Aug 11 2005

Able Danger, Atta Update IV

Published by at 2:35 pm under Able Danger/9-11,All General Discussions


If you look at Rick Moran’s post pondering the timing of Bergler’s purloining of Clarke documents for accidental destruction, and how he might have been tipped off about the concurrent Able Danger briefing to the commission, you need only to go over to Dr Sanity’s site and find and interesting connection between Bergler and 9-11 Commission Jamie “The Wall” Gorelick. Seems she was perfectly placed to know about the briefing and alert her bud Bergler to snag their friend Clarke’s notes.

Where are those subpoenas?



I have seen another wave of dismissive rationalizations that use the argument that it was only in hindsight that the Able Danger folks found the names of Atta and Al-Shehhi and the two others from the thousands that would have surfaced from a data mining activity after 9-11. Basically they claim the names were mined post 9-11.

Hate to burst bubbles, but that would mean there never was a request to alert the FBI on these four people in 2000. I like to call this a logic bomb blowing up wild speculation.

When will people stop working so hard to disbelieve, and work hard to find out what happened?

OK, back from the brink. If the report in 2000 from Able Danger was a broad list of names, then I will agree the claims of Able Danger’s were exaggerated by Weldon.


This post tries to capture the overall national security posture at the time the Able Danger reports were coming out with requests to alert the FBI of Atta and his co-ring leader and fellow pilot, Marwan Al-Shehhi. The question is whether it seems reasonable, in the national security environment of the summer of 2000, that word of an AQ cell in the US would be dismissed and dropped. Previous posts on this subject can be found here.

We start with excerpts from the 9-11 commission report which tries to capture the pre 9-11 posture of many of the US intelligence and law enforcement organizations. First the FBI perspective:

There are 56 of them, each covering a specified geographic area, and each quite separate from all others. Prior to 9/11, the special agent in charge was in general free to set his or her office’s priorities and assign personnel accordingly.11

The office’s priorities were driven by two primary concerns. First, performance in the Bureau was generally measured against statistics such as numbers of arrests, indictments, prosecutions, and convictions. Counterterrorism and counterintelligence work, often involving lengthy intelligence investigations that might never have positive or quantifiable results, was not career-enhancing.

Unless of course military intelligence had done most of the work already and had identified 4 persons tied to Al Qaeda. This ‘excuse’ doesn’t fly, it doesn’t fit this case at all.

In 1983,Attorney General William French Smith revised the Levi guidelines to encourage closer investigation of potential terrorism. He also loosened the rules governing authorization for investigations and their duration. Still, his guidelines, like Levi’s, took account of the reality that suspicion of “terrorism,” like suspicion of “subversion,” could lead to making individuals targets for investigation more because of their beliefs than because of their acts. Smith’s guidelines also took account of the reality that potential terrorists were often members of extremist religious organizations and that investigation of terrorism could cross the line separating state and church.

This is lazy thinking. On one hand we are to believe Clinton and Co. were doing all they could to stop this religious jihad, but yet the 9-11 commission report claims somehow the fact the terrorists believed their mission was from Allah would stay the hand of the US? Maybe prior to 1993’s WTC bombing. But not after all the attacks and disrupted attacks from then into mid 2000. Which is basically what the report says shortly later

Freeh recognized terrorism as a major threat. He increased the number of legal attaché offices abroad, focusing in particular on the Middle East. He also urged agents not to wait for terrorist acts to occur before taking action. In his first budget request to Congress after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, he stated that “merely solving this type of crime is not enough; it is equally important that the FBI thwart terrorism before such acts can be perpetrated.” Within headquarters, he created a Counterterrorism Division that would complement the Counterterrorist Center at the CIA and arranged for exchanges of senior FBI and CIA counterterrorism officials. He pressed for more cooperation between legal attachés and CIA stations abroad.

In 1998, the FBI issued a five-year strategic plan led by its deputy director, Robert “Bear” Bryant. For the first time, the FBI designated national and economic security, including counterterrorism, as its top priority

Does anyone think, still, news of an AQ cell in Brooklyn would be dismissed by the career folks in the field? This entire section of the 9-11 report is now debunked based on the news about how Able Danger tried to hand them targets on a platter. All the alibis in this section of the report are now irrelevant.

Now onto the Department of Defense, which is too often seen as the junior partner to the CIA – nothing could be farther from the truth:

Intelligence agencies under the Department of Defense account for approximately 80 percent of all U.S. spending for intelligence, including some that supports a national customer base and some that supports specific Defense Department or military service needs.66 As they are housed in the Defense Department, these agencies are keenly attentive to the military’s strategic and tactical requirements.

One of the intelligence agencies in Defense with a national customer base is the National Security Agency

This means a direct line to the White House, if needed, to pass the information up the chain. A Clinton era chain – which is why asking Rumsfeld about a group disbanded before he came on board is the pinnacle of media idiocy. So now we look at the NSA – a possible source for the data mining technology used in Able Danger

The law requires the NSA to not deliberately collect data on U.S. citizens or on persons in the United States without a warrant based on foreign intelligence requirements. Also, the NSA was supposed to let the FBI know of any indication of crime, espionage, or “terrorist enterprise” so that the FBI could obtain the appropriate warrant. Later in this story, we will learn that while the NSA had the technical capability to report on communications with suspected terrorist facilities in the Middle East, the NSA did not seek FISA Court warrants to collect communications between individuals in the United States and foreign countries, because it believed that this was an FBI role. It also did not want to be viewed as targeting persons in the United States and possibly violating laws that governed NSA’s collection of foreign intelligence.

There was a process to be used, a law requiring its use, and it involved more than the DoD. So it is possible it was not the DoD alone who squashed the Able Danger report.

