Inside Able Danger – The Secret Birth, Extraordinary Life
and Untimely Death of a U.S. Military Intelligence Program
By Jacob Goodwin
a wide-ranging exclusive interview with GSN on August 23, Lt.
Col. Anthony Shaffer, the military intelligence operative who
collaborated with Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) to draw worldwide attention
to the Able Danger intelligence unit, described Able Danger’s
origins, explained how it tracked terrorists as they visited individual
mosques around the world, discussed the CIA’s refusal to
cooperate with the program, acknowledged the supporting technical
role played by the Raytheon Company, and described Able Danger’s
Shaffer said Able Danger was begun in 1999 at the request of General
Hugh Shelton, then the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and
under the direct supervision of General Pete Schoomaker, then
the commander of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM), based
in Tampa, FL. Shaffer described how he was personally recruited
to the newly-created unit by General Schoomaker.
After briefing the CIA’s representative stationed at SOCOM
headquarters, and explaining that Able Danger would not be competing
with the CIA’s own separate mission to find and kill Osama
bin Laden, Shaffer was surprised by the CIA rep’s stern
resistance to sharing any information, said Shaffer.
“I clearly understand the difference,” the CIA rep
told him, according to Shaffer. “I clearly understand. We’re
going after the leadership. You guys are going after the body.
But, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is, CIA will never
give you the best information from ‘Alex Base’ or
anywhere else. CIA will never provide that to you because if you
were successful in your effort to target Al Qaeda, you will steal
our thunder. Therefore, we will not support this.”
Shaffer told GSN that one key to Able Danger’s success in
identifying suspected terrorists was its willingness to buy information
from brokers that identified visits by individuals to specific
mosques located around the world. By crunching data about such
visits during a six-month period, Able Danger’s data miners
were able to spot illuminating patterns and identify potential
relationships among alleged terrorists, Shaffer explained.
Much of this data crunching was facilitated by private contractors,
including Raytheon Company, of Waltham, MA, and
Orion Scientific (now part of SRA International, Inc.,
based in Fairfax, VA) which helped execute the sophisticated data
mining software packages, said Shaffer. When queried by GSN, a
Raytheon spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny the company’s
involvement with Able Danger.
a detailed recounting of a face-to-face confrontation with his
then commanding officer, Major General Rod Isler, now retired,
Shaffer described how the then deputy director of operations at
the Defense Intelligence Agency essentially pulled the plug on
his involvement with Able Danger. When contacted by GSN, General
Isler said he did not recall ever having had such a conversation
Shaffer also told GSN that the ultimate goal that he and his Able
Danger colleagues are pursuing is the re-establishment of a similar
data mining capability, in a newly-formed program the military
is calling Able Providence. Such an effort would require less
than $50 million to be launched, said Shaffer, and the military
has enlisted the support of Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), who has taken
a keen interest in the history of Able Danger.
Tell me about the beginning of Able Danger. You’re in Tampa,
down on a reserve tour as a reserve U.S. Army major, doing my
active duty requirement for my annual training. During this training,
I was asked to brief [General Pete] Schoomaker, the four-star
commander of Special Operations Command on my full time job as
a GS 14, regarding “Stratus Ivy,” the special mission
unit that I was running.
During this briefing -- I’d given a full mission rundown
of what I was doing – General Schoomaker stopped in the
middle of the briefing and said, “I know about one of the
programs you work,” and he named it to me. It’s still
classified. I said, “Yeah, I work that,” and he says,
“I need you on a special project that we’re working
on.” He looked over at the Special Technical Operations
Office Chief, who was in the briefing, and said, “Read him
into Able Danger.” So that was when I was first made aware
that something was being done, and General Schoomaker turned to
me and said, “I want you as part of the team doing this.”
When was this?
September of ’99.
The Able Danger program itself was ongoing already?
No, it was just being tasked. It was still being formulated.
They were just getting it together because apparently one of the
issues they were negotiating with General [Hugh] Shelton [the
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] was what the scope and
parameters would be for this program. This was groundbreaking.
This was an entrepreneurial concept. They were looking for partnerships
based on what made the best sense, rather than what is normal
in military doctrine. [General Shelton] wanted to have “out-of-the-box”
thinkers. He said, “Look, you guys are off doing some really
new concept things.” I can’t get into a lot of them
because they’re so classified, but because of this real
out-of-the-box stuff we were doing, he wanted us as a part of
Who came up with the idea originally to set up Able Danger?
I’d have to defer that question to either General Schoomaker
or General Shelton. I honestly don’t know that answer, but
I know that between the two of them, the tasking was to SOCOM,
Special Operations Command, as the supported CinC [military short-hand
for Commander in Chief of a unified command]. This was the first
time ever that Special Operations Command was the supported CinC,
which means that they were the prime CinC. They were the lead
CinC to do something. This was the first time the Special Operations
Command wasn’t supporting someone else.
