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Able Danger was a classified military planning effort led by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). It was created as a result of a directive from the Joint Chiefs of Staff in early October 1999 by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton, to develop an information operations campaign plan against transnational terrorism.

According to statements by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and those of four others, Able Danger had identified 2 of 3 al-Qaeda cells active in the 9/11 attacks; the 'Brooklyn cell' linked to "Blind Sheik" Omar Abdel-Rahman, including September 11 attacks leader Mohamed Atta, and three of the 9/11 plot's other 19 hijackers.

In December 2006, a sixteen-month investigation by the US Senate Intelligence Committee concluded "Able Danger did not identify Mohamed Atta or any other 9/11 hijacker at any time prior to September 11, 2001", and dismissed other assertions that have fueled 9/11 conspiracy theories. The Senate Judiciary Committee first attempted to investigate the matter for the Senate in September, 2005. The Pentagon "ordered five key witnesses not to testify", according to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. "That looks to me as if it may be obstruction of the committee's activities", Specter, R-Pennsylvania, said at the start of his committee's hearing into the unit.[1]

Attorney Mark Zaid, representing Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer and the other four Able Danger employees at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in September 2005, pointed out to the Committee that his clients had been forbidden by the Pentagon to testify to the Committee. He also discussed the Defense Intelligence Agency's decision to suspend Lt. Colonel Shaffer's security clearance shortly after it became known that he had provided information to the 9/11 Commission on Able Danger. "Based on years of experience I can say categorically that the basis for the revocation was questionable at best."[2] [3]

An investigation by the Defense Department Inspector General's office (IG) in September 2006 concluded that "the evidence did not support assertions that Able Danger identified the September 11, 2001, terrorists nearly a year before the attack, that Able Danger team members were prohibited from sharing information with law enforcement authorities, or that DoD officials acted against LTC Shaffer for his disclosures regarding Able Danger." However, some of the people questioned by the IG claimed their statements to the IG were distorted by investigators in the final IG's report, and the report omitted essential information that they had provided. Lt. Col Tony Shaffer has claimed that the DOD retaliated against him for speaking out publicly about the IG report's distortions.[4]

The Senate panel of investigators said there was no evidence DoD lawyers stopped analysts from sharing findings with the FBI before the attacks. Analysts had created charts that included pictures of then-known Al Qaeda operatives, but none including Atta. A follow-up chart made after the attacks did show Atta. The Senate Committee said its findings were consistent with those of the DoD inspector general, released in September 2006. [5] [6]


The program used data mining techniques to associate open source information with classified information in an attempt to make connections among individual members of terrorist groups as part of its original "intelligence preparation of the battlespace". The objective of this particular project was to ascertain whether the data mining techniques and open source material were effective tools in determining terrorist activities, and if the resultant data could be used to create operational plans that could be executed in a timely fashion to interrupt, capture and/or destroy terrorists or their cells.[7][8]

According to statements by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer and those of four others, Able Danger had identified 2 of 3 Al Qaeda cells active in the 9/11 attacks; the 'Brooklyn cell' linked to Blind Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, including September 11 attacks leader Mohamed Atta, and three of the 9/11 plot's other 19 hijackers, as possible members of an al Qaeda cell linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.[9]

This theory was heavily investigated and researched by Republican Representative Curt Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services and House Homeland Security committees. However, Defense Intelligence Agency leadership had already ordered the hurried destruction of mined data, source databases, charts and resultant documents on entirely spurious legal grounds. DIA also prevented key personnel from testifying to both the Senate Judiciary and Senate Intelligence Committees, though after numerous denials did admit the program's existence.[10]

In December 2006, an investigation by the US Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that assertions could not be confirmed. It stated that they were unable to find supporting evidence regarding "one of the most disturbing claims about the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes."[5] This report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee copied, nearly verbatim, the United States Department of Defense Inspector General's September 2006 report on Able Danger.

Assertion that Able Danger identified 9/11 hijackers

The existence of Able Danger, and its purported early identification of the 9/11 terrorists, was first disclosed publicly on June 19, 2005, in an article[11] by Keith Phucas, a reporter for The Times Herald, a Norristown, Pennsylvania, daily newspaper. Eight days later, on June 27, 2005, Representative Curt Weldon, vice chairman of the House Armed Services and House Homeland Security committees and the principal source for the Phucas article, gave a special orders speech on the House floor detailing Able Danger:.


