Agam's Gecko
Friday, August 19, 2005

verybody getting up to speed on the ABLE DANGER kerfuffle? No? Don't feel badly -- a big part of our legacy information services just want to get everything just exactly right before actually, you know, reporting on such sensitive issues which might, potentially, make a certain previous US administration look like slackers on terror threats and stuff. The story did break through the wall to some extent this week, when the New York Times ran a story featuring a military intel officer involved in the highly classified Defence Department project. Until his appearance there and in a few tv and radio broadcast interviews, the skepticism toward the story being put forward by congressman Curt Weldon and his anonymous sources dictated that the "honourable and credible" media outlets would treat it as flimsy, unverified rumours.

Unless of course, the failure could have been placed at the feet of a particular smirking cowboy, in which case they would have been all over it from Day One (which was, like, two and a half weeks ago, eh?). Funny how that "untrustworthiness of anonymous sources" thing works, isn't it? Even now, when real people having real names are telling the story of this highly successful anti-terror military intel operation having identified part of the Mohammed Atta team in New York (including, as it now seems likely, Atta himself) fully one year before September 11, 2001, much if not most of the media landscape still hasn't heard of it (or if they have, they're not telling).

ABLE DANGER was apparently a "data mining" operation run out of the Defence Department's Special Operations Command, a kind of "pilot project" to see how far such info-tech methods could go in unravelling terror networks. It seems that much of the defence establishment was not even aware of its existence -- a team of around 11 individuals working through databases of every description (some public, some not), and applying the newest data mining techniques to filter and aggregate information. The team had gained a lot of data on several terror cells around the world, including one they referred to as the "Brooklyn cell" -- which we now know included Mohammed Atta and several associates who would later pull off September 11. As an aside, two others of the "Brooklyn cell" were Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, who both passed through Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok at end 1999 / beginning of 2000 for planning meetings prior to entering the US via Los Angeles. Their meeting in KL was arranged by an Iraqi "handler" there.

The first officer to come forward publicly on this, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, says that he was on the verge of insubordination with his desire to see the information passed over to domestic law enforcement, so that the cell could be monitored and dealt with effectively at the time (remember, a year before the coordinated attacks took place). Defence Dept. lawyers would not allow the information to be passed to the Justice Dept. due to rules protecting citizens' privacy and preventing the sharing of information between domestic and international intel services, of which the Gorelick Wall was only one notorious part. The result was that the FBI had no idea about the Atta group. Hazmi and Mihdhar had gotten lost in Bangkok (easy to do!) and it appears nobody knew they were in the US until the ABLE DANGER unit located them with Atta in Brooklyn -- and they were not allowed to tell anybody!

But that's only the half of it. Congressman Weldon had maintained for some months that members of ABLE DANGER gave briefings to the September 11 Commission in 2004, yet none of the information made it into the much ballyhooed Commission report. The Commission denied this, saying they'd never even heard of the program, much less the explosive information it had found prior to 911. Then they walked back on it a bit, saying that their staff had interviewed some members of the unit, but that it wasn't seen as very important.

Remember last year when Commission member Ben Veniste bullied Condi Rice into stating the title of a briefing paper President Bush had been given before September 11? Something along the lines of "Al Qaeda wants to hijack airplanes in the US". I say "bullied" because he tried to prevent her from elaborating that the brief was a consolidation of old intelligence reports, there was nothing new in it, and it certainly was not a new "threat warning". It was a briefing paper that Bush had requested, an amalgamation of known intel on al Qaeda, and it was not some sort of ignored warning of imminent attack. Yet for weeks, those were the headlines. "Bush Warned of Attacks Five Months Before Sept. 11" and so on and so forth.

Now we have the Atta group, the nucleus of the cells who would pull off those very attacks, identified by an obviously very effective intel project a year before they actually took place, which tried to get the information to the proper domestic authorities, and they were prevented from doing so. Then the blue-ribbon commission which supposedly has provided the definitive story of how the attacks happened, and exactly where all the tragic failings of intelligence services took place, completely ignored the amazing success of one of those services because it wasn't very important? Where are the screaming headlines day after day after day? When the title of a briefing paper can be coaxed out of Ms. Rice's lips, separated from its contents and context, and fashioned into finger-pointing headlines in various permutations for weeks on end until everybody finally realises that there's no smirking, smoking gun there after all -- there's politicking going on. But this summer when someone involved in actually finding Atta and his mass murdering cohorts comes forward -- ruining his own career for good, I might add -- and says, "I tried to warn them, I did everything to get the info to the proper people but there was this wall you see, and I even told the Sept. 11 Commission about it but they weren't interested," and it's a big hairy deal just to get anyone to pay attention -- there's also politicking going on.