And what did you take to be the mission as it was defined that
Simply, to target Al Qaeda globally. All of Al Qaeda. It’s
mission, functions and capabilities, so that on call -- one directed
by national command leadership – the U.S. could do something
to attack them. [To develop] an offensive capability so once we
define what Al Qaeda is, we can find a way to stop them, to counter
Did you take that to be the first time that mission was defined
and given to some unit or were there already intelligence operations
that were trying to pull this Al Qaeda information together.
I was made aware of, at that point in time -- my lawyer always
tells me to reference this for background – that there has
already been information in the press regarding the fact that
the CIA had a finding to kill Bin Laden. A finding to conduct
an assassination of him. I was aware of that at the time.
So, one of the issues was we did not want to compete -- or be
seen as competing -- with the CIA in what their mission was, or
what they were already assigned to do. Within the first 30 days
of Able Danger, the operations officer that you now know as [Navy]
Captain Scott Philpott, asked me to go talk to the director of
central intelligence rep at the [Special Operations] Command,
the DCI rep who represented [CIA Director] George Tenet there
in the command. My task was to explain to the rep that we’re
not competing with him and explain to him Able Danger.
Isn’t there a difference between the CIA having the mission
of killing Osama Bin Laden, and Able Danger having the mission
of finding where the Al Qaeda terrorist cells are located? It
would seem to be two very different missions.
Yes, two very different missions. Distinctly different by the
fact that they were going after the “head” and we
were going after the “body.” Because even if you get
the head, the body is still going to be there. Our argument was
that no matter if you get him [Osama bin Laden], great. But someone
else is probably going to take his place. Therefore, if you’re
focusing on the head, we’ll focus on the rest.
What did the CIA representative say when you explained that Able
Danger was not competing with him?
He told me, “I clearly understand the difference. I clearly
understand. We’re going after the leadership. You guys are
going after the body. But, it doesn’t matter. The bottomline
is, CIA will never give you the best information from ‘Alex
Base’ or anywhere else. CIA will never provide that to you
because if you were successful in your effort to target Al Qaeda,
you will steal our thunder. Therefore, we will not support this.”
[Alex Base was the CIA’s covert action element which was
conducting the Osama bin Laden finding.]
I believe he was being a friend. I believe he was sincerely telling
me this because it was the truth. He said, short of General Schoomaker
calling George Tenet directly, the best information would never
be released. To my knowledge, and my other colleagues’ knowledge,
there was no information ever released to us because CIA chose
not to participate in Able Danger.
What reaction did you bring back to your guys at Able Danger after
I was frankly shocked, but I figured the best thing we could do
as a country was to go after Al Qaeda, because it was a developing,
looming threat. We’d already been attacked twice with the
[U.S.] embassy bombings [in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998].
There was a record of Al Qaeda doing things. We were concerned
and, again, the two principal generals, Schoomaker and Shelton,
were concerned that this was a developing threat that we needed
to look at.
So, at the time Able Danger got started, at least the chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hugh Shelton, knows it was established
because he supposedly was in on creating it.
Right, right, right, right.
To your direct knowledge, did the civilian leadership -- whether
it was Defense Secretary William Cohen, or the White House or
the Justice Department or anyone else – know about Able
Danger being set up?
At the time, it was highly compartmented. The whole idea of going
after Al Qaeda was controversial. A lot of folks at DoD that we
approached really didn’t know if they wanted to participate
fully or not. So the answer is, I don’t believe a lot of
those [civilian leadership] folks knew about Able Danger because
it was considered a compartmented -- not special access -- but
a compartmented planning effort, where we tracked everybody who
was knowledgeable. Because we wanted to protect the operational
security of the fact that we were going to look at these [Al Qaeda]
Even when a program is compartmented, wouldn’t the senior
leadership on the civilian side know about it?
I cannot speak to that because I have no direct knowledge. I only
know from my direct knowledge that General Shelton was aware because
of his tasking this to Special Operations Command. I briefed him
on another operation regarding the Internet and data, and I referenced
Able Danger to him because we were going to use the same Able
Danger methodology to protect U.S. person issues.
I briefed [General Shelton] on that other operation in the spring
2001 timeframe, before 9/11. So, from my knowledge, I believe
he remembered Able Danger at that point in time because of the
reference to this other operation.
However, I don’t know how far above him or laterally, he
shared information regarding Able Danger. I don’t know about
the civilian leadership.
The highest level on the civilian side that I’m directly
knowledgeable of was that the assistant secretary of defense for
special operations and low intensity conflict was aware because
I briefed him on this. [Editor’s Note: Brian E. Sheridan
held that assistant secretary position at the time.]
He received a briefing from me [in 2000] on Stratus Ivy, my unit,
and I gave him information on what we were doing for Able Danger.