Side note: can you discern the 9-11 commission’s bias against the DoD in this ‘statement of fact’:

The Department of Defense is the behemoth among federal agencies. With an annual budget larger than the gross domestic product of Russia, it is an empire.

Gee, I wonder if this immature negative bias had anything to do with dismissing the Able Danger findings by the commission.

And what was the White Houses role in all this? Central command, of course

These documents and many others requiring approval by the president worked their way through interagency committees usually composed of departmental representatives at the assistant secretary level or just below it. The NSC staff had senior directors who would sit on these interagency committees, often as chair, to facilitate agreement and to represent the wider interests of the national security advisor.

When President Clinton took office, he decided right away to coordinate counterterrorism from the White House.

This outlines the national security infrastructure and how the pieces relate and coordinate. Now we focus more on how terrorism in the US was viewed at the time, especially with regard to Al Qaeda

President Clinton issued a classified directive in June 1995, Presidential Decision Directive 39, which said that the United States should “deter, defeat and respond vigorously to all terrorist attacks on our territory and against our citizens.” The directive called terrorism both a matter of national security and a crime, and it assigned responsibilities to various agencies.

In 1998, after Bin Ladin’s fatwa and other alarms, President Clinton accepted a proposal from his national security advisor, Samuel “Sandy” Berger, and gave Clarke a new position as national coordinator for security, infrastructure protection, and counterterrorism. He issued two Presidential Decision Directives, numbers 62 and 63, that built on the assignments to agencies that had been made in Presidential Decision Directive 39; laid out ten program areas for counterterrorism; and enhanced, at least on paper, Clarke’s authority to police these assignments.

Taken together, the two directives basically left the Justice Department and the FBI in charge at home and left terrorism abroad to the CIA, the State Department, and other agencies, under Clarke’s and Berger’s coordinating hands.

How much more priority does it take? And now we have two names directly responsible for any failures regarding terrorism for this time period: Sandy Bergler and Dick Clarke. [Note to Rick Moran, you may want to see if Bergler could have been tipped off by Clarke as well]

Now we move to a different section of the commission report to focus in on the summer of 2000

President Clinton was deeply concerned about Bin Ladin. He and his national security advisor, Samuel “Sandy” Berger, ensured they had a special daily pipeline of reports feeding them the latest updates on Bin Ladin’s reported location.1 In public, President Clinton spoke repeatedly about the threat of terrorism, referring to terrorist training camps but saying little about Bin Ladin and nothing about al Qaeda. He explained to us that this was deliberate-intended to avoid enhancing Bin Ladin’s stature by giving him unnecessary publicity. His speeches focused especially on the danger of nonstate actors and of chemical and biological weapons.

Before Ressam’s arrest, Berger saw no need to raise a public alarm at home- although the FBI put all field offices on alert.

Now, following Ressam’s arrest, the FBI asked for an unprecedented number of special wiretaps. Both Berger and Tenet told us that their impression was that more Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) wiretap requests were processed during the millennium alert than ever before.

I am not buying the excuse that it was because FISA was in the way, obviously it could be dealt with when conditions warranted.

Clarke’s staff warned, “Foreign terrorist sleeper cells are present in the US and attacks in the US are likely.” Clarke asked Berger to try to make sure that the domestic agencies remained alert. “Is there a threat to civilian aircraft?” he wrote. Clarke also asked the principals in late December to discuss a foreign security service report about a Bin Ladin plan to put bombs on transatlantic flights.

The CSG met daily. Berger said that the principals met constantly.

More Clarke and Bergler, and plenty of meetings to make notes on documents to each other (though this is still 1999).

Clarke wrote Berger on January 11, 2000, that the CIA, the FBI, Justice, and the NSC staff had come to two main conclusions. First, U.S. disruption efforts thus far had “not put too much of a dent” in Bin Ladin’s network. If the United States wanted to “roll back” the threat, disruption would have to proceed at “a markedly different tempo.” Second, “sleeper cells” and “a variety of terrorist groups” had turned up at home.

The Principals Committee met on March 10, 2000, to review possible new moves. The principals ended up agreeing that the government should take three major steps. First, more money should go to the CIA to accelerate its efforts to “seriously attrit” al Qaeda. Second, there should be a crackdown on foreign terrorist organizations in the United States. Third, immigration law enforcement should be strengthened, and the INS should tighten controls on the Canadian border (including stepping up U.S.-Canada cooperation).

Is anyone seriously buying the idea that word of an Al Qaeda cell in the US would simply be dismissed because of FISA? With all this attention, it seems more likely that they were being handed a major PR coupe by breaking up a US AQ cell. Something that would seem to be the more natural way to go. So why not follow up?

And why does it appear that Richard Clarke and Sandy Bergler are attached to the hip in all of this, down to the very documents Berlger pilfered and ‘accidently’ destroyed?


Captain Ed Morrissey has a great post on this today.



I have seen another wave of dismissive rationalizations that use th eargument that it was only in hindsight the Able Danger folks found the names of Atta and Al-Shehhi and the two others from the thousands that would have surfaced from a data mining activity after 9-11. Basically they claim the names were mined post 9-11.

Hate to burst bubbles, but that would mean there never was a request to alert the FBI on these four people in 2000.

When will people stop working so hard to disbelieve and work hard to found out what happened?


2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Able Danger, Atta Update IV”

  1. Decision '08 says:

    Able Danger: Congressional Hearings Seem To Be…

    AJStrata joins the MinuteMan and others in broaching the subject of Congressional Hearings into the Mohammed Atta / Able Danger breaking story. For once, I’m gonna ignore my usual cautious impulses and agree; let’s look into this thing fully…


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