The difference in result seems to point to only one thing. The prescient title of a briefing paper which carried no specific warning of any kind and contained no actionable intelligence, could be nailed to the smirking chimp who stole the 2000 election -- at least for people who only read the carefully phrased headlines for their news intake. A solid example of extremely excellent intel work, foiled by an overly "legalistic" approach to fighting international terrorist groups (epitomised by Jamie Gorelick's Wall of Separation but going much deeper), can only tarnish the reputation of somebody else's pre-Chimpy administration. But don't worry, I'm sure he'll feel your pain however it all shakes out.

It appears much clearer now that there was far too much political grandstanding by some of the Sept. 11 Commissioners last year. It did seem obvious to me at the time, as I watched the "star" testimonies in March and April, and grew more disgusted with the obvious agenda being driven by three of them in particular without mentioning any names [COUGH COUGHkerreygorelickbenvenisteCOUGH COUGH]. It also appears now that the commission consciously steered away from certain areas by means of investigative staff not even telling commissioners about this amazing pre-911 intel success story, much less the colossal failure of the administration to pick up a clue. Let's not forget that Commission member Jamie Gorelick was the senior Clinton official in the Justice Dept. who shored up the notorious Wall of Separation with her memos and directives. And it ain't Separation of Church and State either, it was the impermeable barrier (heh heh) between foreign and domestic intelligence sharing -- terrorist or no terrorist. Jamie Gorelick really ought to have been -- and I said this repeatedly at the time to whoever was listening -- a witness before the Commission, and not sitting on it.

Would it have made a difference, had the Atta cell been rolled up in 2000 or early 2001? You can certainly come up with credible scenarios that the attacks, without the chief planner and organiser, might have become impossible to carry out for the remaining members -- or at least might need to be put off until they could be reorganised under new guidance. That might have given time for agencies to tune in even more closely to the threat, especially if they then realised the scale of a catastrophe so narrowly averted. On the other hand, different scenarios can also lead to even worse outcomes (Wai Daily Demarche).

But there are so many strange things that this story might just have a bearing on, and the word is that it's about to get hotter as several other participants in the ABLE DANGER unit prepare to come forward. There are signs from within certain oversight committees of congress, that autumn hearings into the whole ABLE DANGER kerfuffle might be in the cards. It may even widen out (it should, in my opinion) to look at the shortcomings and possible cover-up of inconvenient pieces by the Sept. 11 Commission staff (and/or commissioners?COUGHCOUGH) How about a Sept. 11 Omission Commission Commission? Does any of this lead back to whatever it was that Sandy Berg(l)er stuffed into his pants and socks, took to his private office and now admits to having cut into teeny tiny pieces with his personal scissors (and didn't accidentally "lose" or "misplace" as previously stated)? Mark Steyn had more questions. Questions, questions.....

Once again the citizen journalists of the blogosphere are propelling the story forward more than the legacy media (which, make no mistake, is still essential for the blogosphere to do its job). I don't include myself in that -- this is all old stuff already for those who read blogs regularly. See for example the excellent work being done by Captain's Quarters, AJ Strata, Dr. Sanity and TKS.

It hasn't been a good week for Mr. Clinton, though. Not only had his administration's law enforcement approach to al Qaeda (epitomised by the Wall of Separation) stymied an amazingly successful intelligence unit and enabled Atta's team to continue planning and preparing unmolested by pesky gumshoes, another official in his Justice Dept. actually warned him years earlier of the extreme danger to such an approach. Mary Jo White's memo is quoted by Deborah Orin in the New York Post (Wai to Captain Ed):
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton's team ignored dire warnings that its approach to terrorism was "very dangerous" and could have "deadly results," according to a blistering memo just obtained by The Post. ...

"This is not an area where it is safe or prudent to build unnecessary walls or to compartmentalize our knowledge of any possible players, plans or activities," wrote White, herself a Clinton appointee.

"The single biggest mistake we can make in attempting to combat terrorism is to insulate the criminal side of the house from the intelligence side of the house, unless such insulation is absolutely necessary. Excessive conservatism . . . can have deadly results."