His comment to me was, “You need to get on those guys and
push them harder.” That was the way he told me to get on
SOCOM to get them to push harder to get this going.
This was before Able Danger had any success or had identified
Tell me about the nuts and bolts of the program.
Essentially, at the beginning of the program we didn’t know
where to start. It had never been done before. To define a global
target of this magnitude, which changes and adapts, was daunting.
Therefore, the first stop was the Joint Warfare Analysis Center
at Dahlgren [VA]. There was a conference there in the November
/ December timeframe of 1999, which went nowhere. Those guys did
not understand the scope of trying to do neural-netting, human
factor relationships and looking at linkages. They just didn’t
have the capability at the time. Therefore, it was kind of a bust.
However, I knew from my personal experience in dealing with the
Army, that LIWA, the Land Information Warfare Activity, was developing
this cutting edge data mining analytical capability which I had
used for other operations. So, I recommended to Captain [Scott]
Philpott, “You need to go see [a person that has chosen
to remain anonymous] down at LIWA and talk about what [that person]
is doing.” [Capt. Philpott] goes down and gets his brief
and says, “This is it. This is exactly what we’re
looking for,” because they were not only using advanced
data mining technology, they were also looking at data that no
one else was looking at. [James] J.D Smith [a former contractor
on Able Danger] talked about some of this in The New York Times
[on August 22, 2005].
He talked about the fact that they were going to information brokers
on the Internet who were getting information about the mosque
system from overseas locations. Nobody else found that to be reliable.
That’s why nobody was looking at it. The problem was that
nobody was looking at it regarding the right type of vetting.
J.D. Smith and company were using these advanced [software] tools
to ferret out patterns within that information.
You’re talking about lists of where mosques were located
No, individuals who were going between mosques. Who were they?
Who were the contacts? Looking down to the individual level.
Did they say, for example, “Here’s Abdul and he’s
showing up at a mosque in Pakistan and, lo and behold, he’s
showing up at another mosque in the Sudan a week later”?
How did they get down to the level of who’s walking in and
out of a mosque?
Because apparently there are records of who goes where regarding
visits to mosques. That was the data that LIWA was buying off
the Internet from information brokers.
You’d need to talk to [James] Smith to find out more about
that. He came forward publicly, but he has not publicly admitted
that he was the guy using this type of information that made the
link between [Mohammed] Atta and [Sheik Omar Abdel] Rahman, the
first World Trade Center bomber. That’s how the link was
established, through [Smith’s] research on the Internet.
Hypothetically, what would you imagine Smith came up with that
would have led him to that conclusion? Might he have said, for
example, “Hey look at this. Based on this information we’re
buying off the Internet, I’m seeing that for a three-week
period, every time that Atta -- whoever he is -- shows up at a
mosque, Rahman shows up at the same mosque, six times in a row.”
Is that what you’re driving at?
It was a six-month data run. Six months of looking at the data.
Whatever he saw in the way of linkages. [Smith] explains it by
saying there were eight data points that they pulled out of the
identity of each of the bombers that conducted the first World
Trade Center attack in ’93. Those eight data points were
used to look at relationships with these other [suspected terrorists]
they were finding through these information runs. It was that
data set which was bounced off constantly for six months through
these patterns. Some of this was already ongoing, by the way,
before SOCOM showed up to ask for LIWA’s support because
LIWA had other classified projects that they were already working
on. Some of those are still classified. But, that’s why
this all came up so quickly after SOCOM showed up to ask LIWA
the question. They were already in the middle of looking at some
of these issues.
I presume this was some of the work that was taking place using
the Spire software?
Yes, Spire, Parentage, Starlight…
I understand it is pretty interesting visualization software that
basically takes these data points and runs them against hundreds
of thousands of files, finds correlations and then depicts them
Right. Then, it’s your job as an analyst or data miner to
pull it out and investigate that linkage to verify it or refute
it, depending on other available information.
Was there a moment when somebody said, “C’mon over
and look at this,” and actually showed some sort of graph
or chart or linkage, and said, “This makes me think that
these two guys are connected.” Was there that kind of “Ah
No. This was simply a chart showing up with potentialities or
clusters of information. That’s what it showed. I took a
copy of those clusters of information, a copy of a chart produced
by Smith and company which showed, early on in the process, the
Atta guy and other terrorists. It was this sheet that I hand-carried
personally from LIWA down to Tampa and gave to Captain Philpott.
Now, did I know it was important? No. I’m an operator. I’m
not an analyst. So, when I took it down from LIWA and gave it
to Captain Philpott, he opened it up and said, “Oh my God,
this is what we need. This is exactly what we need to do.”
So, even when [Capt. Philpott] saw it, he didn’t realize
the importance of those names. It was just like, “This is
the path. We are now on a path to be able to define the target.”
The first step in any good operation is finding the target.
That essentially means that he saw that the methodology could
be used, and here was an example of the methodology showing some
specific people that had a high probability of being related,
or being connected, to each other…
…through Al Qaeda.