Two Attas theory

Mickey Kaus of, referring to Tom Maguire's "Two Attas" theory,[12] speculates that "the 'Atta' fingered by Able Danger was really the first, 'Abu Nidal' Atta, and not the second, 9/11 'Al Qaeda' Atta", and that this may help explain this Able Danger issue.[13] clarified a widely circulated email that claimed the two Attas were one and the same.[14]

Another variation of the Two Attas theory reported by Kaus notes that Omar Abdel Rahman also had an associate with the name Mohamed El-Amir (a name sometimes used by Atta) who was not the Mohamed Atta involved in the 9/11 hijacking.[15]

However, Shaffer clarified that. He told 9/11 Commission staffers Able Danger identified three of the individuals in the terrorist cells that conducted the 9/11 attacks, to include Atta - Shaffer did not mention the names of any other of the 9/11 hijackers in his disclosure to the 9/11 staff. A fourth 9/11 terrorist came from the second cell.[16] Eric Umansky states the problem this way: "In fact, the two-Atta theory only leaves one major issue unexplained: What about the three other 9/11 hijackers that Able Danger purportedly fingered?[citation needed]

The Department of Defense released a report addressing the issue of two possible individuals with the last name of Atta and explaining that it was basically a clerical error.

When we reviewed INS records, they appeared to reflect two entries by Atta into the United States on January 10, 2001, which initially raised a question as to whether Atta had entered twice on the same day or whether a second person posing as Atta also entered on January 10, 2001. The NIIS printout for the first entry reflects that Atta entered with an admission period of January 10, 2001, to September 8, 2001 (admission number 68653985708). The second record reflects a second entry on January 10, 2001, with an admission period from January 10, 2001, to July 9, 2001 (admission number 10847166009). However, this occurred because the inspector at the Miami District Office who changed Atta's admission date failed to follow the proper procedure to ensure that the previous entry would be corrected, and a new entry was created in NIIS. The inspector sent the old I-94 and the corrected I-94 to the contractor which data enters I-94s for the INS. The May 2, 2001, transaction with Atta was data entered and then uploaded to NIIS as if it were a new entry by Atta. This happened because the inspector issued a new I-94 with a new admission number on it. To prevent two entries from occurring in NIIS, the inspector should have crossed out the admission number on the new I-94, made a reference to the previous admission number and noted that it was not a new entry.[17]

It should be noted that IG report is disputed by Lt. Col. Shaffer and other Able Danger team members, some of whom were never interviewed by the IG's office nor the 9/11 commission. Congressman Weldon also claims the report was a hurried, botched up investigation that was intended to close the books on the subject rather than report on the facts.

For example this lead was never followed: "Normen Pentolino, operations manager at the Hollywood store, said two cashiers told FBI agents they might have recognized Atta, but weren't certain. Sources inside the store said Atta may have held a BJ's membership card for more than two years."[18]


Kevin Drum, writing for The Washington Monthly notes that reports of the precise date at which the information was allegedly passed to the FBI vary considerably. It is most unlikely that Able Danger would have identified a terrorist called "Mohamed Atta" before May 2000.

Since 9/11, of course, we have retrieved every scrap of information ever known about Mohamed Atta, so we know what information would have been available to the Able Danger data mining operation. And what we know is that Mohamed Atta sent his first email to friends in the U.S. in March 2000 and received his first U.S. visa on May 18, 2000. Moreover, that was the first time he had ever gone by the name "Mohamed Atta." His full name is "Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta", and prior to 2000 he went by "Mohamed el-Amir".

Congressional hearings

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter held a hearing on September 21, 2005, looking into the facts about Able Danger. However, Lt. Col. Shaffer and the other four members of Able Danger were ordered not to testify by the Department of Defense.[19] Senator Specter decided to go forward with the hearings anyway.

Senator Specter wondered if the Posse Comitatus Act may have been the reason Defense Department attorneys would not allow Able Danger to turn over information to the FBI. The Posse Comitatus Act prevents the military from being engaged in law enforcement activities, including gathering information on U.S. persons, despite the aliens were not specifically United States citizens. Speaking on behalf of Lt. Col. Shaffer, attorney Mark Zaid testified "Those within Able Danger were confident they weren't compiling information on US persons. They were potentially people connected to US persons."[20]

Zaid also strongly asserted on behalf of his clients,

"Let me emphasize two specific items for clarification purposes because they have been distorted and invited undue criticism from some.

At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.

