Copyright 2005, Mark G. Levey
According to official accounts, the Pentagon shut the Able Danger project down several months after the Bush Administration took power in 2001. There is now a report that the Defense Intelligence Agency was using the project's data-mining technology to investigate other national security threats in addition to al-Qaeda cells detected inside the U.S.. The program may have revealed details of suspected espionage that got too close to the White House, leading to the termination of the program.
. . . more below the fold . . .
"This New York Post report on Able Danger is the most revealing so far. I had heard as well that Able Danger was shut down after it submitted papers for its budget review that included a huge China analysis that had the Pentagon review general scratching his head. But I had not heard about the Condoleezza Rice stuff, which would go a long way to explaining why Able Danger may have been shut down:"
"The private contractors working for the counter-terrorism unit Able Danger lost their jobs in May 2000. The firings following a series of analyses that Pentagon lawyers feared were dangerously close to violating laws banning the military from spying on Americans, sources said.
"The Pentagon canceled its contract with the private firm shortly after the analysts -- who were working on identifying al Qaeda operatives -- produced a particularly controversial chart on proliferation of sensitive technology to China, the sources said.
"Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, the veteran Army officer who was the Defense Intelligence Agency liaison to Able Danger, told The Post China "had something to do" with the decision to restructure Able Danger.
"Sources said the private contractors, using sophisticated computer software that sifts through massive amounts of raw data to establish patterns, came up with a chart of Chinese strategic and business connections in the U.S.
"The program wrongly tagged Rice, who at the time was an adviser to then-candidate George W. Bush, and former Defense Secretary William Perry by linking their associations at Stanford, along with their contacts with Chinese leaders, sources said.
"The program also spat out scores of names of other former government officials."
Rozen asks,"So Able Danger's data mining results seemed more all over the board, a kind of tinfoil hat producing adventure better left to freepsters and google?"
While Rozen seems to dismiss the suggestion that Condi was actually involved in any wrongdoing with the Chinese, the subject of PRC espionage and diplomatic efforts to obtain US dual-use technologies has long been a source of great concern at the Pentagon.
I am also skeptical that AD was shut down for spying on Condi's suspected involvement with Chinese espionage. Not because I trust Condi, but because the events referred to in The NY Post article above happened years before AD was reported to have started operating. Still, it shouldn't be dismissed entirely out of hand.
Here's an interesting early 2001 article that goes into the story - I'm not vouching for its sources or conclusions, but it gives one some idea about the issue that might have been bugging Pentagon counterintelligence about Condi.
The Chinese Army Spy and Condoleezza Rice
Charles R. Smith
Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2001
Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser to President Bush, has recently granted an interview to virtually every reporter but me. Perhaps it is because I keep asking her questions about the Chinese spy in her past.
Rice has impeccable credentials. She worked for the elder George Bush in the White House, handling Russian issues. She is a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution and former provost of Stanford University. Rice is very close to former Clinton Secretary of Defense William Perry. Rice worked with Perry and the Clinton administration during her term at Stanford. The Clinton White House once mentioned her as being on the short list for secretary of state.
Yet it is her years at Stanford working with Perry that have rendered Rice silent. While working at Stanford, she became involved in the most successful Chinese army penetration of the Clinton Defense Department. She will not answer questions about her relationship with Chinese spy Hua Di.
At initial glance, the notion that Able Danger was shut down for probing Condi's suspected involvement with Chinese intelligence in the mid-1990s doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The events involving Condi and the Chinese military's acquisition of fiber optics network happened years before the AD program was said to have started. All of this is coming out from sources that are spinning, er, to the right of comfort zone for me. But, if there is anything to this story, it raises several possibilities, all of which may reveal aspects of Angel Danger that were not previously understood:
- Was the AD project used to look backward at events that occurred years earlier? One of the reasons Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission Staff Director gave for ignoring Able Danger was that the project had collected data about Moh. Atta in 1999, months before it was thought Atta first came to the attention of the US Government -- a dubious proposition. Did DoD analysts have information that predated Atta's visa application in May 2000?
- This information about attention to Condi's activities in the 1990s raises another posibility. Did the program really got started years before has been admitted publicly, perhaps as early as the mid-1990s?
- Did the DIA seriously suspect that high officials in the Bush and Clinton Administrations were involved in Chinese espionage?
- Or, was AD being used as part of a unauthorized DoD operation to investigate a wide variety of contacts by prominent American figures with foreign powers?
All or any of the above possibilities, if they have any foundation, raises a lot of interesting questions that need to be followed-up.
There is another Pentagon information program in the news. US Counterintelligence is battling a Chinese information mining program,dubbed Titan Rain. China, while a major trade and debt partner, has continued to grow as a perceived threat to US military dominance. TIME Magazine reports in its current issue that the US is engaged in a sort of escalating secret war with China for control over global information networks, and the Pentagon is actively monitoring and countering Chinese efforts to pentrate and harvest civilian and classified databases:http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1098961-2,00.html
In recent years, the counterintelligence community has grown increasingly anxious that Chinese spies are poking into all sorts of American technology to compete with the U.S. But tracking virtual enemies presents a different kind of challenge to U.S. spy hunters. Foreign hackers invade a secure network with a flick of a wrist, but if the feds want to track them back and shut them down, they have to go through a cumbersome authorization process that can be as tough as sending covert agents into foreign lands. Adding in extreme sensitivity to anything involving possible Chinese espionage--remember the debacle over alleged Los Alamos spy Wen Ho Lee?--and the fear of igniting an international incident, it's not surprising the U.S. has found it difficult and delicate to crack these cases.
In Washington, officials are tight-lipped about Titan Rain, insisting all details of the case are classified. But high-level officials at three agencies told TIME the penetration is considered serious. A federal law-enforcement official familiar with the investigation says the FBI is "aggressively" pursuing the possibility that the Chinese government is behind the attacks. Yet they all caution that they don't yet know whether the spying is official, a private-sector job or the work of many independent, unrelated hands. The law-enforcement source says China has not been cooperating with U.S. investigations of Titan Rain. China's State Council Information Office, speaking for the government, told TIME the charges about cyberspying and Titan Rain are "totally groundless, irresponsible and unworthy of refute."
Despite the official U.S. silence, several government analysts who protect the networks at military, nuclear-lab and defense- contractor facilities tell TIME that Titan Rain is thought to rank among the most pervasive cyberespionage threats that U.S. computer networks have ever faced. TIME has obtained documents showing that since 2003, the hackers, eager to access American know-how, have compromised secure networks ranging from the Redstone Arsenal military base to NASA to the World Bank. In one case, the hackers stole flight-planning software from the Army. So far, the files they have vacuumed up are not classified secrets, but many are sensitive and subject to strict export-control laws, which means they are strategically important enough to require U.S. government licenses for foreign use.