Was he saying in effect “This is a great methodology,”
or was he saying, “We got our bad guys”?
He was saying a little bit of both. Primarily, this is a great
methodology. By the way, this chart was used to brief General
Shelton and General Schoomaker. Again, nobody was focusing on
the exact data points. They were recognizing it as a great methodology
that we needed to pursue and use. So that was the primary focus.
Tell me about the Able Danger intelligence unit itself. Are we
talking about six guys sitting in a room crunching data?
We’re talking about the winter 2000 timeframe. At this time,
it is only a partnership between LIWA (which isn’t even
formalized yet), DIA (my unit, Stratus Ivy) and SOCOM (the Able
Danger cell). What we were doing was working together and -- this
is key -- we were doing this as an entrepreneurial, just out-of-the-box-thinking
type of thing.
This is like GM, Ford and Isuzu getting together to do a project,
and that was the whole idea. We weren’t trying to go through
the bureaucracy. We were keeping the bureaucracy kind of at bay,
and focusing only on Al Qaeda and how we could define the target.
Now, I personally went up and briefed Colonel [James] Gibbons,
the commander of LIWA on Able Danger and asked him to enter the
partnership with us, based on General Schoomaker. So, Army, LIWA
/ Information Dominance Center (the IDC), became a partner. Stratus
Ivy became a partner because I briefed my leadership. My immediate
leadership was Colonel Jerry York, grandson of Sergeant York,
and Major General Paul Barton, then the director of operations
for DIA regarding human collection. So, I got their approval.
Now you’ve got Colonel Gibbons with Army, and General Newman
above him. You’ve got Colonel York over me and General [Bob]
Harding above him. So, you’ve got pretty much all Army leadership
That’s key to the story. You’ve got SOCOM doing its
thing down there [in Florida] and yet you had a room about this
size, the room we’re in today, full of guys who are trying
to crunch everything together. Captain Philpott and his team were
trying to crunch us together. You had guys on loan from the intelligence
side, you had guys on loan from the operations side. The bottomline
was it was being done as a J3 operation; not an intelligence operation
but a planning operation.
What does the J3 group handle?
J3 was operations; so it was not intelligence. It was intel guys
supporting operations. And that was a big distinction -- either
benefit or hazard -- as we developed this capability.
At what stage does Able Danger begin to reach conclusions that
are looking interesting?
When the information from LIWA arrived at Tampa, Scott Philpott
and his team started looking at it critically, trying to figure
out what this really meant; based on other classified databases
and lawyer review. The lawyers started looking at the data as
well for any legal issues regarding the fact that this information
came from “open sources”.
Even before anyone at Able Danger made the decision to try to
share its findings with other agencies or departments?
Even while the data is still being gathered and analyzed?
Absolutely, because there were so many critical issues regarding
this, simply because it dealt with open sources. When an intelligence
officer, like me, looks at the data, does that somehow magically
turn it into “intelligence”? That was the critical
issue. Somehow, there is this interpretation that even open source
information could be construed as intelligence information because
of its use. If Tony Shaffer, intelligence officer, takes data
off the Internet and I use it for a project does that make it
“intelligence” and subject it to all of the rules
that govern the oversight of intelligence information?
Which legal organization within SOCOM is raising these questions?
We’re talking about the lawyers. All lawyers in DoD report
back to the DoD General Counsel. There’s no exception to
that. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if the lawyer sits in
SOCOM or Defense Intelligence, they all report back to the General
How big is the group of lawyers sitting in SOCOM?
I don’t know the exact size of the shop. I suspect it is
probably between eight to a dozen folks, for the headquarters
Do you remember how the battle over this issue began?
Oh, I do, because from Day One, they were worried about, “Where
are you getting this data from? What’s the source of the
data? This is open source. How can it be this detailed?”
There were a lot of interrogatives the lawyers were asking regarding
the sourcing of the information. I had no problem ever with oversight
and answering the hard questions. The concern was, again, this
was open source, but are we somehow violating some U.S. person’s
rights by the fact we’re bringing in [the information] and
using it for intelligence purposes?
Was it one of the staff lawyers or was it the head of SOCOM’s
legal department that was the principal mover and shaker of this?
I don’t know that answer, but the lawyer assigned to Able
Danger was the person who explained this to us.
Was the resistance that you were getting to the methodology --
we haven’t even gotten to the conclusions yet -- driven
largely by this individual lawyer or by his organization?
By the organization. I’m confident because I started getting
problems with this issue back in my headquarters in D.C., through
the DIA lawyers. I know they were talking to each other and it
became a big issue that all the lawyers in DoD were talking about.
One of the investigators currently looking into this, when I talked
to him this last week, confirmed to having the same problems even
now. What open source collection really means, and what level
of oversight is appropriate to protect U.S. persons’ rights,
even when intelligence officers look at stuff off the open Internet.