She added: "We must face the reality that the way we are proceeding now is inherently and in actuality very dangerous."
Yes. It was. The fact that Atta's cell was known about, that intel analysts had piles of information on them -- names, photographs and various bits of data-mined records -- while an overly legalistic approach dictated that nobody empowered to watch them could actually be given this crucial information, seems to readily demonstrate that Ms. White was absolutely correct -- prophetic, even -- in her warnings. She was, like the obviously effective intel unit known as ABLE DANGER would later be, disregarded. These are important parts of the answers that the Sept. 11 Commission was charged to provide for the public. A "definitive report" would certainly not disregard this stuff as "unimportant". The conclusion then, has to be that the "definitive report on Sept. 11 attacks" has yet to be written.


had planned to avoid writing about Mother Sheehan, not feeling it proper to judge people by the ways that extreme emotional trauma, such as the severe grief of a mother of a fallen soldier, will make them behave. But really now. The Crawfordstock Nation spectacle is just getting sillier by the day. Anyone who dares to rebut any of Mother Sheehan's loonier outbursts is immediately castigated for being a heartless brute, insensitive to Mother's grief. It doesn't matter what she says or how demonstrably ignorant (or hateful) it is. Her son was killed in Iraq, and that (according to one Bush-despising columnist) gives her "absolute moral authority."

No I'm sorry, it does no such thing. All of the things Mother Sheehan has been quoted or filmed having said, are the exact same things that I have ridiculed the reactionary "left" for spewing since I started writing this obscure, unnoticed blog. Now that the MoveOns, CodePinks, International ANSWERS, and other associated coalitions of reactionary "progressives" have hitched their wagons to this "absolute moral authority" while she brings shame upon what her son was willingly fighting for and believed in, she has put herself in the position of chief lightning rod and principle messiah of the second coming of the anti-war movement (it's actually the anti-Bush movement when you really look carefully, but what's in a name?). How could she possibly be considered untouchable, except by those who understandably have extreme difficulties giving sensible or logical foundation to her more extreme outbursts?

Mother Sheehan -- I use this terminology in deference to the directives of some of her opportunistic hangers on in the Democratic Underground / Daily Kossack mold, who decided that this would emphasise her timeless presence as the eternal mother of all children..... er, or something like that -- is the only known Gold Star Mother of this or any war to have demanded ("You get that imbecile out here right now...!") two grief meetings with a wartime president. Most accounts bury that fact -- the BBC has never mentioned it that I've heard. She and her family met with Mr. Bush last year, and there are a few news accounts from the time (before she was, like famous, eh?) which quoted her as having been satisfied with President Bush's empathy and sincerity and understanding of their tragic loss. Indeed he has met with almost 1000 family members of fallen soldiers, and by all accounts he spends as much time with them as they wish (they are not screened for pro-OIF attitudes). The families report that he grieves openly and honestly with them, and nearly all are impressed by the father-like or brother-like comfort he embraces them with. I don't think there is a president in history who has gone as far as this one in sharing the hurt of fallen soldiers' families. By his spending so much time at this, every time he visits a different military base or installation, grieving with each and every family that wishes to do so with him, he comes closer than anyone else possibly can to feeling the full weight of what those families feel.

But once was not enough for Mother Sheehan. She wants two. She must feel she squandered the first chance to shout in his face, "Why did you lie, and why did you kill my son?! Why did my son die so you could make your Texas cronies rich on Iraqi oil!? Why did my son die so your PNAC neo-con cabal can do Israel's bidding and massacre the Palestinians?! Why did my son die when this country isn't worth fighting for anyway, cause if it weren't for the internet we'd already be in fascism!?" Or words very much to that effect, which for anyone paying attention to Mother's attributed quotes, will agree are representative of her position.

I feel worst for Casey of course. A brave and committed man taken too soon from his family and comrades, who like the best freedom fighters through the ages, died fighting for someone else's freedom to live as a human being rather than ground underfoot the boot of tyrants. He can't tell his mother what he thinks anymore, although she seems sure on his behalf. He volunteered for service, served a tour of duty in Iraq, and then re-enlisted. On the face of it, it appears he believed in the mission very much. When there was an emergency with his unit, he volunteered further to join with a rescue team -- and when told it wasn't necessary for him as a mechanic to go, he said no to that. He was going for his brothers, and the terrorists killed him. Now his Mother stands with Michael Moore at her side, with a message that boils down to this: Casey was participating in an aggressive illegal war against the helpless unarmed Iraqi people, and his killers are the legitimate freedom fighters defending their country (although his killers didn't actually kill him remember, Bush did). It's a position of astonishing ignorance, but it's more than that: it's sick. And while she does this to the memory of her dead son, her still living son is begging her to please come home. In her crusade for messiah status among the repression-loving progressives, Bush haters still fighting the "stolen" election(s) and Hamas-admiring "revolutionaries" for Palestine, on the grave of her brave and honourable lost son, she has apparently virtually destroyed what's left of her living family. (Wai to Jeff for the cheese sandwich)

But the media love her that's for sure, even if most other military families (and it seems quite clear now, most families of other fallen service men and women) while understanding the trauma and often sharing an equal amount of grief, are saying, "she doesn't speak for me." Hey, how about "Not in Our Name" -- there's a catchy title! Watch for these folks to make their own voices heard over the next week or so. Some other folks directly involved in all this, people who live in the danger zone which neither I nor you nor Mother Sheehan inhabit, have had something to say to Mother Sheehan about what Casey died for. Mohammed in Baghdad is as straight and eloquent as ever, with a straight from the heart answer to her main question. Do yourself a favour and read it all. He's a lot nicer to her than I can manage, but if someone would read his letter to her, I suspect she would sneer something about Bush's Iraqi brainwashing contract tendered out to Kellog, Brown and Root. But I hope I'd be wrong.

