Data-mining offensive in the works
Able Providence could follow Army's Able Danger pilot
'This is what the business community uses. This is what the political community does. ... You're getting the same information any corporation can get in America.'
' Rep. Curt Weldon
A draft proposal floating behind closed doors would reconstitute and improve upon a former Army data-mining program called Able Danger.
Able Providence, as the new program has been dubbed, would establish 'robust open-source harvesting capabilities' to give military and law enforcement agencies the information to take the initiative in the war on terrorism'that is, to be able to plan and execute offensive measures'in addition to continued defensive actions.
In addition, the program would be driven by a presumption that use of weapons of mass destruction within the United States is possible. As a result, Able Providence would need to detect, track and target terrorists as they move from location to location and reorganize their cells.
As one part of the new data-mining effort, the proposal suggests using information about terrorist financing and the Islamist system worldwide to identify correlations.
The proposal, which GCN has seen, would place the Able Providence project within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, with the Defense Department having joint oversight responsibilities.
A first-year budget of a little more than $26 million would cover the cost of a director drawn from the Senior Executive Service, a deputy director from SES (or a brigadier general), five planners, software and hardware, and office space.
To Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), vice chairman of the House Armed Forces and Homeland Security committees, the idea of implementing a robust data mining program targeting publicly available information is a no-brainer.
'This is what the business community uses. This is what the political community does,' Weldon said in an interview before a Senate committee hearing on Able Danger last month. 'You're getting the same information any corporation can get in America.'
But there are complex legal and practical considerations, such as privacy concerns, data retention policies and the possibility of errors in the information, that dog proposals such as this.
One example is Able Danger, the predecessor program, a pilot data- mining project run in 1999 and 2000 under the auspices of the Army Special Operations Command and the Land Information Warfare Activity.Heated debate
There has been heated debate since the summer'and at least one hearing so far'over whether Able Danger identified one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, a year before the attack.
But according to an individual associated with Able Danger who now works in the private sector, the program was intended to search publicly available information for useful data to answer a number of specific questions of military interest, not just possible terrorist activities. The source asked not to be identified because of concerns about possible retaliation.
At a Sept. 1 press briefing, Pentagon officials described Able Danger as a '15-month planning effort' to develop 'a campaign plan against transnational terrorism, specifically al-Qaida.'
The Able Danger contributor said, however, that the assignment to conduct research on possible terrorists or terrorist activities was just one of the projects undertaken by the program.
For instance, as the Army prepared troops for deployment to Bosnia, 'we were asked what the troops will see,' the source said. 'We mined information on the [Bosnian] paramilitary, on organized crime, the condition of the infrastructure, etc. And we started to see linkages.'
Able Danger researched small arms manufacturers in the region, and determined that American soldiers could figure out alliances by identifying which paramilitary forces or gangsters carried whose guns. It purchased photos from paparazzi in Paris that showed crime figures out on the town, and who they were out with, shedding light on relationships between different factions.
Weldon testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Sept. 21 that 2.5TB of data'equivalent to as much as a quarter of the total contents of the Library of Congress, he said'was destroyed at the direction of Pentagon lawyers.
Eric Kleinsmith, who was a major with the Army and chief of intelligence for LIWA until February 2001, testified that he was ordered to destroy Able Danger's information.
'I deleted the data,' he said. 'There were two sets, classified and unclassified, and also an 'all sorts,' ' which contained a blend of the two, 'plus charts we'd produced.'
Kleinsmith said he deleted the data in May and June 2000 at the order of Tony Gentry, general counsel of the Army Intelligence and Security Command.
At the press briefing three weeks before the hearing, Defense De- partment representatives said there was no evidence that lawyers had told DOD officials to destroy the data.
'In January of 2001, the U.S. Special Operations Command delivered the final product of their plan, which was a draft operations plan to the Joint Staff, and for all intents and purposes, Able Danger ended at that time,' said Cmdr. Christopher Chope of the Special Operations Command's Center for Special Operations, at the briefing.
The Defense Department ordered five individuals not to testify at the Sept. 21 hearing on the Able Danger program. Instead, the Pentagon sent William Dugan, acting assistant to the secretary of Defense for intelligence oversight.Obstacle to sharing
Dugan testified that if the data were properly collected, there should not have been any obstacle to sharing it with federal law en- forcement agencies. He acknowledged under questioning, however, that he did not know a great deal about the Able Danger program.
At least two individuals who worked on the program'Anthony Shaffer, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve and a civilian employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Navy Capt. Scott Philpott'have spoken publicly about the Able Danger program, but both were included in the Pentagon's ban on testifying. The DIA revoked Shaffer's security clearance the day before the hearing.
Pentagon officials acknowledged at their Sept. 1 briefing that they have identified at least three other individuals who recall Atta's name, picture or both on a chart produced by the project.
Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and other senators on the panel were visibly annoyed at the Pentagon's reluctance to allow witnesses to speak and the stonewalling of the committee's questions.
'Perhaps if we had somebody who knew more,' Specter blasted Dugan. 'You were sent over ... perhaps with the calculation you wouldn't have the information.'