The debate remains now.
Did this issue get to the DoD general counsel?
Yes it did. I know for a fact that it did because I talked to
the general counsel lawyer who was the oversight for this issue.
I know for a fact that is was being looked at by the DoD general
Did the General Counsel’s organization know about this matter?
Based on direct knowledge, I know they were looking at -- and
dealing with -- all these issues because a subsequent operation,
the nickname of the operation was Dorhawk Galley, which happened
in the spring of 2001, before 9/11, I had to talk to the general
counsel about the same set of issues, because this had to do with
the Internet and U.S. persons and open source information. I personally
briefed George Tenet on this and I briefed the National Security
On the issue of open sourcing?
On the legal set of issues regarding Dorhawk Galley, which were
compatible to the issues we were facing for Able Danger.
Can you summarize the legal argument barring the use of open source
information against U.S. citizens or quasi-citizens?
There are two concerns. First, the government has to be careful
about what information it puts on the open Internet because, obviously,
if they put something out there, U.S. people can see it. Therefore,
it has to be above board.
Second issue, comparing that information to anything else out
there regarding open source information. If you put information
out [on the Internet], you have the reasonable belief, that it’s
not going to be protected. That’s my judgment. If you put
something on the Internet, such as a blog statement, it isn’t
protected, it’s open. Does the government have the right
to look at that and the use it against you if they so choose?
That is one of the fundamental issues. Because although it’s
not protected, and it’s out there, does the government have
the right to do something with it?
What can you look at and not look at regarding U.S. citizens?
That was one of the issues we were dealing with regarding these
open Internet searches, which the lawyers were concerned about.
What kind of records would be referred to as on the open Internet?
For example, corporate records. Say a company talks about its
business activities overseas and lists them. If I take that information,
as an intelligence officer, and say “Gee, I may want to
look at this for some intelligence operation down the road.”
I take it, print it off and put it in a file. Any file I keep
as an intelligence officer is subject to oversight.
Say, for example, hoovers.com, which presents all kinds of corporate
financial information, lists every overseas office of every U.S.
publicly-traded company. Now, you look at this and say “Hey,
there are 37 companies that have an office in Lagos, Nigeria.”
Right. You’re spot on.
You’re saying that someone on the legal side of the intelligence
community might have said, “We don’t even have the
right to do that. You can’t gather that information off
the Internet, which is publicly out there, and use it in an intelligence
You hit the nub of it, absolutely. That’s what they were
What was the Able Danger program’s response to that legal
Well, we aren’t doing intelligence collection operations,
we’re doing operational planning. Therefore, whatever we’re
doing should not fall under intelligence guidelines.
That was sort of a stretch, wasn’t it? Here you have this
ultra-secret and important intelligence mission which you claim
is happening under operational planning, but wasn’t that
No, it wasn’t bogus. It was the operational focus. The idea
was that we were trying to use this information for purposes not
of intelligence collection. Obviously, we wanted to do it to confirm
or vet information, but I wasn’t using this to plan to go
after some U.S. citizen. That was not the purpose.
The purpose was to look at linkages. That’s what we were
doing. So, any given byte of information probably wouldn’t
even have been looked at [individually] because it didn’t
fit the criteria of our search. There was [vast amounts] of information.
Out of all that, we’re only going to look for things that
are relevant to the target, Al Qaeda.
If I take information off the Internet and put it into a file,
I’m doing that electronically, with the database. That was
the issue. You’re doing it electronically. The argument
was, “When you take all this information off the Internet,
how do you then protect U.S. citizen rights?” The lawyers
were looking at all the information that was coming in. They had
to vet everything. They were personally looking at it and had
a validation process.
What would they have pointed to and said, “This is a violation.
We can’t allow you to do this”?
That’s where the whole issue comes in of lawyers saying,
“You can’t look at these guys, who are suspected as
being terrorists.” All this information is coming in. They
had this vetting process. And then, all this information comes
to us regarding these [suspected terrorists] who were here legally,
as part of these data runs. But, the lawyers are now saying, “You
can’t look at that. We’re going to put that in the
‘U.S person’ category that you can’t look at.”
There is a vetting process. They’re trying to protect U.S
citizens’ rights. I briefed the general counsel on this.
I briefed George Tenet on this. The problem was, where do you
draw that line regarding protection of U.S. persons -- between
U.S. citizens, such as yourself, and these other folks who are
here legally, but not technically deserving of the same protections?
That’s the kernel of the issue.
Was there a group of suspected terrorists who had been identified
in some other way and now Able Danger was trying to find additional
information about them? Or were these guys emerging out of Able
Danger’s own data crunching?