No information obtained at the time would have led anyone to believe criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned. Again, the identification of the four 9/11 hijackers was simply through associational activities. Those associations could have been completely innocuous or nefarious. It was impossible to tell which, and the unclassified work of Able Danger was not designed to address that question."[19]

He further added that

"unfortunately we are not aware of the continuing existence of any chart containing Mohamed Atta's name or photograph. The copies that would have been in the possession of the U.S. Army were apparently destroyed by March 2001. The copies within Lt Col Shaffer's files were destroyed by the DIA in approximately Spring 2004. The destruction of these files is an important element to this story and I encourage the Committee to investigate it further. It would appear, particularly given the Defense Department's outright refusal to allow those involved with Able Danger to testify today, that an obstructionist attitude exists. The question for this Committee is to investigate how far that position extends and why."[21]

Former Army Major Erik Kleinsmith, former head of the Pentagon's Land Warfare Analysis Department, testified at the hearing that he had been instructed to destroy data and documents related to Able Danger in May and June 2000. When asked whether the information could have prevented the attack on September 11 of 2001, he answered that he would not speculate to that, but that the information might have been useful.[22]

Subsequent investigations

On February 14, 2006, Congressmen Curt Weldon charged that contrary to testimony, not all the data on Able Danger had been destroyed. Weldon claimed to be in contact with people in the government still able to do data-mining who got 13 hits on Mohamed Atta. Weldon also claimed that Able Danger information was found in Pentagon files as recently as two weeks prior to his statement and that a general was present when the files were taken from the cabinet.[23] The next day, there was a joint committee meeting with the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities and the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, to discuss the Able Danger program.[24]

On September 21, 2006, The Washington Post reported that a Defense Department investigation into Able Danger found that Able Danger did not identify Mohamed Atta or any other hijacker before the September 11 attacks, and that a widely discussed chart was "a sample document passed to the military as an example of how to organize large amounts of data", and was created after 9/11.

Inspector General's report

On September 18, 2006, the Office of the Deputy Inspector General for Investigations released a report stating that Shaffer was put on leave, that the crew responsible for removing any classified documents from his office to prevent his taking them home with him found that he did not have any of the Able Danger-related documents trusted to him he claimed he had,[25] and that despite the fact that the Army cleared him of any wrongdoing in the allegations "DIA officials would have taken action to revoke LTC Shaffer's access and clearance regardless of his disclosures to the DIA IG, the 9/11 Commission staff members, Members of Congress, or the media.[26]

The Department of Defense investigation concluded:

  • The anti-terrorist program, Able Danger, did not identify Mohamed Atta or any other 9/11 terrorists before the 9/11 attack.
  • Able Danger members were not prohibited from sharing intelligence information with law enforcement authorities or other agencies that could have acted on that information. In fact, Able Danger produced no actionable intelligence information.
  • The destruction of Able Danger documentation at LIWA and Garland was appropriate and complied with applicable DoD regulations.
  • The Able Danger program was not terminated prematurely. It concluded after it had achieved its objective and its work products were used in follow-on intelligence gathering efforts at USSOCOM."[27]

Alleged evidence of IG cover-up

Five witnesses who had worked on Able Danger and had been questioned by the Defense Department's Inspector General later told investigative journalists that their statements to the IG were distorted by investigators in the final IG's report, or the report omitted essential information that they had provided. The alleged distortions of the IG report centered around excluding any evidence that Able Danger had identified and tracked Atta years before 9/11. The witnesses reported to the journalists that the IG investigators got increasingly hostile in an effort to intimidate the witnesses into changing their testimony to drop any assertion that they had identified and tracked Atta, and this suggests a cover-up by the IG of Able Danger's findings. Witnesses reported telling Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission, that Able Danger had identified Atta well before the 9/11 attacks, but Zelikow showed no interest in their testimony. Lt. Col Tony Shaffer also reported that the DOD has retaliated against him for speaking out publicly about the IG report's distortions.[4]


The independent film, Able Danger was released in 2008. The screenplay written by Paul Krik centers around a Brooklyn, New York coffee shop owner who receives a disk proving a tie between the CIA and the 9/11 attacks.[28]


Operation Dark Heart by Anthony A. Shaffer, released in September 2010,[29] includes memories of his time reporting to the 9/11 commission about Able Danger's findings. The 10,000 copies of the books have not been released yet. The DOD's Defense Intelligence Agency reviewers identified more than 200 passages suspected of containing classified information.[30] "Specifically, the DIA wanted references to a meeting between Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer, the book's author, and the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, removed".[31] DOD took the highly unusual step of purchasing all available copies of Shaffer's book at a cost of $47,000 and destroying them to deny the public the ability to read the book.[4]

See also

  • 9/11 commission report
  • Criticisms of the 9/11 Commission Report
  • September 11, 2001 attacks
  • Bin Laden Issue Station (The CIA's bin Laden tracking unit, 1996–2005)
  • War games in progress on September 11, 2001
  • Collapse of the World Trade Center
  • 9/11 conspiracy theories


