 9/21/05] The quantity of information destroyed is later described as “2.5 terabytes,” about as much as one-fourth of all the printed materials in the Library of Congress. [Associated Press, 9/16/05] Other records associated with the unit are allegedly destroyed in March 2001 and spring 2004 (see Spring 2004). [Mark Zaid Statement, 9/21/05; Associated Press, 9/21/05; Fox News, 9/24/05]
People and organizations involved: Eric Kleinsmith, Land Information Warfare Activity, Able Danger, Tony Gentry, Geoffrey Lambert, al-Qaeda, Mohamed Atta
          

(Before September 2000): Army Intelligence Unit Said to Discover Hijackers Renting Rooms at New Jersey Motels      Complete 911 Timeline

       According to an anonymous Able Danger official speaking to the Bergen Record, a US Army intelligence unit tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks worldwide discovers that several of the 9/11 hijackers are taking rooms at motels in New Jersey and meeting together there. The intelligence unit, called Able Danger, which uses high-speed computers to analyze vast amounts of data, notices that Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi take a room at the Wayne Inn (see (Before September 2000-12 Months Later)). After the existence of the Able Danger unit comes to light in 2005, Bergen Record columnist and reporter Mike Kelly says, “The connect-the-dots tracking by the team was so good that it even knew Atta conducted meetings with the three future hijackers. One of those meetings took place at the Wayne Inn. That's how close all this was—to us and to being solved, if only the information had been passed up the line to FBI agents or even to local cops. This new piece of 9/11 history, revealed only last week by a Pennsylvania congressman and confirmed by two former members of the intelligence team, could turn out to be one of the most explosive revelations since the publication last summer of the 9/11 commission report.” [Bergen Record, 8/14/05] The other two hijackers said to be present at the meetings, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, periodically live in the town of Paterson, only one mile away from Wayne (see March 2001-September 1, 2001). However, contradicting this account, a lawyer representing members of Able Danger later testifies, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” [Mark Zaid Statement, 9/21/05; CNN, 9/21/05] Some media accounts have stated that the Able Danger program determined Atta was in the US before 9/11. For instance, Fox News reported in August 2005, “[Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer] is standing by his claim that he told them that the lead hijacker in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks had been identified in the summer of 2000 as an al-Qaeda operative living in the United States.” [Fox News, 8/17/05]
People and organizations involved: al-Qaeda, Marwan Alshehhi, Able Danger, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Mohamed Atta, Anthony Shaffer
          

September 2000: Military Lawyers Prevent Able Danger From Sharing Information about Atta and Others with FBI      Complete 911 Timeline

       On three occasions, military lawyers force members of Able Danger to cancel scheduled meetings with the FBI at the last minute. Able Danger officials want to share information about the Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell they believe they've discovered which includes Mohamed Atta and other hijackers (see January-February 2000). The exact timing of these meetings remains unclear, but they appear to happen around the time military lawyers tell Able Danger they are not allowed to pursue Mohamed Atta and other figures (see September 2000) . [Government Security News, 9/05] In 2005, it will be reported that Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer contacted FBI agent Xanthig Magnum in attempts to set up these meetings. Magnum is willing to testify about her communications with Shaffer, but apparently she has not yet been able to do so. [Fox News, 8/28/05] Rep. Curt Weldon (R), who in 2005 helps bring to light the existence of the program, says, “Obviously, if we had taken out that cell, 9/11 would not have occurred and, certainly, taking out those three principal players in that cell would have severely crippled, if not totally stopped, the operation that killed 3,000 people in America.” [Government Security News, 8/05]
People and organizations involved: Mohamed Atta, Xanthig Magnum, Anthony Shaffer, Able Danger, Special Operations Command, Curt Weldon, Federal Bureau of Investigation
          

Late September 2000: LIWA Support for Able Danger Is Renewed      Complete 911 Timeline

       The US Army's Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit had been providing important support for Able Danger until about April 2000 (see April 2000). Near the end of September 2000, that support is renewed. In the wake of the loss of LIWA's help, Able Danger utilizes additional private contractors. This new composition of Able Danger in late 2000 is called Able Danger II by some. The first version of Able Danger utilized only unclassified information; this second version uses a significant amount of classified information as well. [Erik Kleinsmith Statement, 9/21/05; Mark Zaid Statement, 9/21/05]
People and organizations involved: Land Information Warfare Activity, Able Danger
          

January-March 2001: Intelligence Unit Tracking Al-Qaeda is Closed Down; Change in Leadership Factors in Closure      Complete 911 Timeline

       A secret military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which is tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world, is shut down. Some accounts say the program is shut down in January, some say February, and some say March. [Mark Zaid Statement, 9/21/05; Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/05; Norristown Times Herald, 9/12/05] The unit has identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers as members of an al-Qaeda cell operating in the United States (see January-February 2000). According to James D. Smith, a Pentagon contractor involved with the unit, the inspector general shuts down the operation “because of a claim that we were collecting information on US citizens,” and it is illegal for the military to do this. [WTOP News, 9/1/05 (B)] Others familiar with the unit later say it is closed down because it might have led to the exposure of another data mining project that was investigating US citizens allegedly illegally transferring sensitive US technology to the Chinese government. [WTOP News, 9/1/05 (C)] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer also blames the change in leadership brought by the new Bush administration. “Once the four star [General Schoomaker] went away, it was pretty much like the world closing around us [Schoomaker retired in November 2000, but returned as Army Chief of Staff in 2003]. There was no political will to continue this at that point in time. Plus, my direct leadership: Colonel [Jerry] York and General [Bob] Harding had moved on as well. Therefore, I had a new chain of command above me. They were very risk adverse. This [Able Danger] operation, as with other operations which were very high risk / high gain, some of which are still ongoing—seemed to not be appreciated by the incoming leadership.” [Government Security News, 9/05; American Forces Press Service, 6/17/03]
People and organizations involved: al-Qaeda, Able Danger, James D. Smith
          

'Passive' participant in the following events:

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