Once these guys had emerged out of the data crunching, there was
an interest to try to confirm or refute their linkage to Al Qaeda,
and then to do operations to further exploit them. The reason
I can’t go into much more detail is because for the [suspected
terrorists based] overseas, the train continued on them. I don’t
want to say anything that would violate security, based on the
fact that there were other things that came out of this.
Our focus of the Able Danger oversight fiasco is the fact that
this data also identified a cell here in the states. That became
the critical issue -- the fact that the SOCOM lawyers recommended
to the chain of command of SOCOM that we could not share that
information with the FBI.
Let’s get to the crunch. Now you’ve identified five
cells, one of which is in the United States.
At what stage does the Able Danger team say, “We’ve
got some pretty hot information here, and we should share this
Capt. Philpott came to me and said, “Based on our internal
discussions within Able Danger, we are concerned by the fact that
this appears to be a group of terrorists here within the United
States.” It was at that point in time that he asked me to
broker a relationship or a meeting with the FBI.
Keep in mind, I had been asked to develop a parallel, but different,
capability for the FBI on one of their terrorist targets overseas.
So, at that point in time, I was negotiating with the FBI about
parameters and scope of support. The same basic team that was
doing the SOCOM stuff was going to be assembled to support the
FBI mission as well. That includes some of the same data miners,
the same technicians, the same analysts.
And you’re fronting for them?
I’m fronting for them too, yes.
So, at the same time you’re being asked to set up a meeting
with the FBI regarding Able Danger, you’re already talking
to the FBI about using almost the same data mining resources on
another FBI program.
Absolutely correct. That was why it was so logical for Scott to
come to us and ask for that support. So, I called my FBI point
of contact and said, “Hey, I’d like to link the special
operations guys up. They’re doing a mission -- I can’t
tell you about it -- but I’d like to make a meeting for
FBI and your ‘Bubbas’ to meet with them and discuss
the information they have.”
When was that?
My best recollection is between summer of 2000 and fall of 2000,
somewhere in that like. Now, I did not personally set up all the
meetings. The one I do recall personally setting up was the last
one. That I recall was where the O6 colonel in charge of Able
Danger, was supposed to meet with officers of the FBI at the FBI’s
Washington Field Office to discuss this issue. I personally got
the phone number from my FBI point of contact, called the WFO
folks and said “This colonel from SOCOM is going to come
talk to you. Please receive him.”
Okay. What happened?
The colonel never showed up. Later, I found out from Captain Philpott
that the reason the colonel didn’t show up was because he
was told not to.
I learned from Capt. Philpot during my next trip down to Tampa
that the lawyers had gotten involved and recommended to the chain
of command that they not pass the information. According to Captain
Philpot -- and again you’ll have to ask him directly --
it went up to the J3, the operations officer, a two-star general
at Special Operations Command, where lawyers and Captain Philpot
both briefed and the general came down on the side of the lawyers.
The thinking at the time this was going on was that there was
an investigation of Special Operations Command regarding its support
to the siege of the Branch Davidians [which had taken place in
Waco, TX, in 1993].
The concern, as I understand it from talking to Captain Philpott,
was that if SOCOM shares this sensitive [terrorist] information
with the FBI, and the FBI takes action with it, and something
goes wrong, we at SOCOM will get blamed for the bad outcome.
Typically, in a military organization, the legal department acts
as an advisor to the commander.
The legal department doesn’t make the decision; the legal
department whispers into the ear of the commander who makes the
decision to either overrule them or overrule you.
Who was the commander at the time? General Pete Schoomaker?
This never got to the commander. This got to the operations officer
level and, as I recall, it was General [Geoffrey] Lambert, the
J3 special operations command. I believe it was at that level
where this decision was stopped.
This is below the level of General Schoomaker.
I’m confident that General Schoomaker was never told of
So the information gets blocked, basically because of these legal
objections. What’s the reaction from you and your Able Danger
colleagues? Here you are working hard to get the information together,
which you consider very important, and you’re being prevented
from sharing it with the FBI by the SOCOM lawyers.
You have to understand two factors were in play at that time.
First off, we did not know Al Qaeda to be the threat it is now.
There was no drum beat for us to do something immediately.
My second point is that this [objection by the lawyers] is only
one of about a dozen operations I was dealing with in any given
day, so when SOCOM blew off the meetings I had set up with the
FBI, I was perturbed, but it was one of a dozen things I had to
deal with in a given day as the overall leader of Stratus Ivy.
So, you’re saying the Able Danger guys didn’t go ballistic.
No. We were concerned by the fact that this kept getting turned
off, but again we had no fire under our butts to do something.
This was but one other bureaucratic roadblock that we’ll
have to fight. We’ll get to it. But, I’ve got other
things right now that I’ve got to do.
I can accept that there was no urgency, no great hysteria about
Al Qaeda at the time. I understand how, in your position, you
might have said, “Alright, I’ve got bigger fish to
But it’s harder for me to understand how the actual Able
Danger people doing the data mining analysis and coming up with
their important conclusions could tolerate seeing that the fruits
of their labor aren’t going anywhere.
