WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 - More than a year before the Sept. 11 attacks, a small, highly classified military intelligence unit identified Mohammed Atta and three other future hijackers as likely members of a cell of Al Qaeda operating in the United States, according to a former defense intelligence official and a Republican member of Congress.
In the summer of 2000, the military team, known as Able Danger, prepared a chart that included visa photographs of the four men and recommended to the military's Special Operations Command that the information be shared with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the congressman, Representative Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, and the former intelligence official said Monday.
The recommendation was rejected and the information was not shared, they said, apparently at least in part because Mr. Atta, and the others were in the United States on valid entry visas. Under American law, United States citizens and green-card holders may not be singled out in intelligence-collection operations by the military or intelligence agencies. That protection does not extend to visa holders, but Mr. Weldon and the former intelligence official said it might have reinforced a sense of discomfort common before Sept. 11 about sharing intelligence information with a law enforcement agency.
Bernard, of course, wants to know what else the SOC and the Pentagon knew before 9/11 and was not shared. He asks a couple other fun questions too, so feel free to click through and play your hand there if you think my take is lame and boring.
On the other hand, I'm quite content to focus on the issue of the Congressman and his tumescent heat for the application of large-scale data-mining to catch terrorists before they commit terrorist acts, as in Minority Report. As Bernard rightly points out, Weldon is pretty clearly a wingnut of the first order, and depending on who you want to believe, he may not even be working for the good guys.
From Laura Rozen, writing in The American Prospect Online:
Moreover, said Murray, Weldon himself violated U.S. government protocol by failing to report his encounters with Mahdavi in France to the U.S. ambassador when asked whether he planned any meetings there while being hosted by the embassy in April 2004. According to Murray, Weldon denied he had planned any meetings -- and then proceeded to meet with both Mahdavi and Ghorbanifar, the subject of the CIA burn notice, at the Sofitel hotel around the corner from the U.S. Embassy.
Yes, that Ghorbanifar. Go ahead and search the Pravda article for any hint of these shenanigans in Weldon's CV, and the best you will find is this:
Mr. Weldon's book prompted one veteran C.I.A. case officer to strongly dispute the reliability of one Iranian source cited in the book, saying the Iranian "was a waste of my time and resources."
The rest of the Pravda article is basically the story of "a former defense intelligence official, [speaking] on the condition of anonymity, saying he did not want to jeopardize political support and the possible financing for future data-mining operations by speaking publicly."
Did you get that? Weldon has long been a huge supporter of these data-mining proposals. The most infamous data-mining plan to receive any serious public attention was the Evil Doktor Poindexter's Total Information Awareness.
So what's going in with this story? Suddenly, for no particular reason, the Congressman is floating information (probably sensitive information, but who really knows) about a data-mining operation called Able Danger managed to finger Mohammed Atta and three other 9/11 operatives in the summer of 2000 as being... well, what did it say? Oh yeah, that's right: it said they were probably an Al Qaeda cell. The article doesn't say how many other people it fingered as "probably an Al Qaeda cell" when they never have, and never will, fly any airplanes into large buildings.
We have some "former defense intelligence official" in the Congressman's bag talking smack about the C.I.A. Gee, who could that be? And why now? Oh come on. Isn't it obvious? The Pentagon never killed Total Information Awareness. Rumsfeld declared openly that he didn't give a damn what the U.S. Senate said about it— he was going to find a way to run a data-mining operation to sift through the private information of U.S. residents (citizens, legal immigrants and visitors alike) and use it to finger terrorists. No doubt, somebody in Weldon's district is sucking down phat stacks of mad black money from the Pentagon to design, engineer, build or operate this data-mining operation, and the Congressman is trying to make sure the money continues to flow.
Welcome to the Ministry of Information Retrieval. I'm afraid the budget is a little short, so you're going to have to share an office for a short time.