  1. "Specter: Pentagon may be obstructing committee". Washington: 21 September 2005. Retrieved April 26, 2010. "That looks to me as it may be obstruction of the committee's activities." 
  2. zaid, mark (21 September 2005). "prepared statement of mark s. zaid, esq., before the committee on judiciary, united states senate". washington, d.c.: committee on judiciary, united states senate. Archived from the original on 11 April 2010. Retrieved April 26, 2010. "Based on years of experience I can say categorically that the basis for the revocation was questionable at best." 
  3. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (22 December 2006). "ssci #2006-4735" (PDF). washington, d.c.. p. 9. Archived from the original on 7 May 2010. Retrieved April 26, 2010. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Herridge, Catherine (4 October 2010). "Exclusive: Witnesses in Defense Dept. Report Suggest Cover-Up of 9/11 Findings". Fox News. Retrieved 21 November 2015. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Miller, Greg (2006-12-25). "Alarming 9/11 Claim Is Baseless, Panel Says". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  6. Anne Flaherty (2006-12-26). "Senators Nix Pre-9/11 Hijacker ID Theory". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-11-21. 
  7. An example of a chart produced as output by the project's data mining and visualization suite is called the 3.21.00 Chart. (DIAC Link Chart declassified 3.21.00, produced on March 21, 2000, and reproduced on author Peter Lance's website for his book Triple Cross Another barely readable sample chart was published by the Defense Department's Inspector General's Office on page 14 of the Able Danger Investigation Report.
  8. Patience Wait has reported that a follow-on project appears to have been funded and implemented by the Intelligence Community and was originally named Able Providence. Data Mining Offensive in the Works Archived 2006-10-14 at the Wayback Machine. - Patience Wait - GCN Magazine, 10/10/2005
  9. Shaffer, Anthony (2010). Operation Dark Heart. St Martin's Press. pp. 170. ISBN 978-0-312-60369-4. 
  10. Shaffer, Anthony (2010). Operation Dark Heart. St Martin's Press. pp. 274–275. ISBN 978-0-312-60369-4. 
  11. Phucas, Keith (19 June 2005). "Missed chance on way to 9/11". The Times Herald. Shelley Meenan. Retrieved 2006-08-03. [dead link]
  12. "Able Danger - Muddying The Waters". Just One Minute Blog. 2005-08-18. [unreliable source?]
  13. Kaus, Mickey (21 August 2005). "The "Two Atta" Theory". Archived from the original on 11 November 2005. 
  14. "Atta Boy". 
  15. Kaus, Mickey (29 August 2005). "Able Danger Mystery Solved?". Archived from the original on 23 October 2005. 
  16. Waterman, Shaun (8 September 2005). "Congressman doubts accounts of secret projects's destruction". World Peace Herald. Archived from the original on 3 January 2006. 
  17. "The Immigration and Naturalization Service's Contacts With Two September 11 Terrorists: A Review of the INS's Admissions of Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, its Processing of their Change of Status Applications, and its Efforts to Track Foreign Students in the United States". Website of the United States Office of the Inspector General. 2002-05-20. 
  18. Babson, Jennifer; Lebowitz, Larry; Viglucci, Andres (2001-09-18). "Broward library PCs yield clues". Miami Herald. Archived from the original on 2001-10-21. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 "Specter: Pentagon may be obstructing committee". CNN. 2005-09-21. 
  20. "Transcript of The Able Danger Senate Hearings". PBS. 2005-09-21. 
  21. "Prepared Statement of Mark S. Zaid, Esq. Before the Committee on Judiciary, United States Senate" (PDF). Federation of American Scientists Website. 2005-09-21. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  22. "'Able Danger' Will Get Second Hearing". Fox News. 2005-09-24.,2933,170267,00.html. 
  23. Gossett, Sherrie (2006-02-15). "'Able Danger' Identified 9/11 Hijacker 13 Times". Cybercast News Service. Archived from the original on 2006-06-15. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  24. "Joint Hearing on the Able Danger Program" (PDF). The Federation of American Scientists website. 2006-02-15. 
  25. (PDF) Alleged Misconduct by Senior DOD Officials Concerning the Able Danger Program and Lieutenant Colonel Anthony A. Shaffer, US Army Reserve (Report). pp. 10. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  26. (PDF) Alleged Misconduct by Senior DOD Officials Concerning the Able Danger Program and Lieutenant Colonel Anthony A. Shaffer, US Army Reserve (Report). pp. 11. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  27. (PDF) Alleged Misconduct by Senior DOD Officials Concerning the Able Danger Program and Lieutenant Colonel Anthony A. Shaffer, US Army Reserve (Report). pp. 69. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
  28. Review by the Los Angeles Times October 31, 2008
  29. Shane, Scott (2010-09-10). "Pentagon Plan: Buying Books to Keep Secrets". p. A16. Archived from the original on 2012-04-19. Retrieved 2012-04-19. 
  30. NYT September 10, 2010
  31. Fox News September 10, 2010

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