Not true. Some of the “fruits” were going places.
Again, the foreign targets were [being worked.] Keep in mind,
the pieces of Able Danger you’ve heard about are only about
one quarter of what was actually going on. There are still classified
programs which have not been announced, which we’ll not
talk about, and other things which are going on internally. There
were other things that were going on which were being looked at
It’s just that this aspect of Able Danger was, in my judgment
and the judgment of others, the most critical for the events of
Are you suggesting that some or all of the information related
to the four terrorist cells outside the U.S. was put into some
sort of operational hands overseas -- CIA or whatever -- and actions
were taken to do something with that information?
I have to use this phrase, “I can neither confirm nor deny
what happened to the other elements or aspects of the information.”
Are you telling me that there was some good to come out of Able
Yes, the part that the lawyers did approve and tell us that we
could do was the overseas part.
Let’s talk about the Pentagon’s recent effort to verify
the existence of Able Danger. It’s beyond my comprehension
that the Defense Department, if it genuinely wanted to find some
records of Able Danger, couldn’t work its way back to the
very office you sat in, to the computers that you used, to the
e-mails that you generated, to the reports that you wrote, to
the recommendations that you sent forward. I’m sure they
can find that information. In your opinion, what is the Defense
Department doing right or wrong in trying to determine whether
Able Danger reached these important conclusions about Al Qaeda
First, I think it’s premature at best when we’re talking
about a project that had [vast amounts] of information. I don’t
think they’ve gone through all the data in two weeks.
Second, there’s going to be an e-mail trail, which if people
actually look at it, they will realize what we attempted to do.
It will prove the veracity of our attempts to move information
from point A to point B. This was not done in a vacuum. It was
done where we corresponded on these issues.
Third, I don’t think they’ve found all the databases.
Some of these databases are commercially held. We had contractors.
There are contractors out there which had this data. I’m
not convinced [DoD officials] have gone to all of the contractors
and found it yet.
Tell me about the commercial contractors that were involved in
I have to be very careful now as to how I start answering because
I’ve been told that there are going to be [congressional]
hearings on this. I have to be careful regarding where the data
Orion Scientific, [now part of SRA International, Inc., of Fairfax,
VA] was helping LIWA [the Army’s Land Warfare Information
Activity], but they also had a contract with Defense Intelligence.
[James] Smith said in a statement I heard yesterday that Orion
got cold feet when it appeared that LIWA was getting ahead of
DIA in some of the analysis. Because the contract that Orion had
with DIA was much more lucrative than the contract it had with
Army, and the fact that the smaller contract was doing more and
better things with its advanced technology, was embarrassing the
DIA guys. So, I understand from Mr. Smith’s account, DIA
put pressure on Orion Scientific to back out of the Army relationship,
which then in turn reduced the capability of the Army support
to Able Danger.
That may have been a contributing factor to why there were problems
with Army and Special Operations Command beginning in the spring
of 2000. At that point in time, LIWA backed out of the relationship.
Which other contractors were involved with Able Danger?
I know that some of the technology you’re talking about
were done by Battelle. There were Battelle scientists involved
in this. Battelle, Orion and then Raytheon. Raytheon became the
lead contractor when Army backed out of it.
What happened was the Special Operations Command -- General Schoomaker,
in particular -- grew tired of trying to get the Army to do something
like this. When Army started backing off for any number of reasons,
Special Operations Command made the decision to relocate Able
Danger to Texas. It began the effort from that location to do
two things: first, recreate the LIWA suite of technology; and
second, energize it using some of the same folks. The one common
denominator was the senior scientist that moved from Army down
to Texas to do that very function.
Were many of the people working on Able Danger in Tampa relocated
Yes, that is accurate.
You remained in Washington as the liaison guy.
But, I did take my time down there in Texas. I deployed several
of my officers to go down and augmented the effort on a recurring
or rotational basis to include my going down as a reserve major.
I took my hat off as the leader of Stratus Ivy and put my hat
on as a reserve Army major, going down and helping as a planner
at that cell in Texas.
What role did Ratheon play in support of the eight or 10 or 12
guys that were working for Able Danger in Garland, Texas?
They played a significant role in establishing the suite of technology,
managing the databases and essentially creating the mechanisms
for managing the information to display it for leadership to look
at and make operational decisions. That’s where I came into
it. I was one of the guys looking at the information. Raytheon
helped put it together in packages, so that it was usable.
If the Army wanted to find what was the data and what were the
conclusions that Able Danger had reached, would one possible place
to look be those databases maintained by Raytheon?
That would be an assumption I think you could make based on the
information I’m aware of. I don’t know what’s
resident at Raytheon at this point in time. I have no direct knowledge
[Editor’s Note: When contacted by GSN, Raytheon Company
said through a spokesperson that it could neither confirm nor
deny any involvement with Able Danger.]
