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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 . . .

Laura Rozen, who has been closely tracking the Able Danger story, says in her War and blog on Aug. 27:

"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:

  1. 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?

  2.  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?

  3. Did the DIA seriously suspect that high officials in the Bush and Clinton Administrations were involved in Chinese espionage?

  4. 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?

Finally, 5) Is all this being raised now by the GOP as a way of threatening the Democrats not to push too hard to reveal what Able Danger learned about the 9/11 hijackers before it was shut down by the Bush Administration in 2001? The stuff about China seems to be a veiled threat against former Clinton Administration officials who might be embarrassed if the public were to now see what military intelligence has learned about how China employed dual-use technologies shared during the 1990s. Is this Wen Ho Lee, and the Buddhist Temple, revisited?

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:,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.


Originally posted to leveymg on Mon Aug 29, 2005 at 07:35 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I Am Pretty Well Convinced... (none)
    That Able Danger was funded by Reynolds and Alcoa.

    This is CLASS WAR, and the other side is winning.

    by Mr X on Mon Aug 29, 2005 at 07:41:03 AM PDT

    •  It's not as tin foil.... (none)
      as it is confused and jumbled.

      In drilling data cubes when you use SQL Server and Data analyzer, you have to know what you want.  You have to be specific.

      In this "data mining" that AD was, we are searching for "something, somewhere."  Needless to say the results will look like a mess.

      Tin foil?  I don't think so.  What we saw was the limitations of broad surveillance techniques that attempts to be "secret."  Such a program needs lots of cooperation and support.  That means people involved.  Once you drag in lots of people, secrecy flies right out the window.

      However, what I do see in AD is that a tangled mess of raw data needing sorting and collating has been seized upon by pols and used as both a football and tar brush for partisan reasons.

      The fact remains, Bush failed in his responsibilities, and the inner core of his administration is very likely corrupt and possibly treasonous.

      Notice the disclaimers?  When you have a heap of raw figures everything is "very likely" and "possibly" intil the data is sorted out.

      That's not tin foil.  That's complete FUBAR confusion, and if you were ever in the military, you may recall that paperwork could be so overwhelming and incomplete facts so vexing that "temporary paralysis" could set in until someone figured out what was going on.

      If you add political posturing to AD, we are likely to never know what was found.

      As for "Mushroom Clouds" Rice, ask yourself, "Would you trust this woman to keep us out of foolish wars?"

      "same old fears, same old crimes-we haven't changed since ancient times.." "Iron Hand" Dire Straits

      by boilerman10 on Mon Aug 29, 2005 at 08:17:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Where there's smoke (none)
        There's something going on here, but without a lot of additional information it's hard to say.

        I wonder what kind of data mining DoD was doing; were they looking for specific occurrences of information in relation to other specific occurrences?  Were they merely looking for trends in chatter?  Were they parsing specific conversations between key individuals?  Certainly would make a difference to our perceptions at large as to whether Able Danger was in tinfoil territory or no.

        Assuming the best about Able Danger, I wonder whether AD picked up info that might have overlapped with certain NSA intercepts that Bolton requested.

        The issue wouldn't be military spying on private corporations, but spying on other government employees, like State Department.

        And perhaps this is yet another reason why the White House refused to turn over to the Senate all the intel related to Bolton and his nomination to the UN...


        •  I wonder too (none)
          My understanding is they were mostly looking at the kind of records they could easily get from cooperative companies (e.g., credit data, phone records, airlines), and perhaps the IRS. They might be looking for people who used credit cards a lot, called and traveled internationally, and were not US citizens (but paid some US taxes). They might sift through hundreds of millions of records to find a few dozen possible hits.

          Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

          by TerraByte on Mon Aug 29, 2005 at 09:11:35 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thanks for that (none)
            Asked in a different diary whether Able Danger search materials and findings were FOIA'able.

            Certainly would be interesting to see where their efforts intersected with key Bush admin folks, wouldn't it?

      •  Were NSA files used to focus the search? (none)
        The issue about the date when AD is said to have first linked Atta to the other three members of the "Brooklyn cell" raises some important questions about the methods employed by that military intelligence unit.

        Was AD just a search engine that scoured blindly through mountains of open source data bases, constructing its own connections according to a machine-based logic? Or, was AD much more like a traditional DIA analytical unit, where data compilation and analysis is primarily directed by a team of human analysts with access to classified files.  Common sense tells me, with some assurance, the latter is closer to the truth.  Whatever algoriths were developed, were most certainly designed by analysts who had access to classified -- read NSA -- intercepts.

        That tells me that DA connected Atta to the others through the NSA's intercepts of the Al-Qaeda planning session held in Kuala Lumpur in early January 2000.  NSA detected preparations for several of the 9/11 hijackers to attend that meeting weeks before it happened.  That was late 1999.  That meeting brought together Atta's room mate in Hamburg, Ramzi bin al Shibh, with Flt. 77 hijackers Khalid al Midhar and Nawaf Al-Hazmi.  The NSA had been monitoring al-Hazmi's uncle, who ran an al-Qaeda communications center in Yemen, since the mid-1990s.

        Yes, the people who have so far come forward and talked to the press have claimed that the Able Danger "data mining" project was tapping into databases that were open source (which to my understanding means everything out there that isn't classified).  That doesn't mean that the project's analysts didn't have access to classified NSA/DIA files - of course they did.

        It's implausible and incredible that the analysts didn't use classified DIA files to direct the search for information.  That is, if AD was really intended to reveal anything useful about terrorist networks inside the US.

        The analysts had access to classified DIA data, but the AD search engine scoured open sources under their direction.  That's a distinction without a difference - but, if all they talk about is AD's open source searches -- one that protects the whistle-blowers from prosecution for revealing classified information, such as the NSA DL data.

    •  Thanks for the laugh! (n/t) (none)

      Say what you want about the tenets of Neo-Conservatism, but at least it's an ethos

      by Sylvester McMonkey Mcbean on Mon Aug 29, 2005 at 08:39:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  What strikes you as funny, Sylvester? (none)
        The whole topic of how these 4 guys managed to kill 3,000 people despite all the technology that was directed at them is, admittedly, absurd.

        Or, maybe you are amused by evidence that the DIA was snooping on prominent public figures connected to foreign powers. What part of that strikes you as funny?

        •  Um- (none)
          I guess the allusion to tin-foil.

          I mean, come on--It's not saying anything about the validity of the theory that AD was covered up to note that there are a ton of people who think that theory is tin-foil-territory.

          Say what you want about the tenets of Neo-Conservatism, but at least it's an ethos

          by Sylvester McMonkey Mcbean on Wed Aug 31, 2005 at 01:02:44 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Condi question (2.00)
    What did she really do in Stanford anyway? Is not like she is Stanford type material. She is more a community college material.

    So obviously she is being parked in Stanford by the neocon. But what did she do when she was in stanfard? (spare me the bullshit about administration and teaching job)

  •  When is someone going to... (none)
    ... corner Phil Zelikow on all this?  Is he going to sneak out of this?  Where is the press corps at the Dept. of State dailies?

    Mark, guess this is your mission.  Go for it.

    As to Chinese connections, of course that's the case.  Bush & Co. need to snuggle up to our main investors (those that hold our stock and currency) the Arabs and the Chinese.  Our IP remains very vunerable to cyber intell ops, that is clear.

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