Dec 05 2005

Did The CIA Kneecap Able Danger?

Published by at 6:55 pm under Able Danger/9-11,All General Discussions

In the back of my mind the connection to Able Danger and Germany has been bugging me. If you recall I posted on the possible ways Able Danger could have connected Mohamed El-Amir Atta to the Blind Sheik of WTC fame, and we explored many other connections to Germany. But something kept bothering me.

So I went back and started looking more and more into the German connection and timeline, and I was still stunned that German and US Intelligence had missed this incredibly large and active group of Al Qaeda terrorists. Especially during a time when, according to 9-11 Commission testimony by the Clinton team, tracking down Al Qaeda was priority number one.

As I delved deeper, it was clear German intelligence was heavily monitoring this group. And they were being pilloried in the press for getting so close to the Hamburg cell and not seeing what was in front of them.

In the Hamburg terror court case, the German authorities are trying to reveal as little as possible about their early knowledge on the perpetrators. For a good reason: They would have to tell a story of missed opportunities.

The Americans have for a long time known of the existence of those thin light-green folders in the archives of the German authorities, in which the internal intelligence service stored its knowledge of the Hamburg al-Qaida scene. In their focus was the man who later admitted to having recruited the death pilots for Bin Laden’s al-Qaida, Mohammed Haydar Zammar.

When they went through the conversation in detail, the agents in Cologne understood that the call would have led them directly into the terrorists’ living quarters in Marienstrasse, into this meanwhile world-famous three-room-apartment in the first upper floor of an inconspicuous post-war building.

It was the Hamburg terror cell, whose members were listed in the call: “Mohammed Amir”, also called Atta, the leader. “Omar”, that is probably Ramzi Binalshibh, the chief logistics expert of the attacks, who has been arrested by the Americans in the meantime. “Mounir”, that is Motassadeq, who is standing trial in Hamburg as helper.

Then I got to this section and I felt I saw the problem: classic ‘so close yet so far’. We were right there and went for the wrong targets:

Furthermore, the secret services, German as well as American, focussed in Hamburg on two other Bin Laden followers, who had diverse contacts to the terror cell, but were not members.

The Americans concentrated on the always middle-class-Western clad Syrian businessman Mamoun Darkazanli, whom they suspected of transferring funds for Bin Laden. The Germans were hung up on a bearded kaftan wearer, who spent his free time reproducing Bin Laden’s declarations of war; “brother Haydar” as Mohammed Haydar Zammar was called in Hamburg.

But this struck me as odd:

The Cologne agency received a hint to Zammar already in 1996 from a foreign partner service. First, the internal intelligence service tried to win him as an agent. But Zammar refused; he was working for the jihad, not for the internal intelligence service.

That should have tipped off Al Qaeda immediately. Why didn’t it? Then later on I was reminded of an event surrounding the 9-11 commission hearings and Germany which I had forgotten about:

By 1998, Atta was living in a Hamburg apartment (later found to be an Al Qaeda cell) and under surveillance by German intelligence. The Germans were passing along what they knew to the CIA. There are suggestions that Atta may have been known to U.S. intelligence as far back as 1993 and, according to the German press, the CIA itself had other people in the apartment under surveillance. This raises the question of whether this cell might not have been taken out well before 9-11.

In 2004, the German prosecutor who was in charge of the investigation was scheduled to testify about this Hamburg cell to the 9-11 Commission. But his testimony was unexpectedly canceled. The documents from the investigation are reported to be missing.

I remember being very frustrated at the time, because this was during the period when some of those AQ members left behind in Germany were on trial. But then I ran across something I had not really put together with what I knew about Able Danger:

Nearly two years before the Sept. 11 hijackings, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency began persistent efforts to recruit as an informer a Syrian-born Hamburg businessman with links to Al Qaeda and the key hijackers, the Tribune has learned.

In December 1999 the CIA representative in Hamburg, posing as an American diplomat attached to the U.S. Consulate, appeared at the headquarters of the Hamburg state domestic intelligence agency, the LFV, that is responsible for tracking terrorists and domestic extremists.

According to a source with firsthand knowledge of the events, the CIA representative told his local counterparts that his agency believed Darkazanli had knowledge of an unspecified terrorist plot and could be “turned” against his Al Qaeda comrades.

“He said, `Darkazanli knows a lot,'” the source recalled.

I was then reminded of a comment Lt Col Shaffer made in his GSN interview when recalled first meeting with the CIA regarding Able Danger:

After briefing the CIA’s representative stationed at SOCOM headquarters, and explaining that Able Danger would not be competing with the CIA’s own separate mission to find and kill Osama bin Laden, Shaffer was surprised by the CIA rep’s stern resistance to sharing any information, said Shaffer.

“I clearly understand the difference,” the CIA rep told him, according to Shaffer. “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’ 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.”

This was in 1999. The same time the CIA is trying to turn Darkazanli and the Germans Zammar. Within three months of the CIA expressing interest in their target Able Danger had stumbled over the same Hamburg cell via what they called the Brooklyn cell (because of links to WTC 1).

Did the CIA push off Able Danger because they wanted to turn someone into a AQ mole? Did Clark and Berger push off Able Danger’s contacts with the CIA because they felt they should try to turn these two radical islamicists instead of monitoring the entire group? If Able Danger did meet with the FBI, the Gorelick wall would have come slamming down on the intel and law enforcement world.

It is absolutely, without a doubt, a fact the CIA and DIA/SOCOM where onto the same group of people – the 9-11 terrorists – at the same time in 1999-2000. The question is, did the turf wars allow the CIA to put intelligence gathering over security? Is that the reason for the CIA war against Bush? Is he holding four Aces to play when his term ends?

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Did The CIA Kneecap Able Danger?”

  1. colin says:

    AJ, why would Bush wait till his term ends to play any aces he now holds? When his term ends, he loses the Bully Pulpit. The Bush Administration just doesn’t seem very good at defending itself (but at least now they’re trying).

  2. vadkins says:

    Excellent study/analysis. Thanks AJ.

  3. Hannah K OLuthon says:

    It’s striking that the “Al Qaeda terrorists” were under such close surveillance by so many intelligence agencies for so many years,
    and indeed as you point out above, were infiltrated (which could not have been all that difficult to do it a “walk-in” like John Walker Lindh could do it). Isn’t the most parsimonious hypothesis the one that posits that all this surveillance and infiltration was indeed put to good use in the preparation 9/11? The interesting question is exactly who was maneuvering the puppets.

  4. […] Which is partially why it might have been dismissed. But since August I am now of the opinion the CIA pushed back because it was in Germany trying to turn people next to Atta and Co. and wanted the mole. […]