Hitchens knows the reactionary left from the inside out, and also has some pertinent thoughts. I find no fault with his argument.


t's great to see John Bolton settling in well to his new job at the United Nations. The man credited with turning back the despicable resolution a couple of years ago, in which the world's most authoritative body was seeking to equate Zionism with racism (and of course the corollary, anti-Zionism with happy politically correct anti-racism) is living up to expectations. By the way, take a look at James Lileks' humourous essay on Bolton's taking up of his new duties. Wai to Drink-soaked Trotskyite Popinjays For WAR (I love that blog title, taken verbatim from a Galloway tirade against Chris Hitchens....)

Anyway, a few days ago every sane person following current events was absolutely shocked (well ok, not so shocked, but perhaps more like outraged with a dash of mild surprise) to learn that the UN Development Program had given huge amounts of money to the Palestinian Authority to produce leaflets, banners, posters and the like to celebrate Israel's defeat, and its shamed retreat from the Gaza Strip at the hands of the valiant forces of, um, itself and Hamas -- most of which touted "Today Gaza, tomorrow Jerusalem!" Lots of other really inflamatory stuff too, all produced on the UN's dime and bearing the UN logo as sponsor. John Bolton, true to form, isn't standing for any of that guff:
The response from the UNDP was not sufficient, Mr. Bolton said yesterday. "Funding this kind of activity is inappropriate and unacceptable. We plan to raise the issue with UNDP and with others," he said in a statement to The New York Sun. In effect, Mr. Bolton expressed to the UNDP that the most serious problem for his office was not the logo, but the fact that the agency supported that message with its checkbook.

William Orme, a spokesman for the UNDP, told the Sun by telephone yesterday evening, "We've seen Ambassador Bolton's comments, and we are taking this matter seriously."
Yes. Good. I think you had better take this seriously. You now have a US ambassador who isn't shy about stating the obvious about this kind of junk, and you'd better get used to it. Wai to Dr. Sanity


nother great pointer to progress across Iraq's sectarian "divide" surfaced last week, and it wasn't even brought to our attention by Arthur Chrenkoff's Good News series (now featuring issue 33)! No sir, as if by miracle, it appeared in the Washington Post.
The leaders of four of Iraq's Sunni tribes had rallied their fighters in response to warnings posted in mosques by followers of Zarqawi. The postings ordered Ramadi's roughly 3,000 Shiites to leave the city of more than 200,000 in the area called the Sunni Triangle. The order to leave within 48 hours came in retaliation for alleged expulsions by Shiite militias of Sunnis living in predominantly Shiite southern Iraq.

"We have had enough of his nonsense," said Sheik Ahmad Khanjar, leader of the Albu Ali clan, referring to Zarqawi. "We don't accept that a non-Iraqi should try to enforce his control over Iraqis, regardless of their sect -- whether Sunnis, Shiites, Arabs or Kurds.''
But... but... one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Isn't he? Hold on. If a freedom fighter declares that every Iraqi -- Shia, Kurd, Sunni or other -- is the enemy of jihad, then for whose freedom exactly is he fighting? Is it a trick question? Do Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky have an answer for me? Maybe they need to think about it for a while first.

The various terror groups in Iraq have been fighting among themselves recently, now we have Sunni Arabs defending their Shia neighbours in areas where the Shia are a vulnerable minority. While there have been increasing reports of Sunni Arabs fighting against these vile death cultists in trying to protect their own peace and security, this is the first incident that I'm aware of that has them doing so in defence of their Shia countrymen and women. Bill Roggio has comments on the story, wai to Sister Toldjah.

Speaking of Good News from Iraq, the undauntable Arthur Chrenkoff is hanging up his blogging shoes to take a straight job. He's a bit coy as to the work he'll be doing, but it sounds like there's a political component, and a condition that he will not continue blogging while in his new position. Too bad, another blogger who will be missed. But I'm sure Arthur will continue making a difference in this world whatever he does. Congratulations Arthur, it's been a pleasure to read your work over the past year and a half, and to link to your work frequently. All the best in your future endeavours.

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