[We invited Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA/State Dept. intelligence analyst and CEO of Berg Associates, LLC, to write front-page stories. Johnson’s blog is No Quarter — RSS feed.]
Before conspiracy theories get too far down the road a few cautionary notes on the Curt Weldon generated “ABLE DANGER” conspiracy. Let’s start with the source of this information–Congressman Curt Weldon. Congressman Weldon’s track record on issues like this is consistently spotty. Usually he gets a portion of the story correct but screws up the most important parts. That appears to be the case here.
The biggest flaw in Weldon’s scenario appears to be the role of SOCOM aka the Special Operations Command. SOCOM in 2000 was a weak command with no operational role in 2000. Even after 9-11 SOCOM struggled to try to function like the other regional CINCs. Prior to January 2003 SOCOM was barely a “supporting” command and did not function as a “supported” command. A “supporting” command has resources it can give to “supported” commands. In other words, a “supported” command has the authority to call upon and employ military assets from other commands. In the case of SOCOM it was essentially an administrative headquarters command but did not have a battlestaff nor did it control deployable military forces. It was only in early 2003 that Secretary Rumsfeld directed SOCOM to play a more aggressive role in tracking and killing Al Qaeda operatives.
Weldon is probably correct that SOCOM in the summer of 2000 had hired some outside contractors who were developing a database using open source information for tracking possible terrorist targets. However, this is where the story breaks down. It is highly unlikely that Mohammed Atta was identified as an Al Qaeda operative in the summer of 2000. It is possible that Atta was identified as someone with possible ties to a jihadist group. What investigators are likely to discover is that it was only after 9-11, when the contractors looked at their data, that they realized they had the name of Atta and talked to someone in SOCOM about passing the info to the FBI.
In offering these cautions I am not trying to discourage an aggressive investigation of the allegations. Those who lost loved ones on 9-11 deserve answers. The investigation should start by asking questions of General Charlie Holland (ret. USAF), who commanded SOCOM at the time. He will be able to identify who was in charge of contracting at the time. Be sure to ask about the size of the J-2. The J-2 is the intelligence arm of any military general command. SOCOM did not have a large J-2 at the time. Normally the FBI and the CIA have a rep assigned to a major military command. Who were those people and were they aware of ABLE DANGER.
Frankly the media was largely asleep at the switch during the 9-11 Commission investigation. Better late than never. At the end of the day, however, conspiracy theorists who are convinced that the Government knew about the Al Qaeda cell and plans prior to 9-11 will be disappointed.
The real failing, which the 9-11 Commission refuses to embrace, is that the various agencies of the Federal Government had enough pieces of the puzzle that, if assembled into a coherent picture, could have prevented the attacks on 9-11. There was enough public info in 2000 about the need to focus on the threat posed by Bin Laden. Milt Bearden and I called for this in November of 2000. Richard Clarke presented National Security Advisor Condileeza Rice with a memo outling a more comprehensive strategy to find and finish Bin Laden. At the end of the day, the Bush Administration ignored the issue of terrorism until 10 September 2001, when the National Security Council held a meeting to discuss terrorism policy. Regrettably that meeting was too little, too late.