Okay, after the 2000 presidential elections, the Bush administration
comes into power in January of 2001. How, if at all, does that
change anything that Able Danger is doing? Do you get new guidance?
Do you have a new hope that someone will listen to you? Is there
a new round of proposals to get the information out to the FBI?
What happens when President Bush takes over?
I’ve got to say there was a cascade effect after General
Schoomaker retired. He was the overall supporter and advocate
of Able Danger and [after he left] everything kind of went downhill.
He was the intellectual godfather of this effort. He understood
what he was trying to achieve, this entrepreneurial, out-of-the-box
In one of my update briefings to him, I brought with me four Power
Point slides. Each had about five bullets on it. I figured the
update would probably take about 10 minutes, max. I talked to
the DIA rep and he said, “You’ve got an hour with
General Schoomaker tomorrow,” and I said, “I don’t
need an hour, I need 10 minutes.” He said, “No, you
don’t understand. Trust me on this.” So I trusted
I came back the next day and I figured he would have changed the
schedule. No, I still had an hour with the CinC. So, I walk in
there with four slides and I start my briefing and General Schoomaker
gives my briefing. Every bullet that I put up there and talked
to, he talks for 10 minutes to his staff. He explains to them
what we’re doing as part of Able Danger is essentially trying
to recreate the old OSS [Office of Strategic Services, the World
War II-era intelligence unit that was the forerunner to the CIA]
capability. The idea of having operationalized information that
can actually enable us to do things more rapidly, in a more agile
fashion. So General Schoomaker understood what he was trying to
achieve. Once that intellect of General Schoomaker left, it went
[Editor’s Note: General Schoomaker retired in 2000. He was
brought back to active duty by Defense Secretary Donald Rumself
who named him Army chief of staff in 2003]
Once the four star [General Schoomaker] went away, it was pretty
much like the world closing around us. There was no political
will to continue this at that point in time. Plus, my direct leadership:
Colonel York and General [Bob] Harding had moved on as well.
Therefore, I had a new chain of command above me. They were very
risk adverse. This [Able Danger] operation, as with other operations
which were very high risk / high gain, some of which are still
ongoing -- seemed to not be appreciated by the incoming leadership.
At one point in time, the then Director of Operations [for the
DIA] had me come in and brief him on a series of operations. This
was February /March 2001. This general said, “I want you
to explain to me every one of your operations in detail.”
So, I started going through the laundry list of each operation
and describing it to him.
From moment one, it was a bad conversation. It was like, “Well,
I don’t agree. Well, I don’t agree. Well, I don’t
agree.” So, he basically was saying all the operational
focus that I had been required to focus on by the previous leadership,
by Colonel Harding, was not something he wanted to pursue. No
matter how much common sense, no matter how much reason I tried
to use with him, it seemed to be an emotional issue with him.
Did you take that as his personal philosophy or was that somehow
reflective of a larger administration view?
I can’t answer that question because some of these operations
were driven by the Office of Secretary of Defense. They were telling
him that we needed to do them. It was tasking from that level,
plus in this case, from General Schoomaker.
How do you explain his objections to your various activities?
I can only speak to the facts. His opinion was, “That’s
not part of your job.” As he walked through things, he kept
saying, “I don’t see this as your job. This should
be done by someone else.”
I tried to explain to him how that’s not their job. We’re
human intelligence. This is just an aspect of human intelligence.
He disagreed with me. It came to the point where we brought up
Able Danger, where I was explaining the operation to him -- as
you know it now, plus more -- and he looked at me and he said
“Well, Tony, that’s not your job.”
I said, “Well, sir, with all due respect, this is an important
operation focused on the global Al Qaeda target,” and he
said, “You’re not hearing me, Tony. This is not your
“Well, sir, this is basically using human methodology, combined
with data mining to…”
“Tony, you’re not listening to me. This is not your
“Sir, this is important, I think…”
“Tony, I’m the two star here. I’m the two star.
I’m telling you I don’t want you doing anything with
“Sir, if not us then who?”
“I don’t know, but it’s not your job.”
And that effectively ended my direct support and my unit’s
support to Able Danger.
Did it end Able Danger altogether?
I think it contributed to the failure of it because by that point,
Army had already pulled out and Special Operations Command, because
of the political change there, had also changed their focus. I
remember the last conversation I had with Captain Scott Philpott
on this was a desperate call from him asking me to try to help
use one of my operational facilities to at least try to exploit
the information [Able Danger had collected] before it got lost.
What was the name of the general who said “No, this is not
General Rod Isler.
He sounds like a bit of a heavy in the story.
There are good guys and bad guys in the story.
[Editor’s Note: When contacted by GSN, General Rod Isler
(USA-Ret.) said he recalls Lt. Col. Shaffer as someone who worked
under his command at DIA, but had no recollection of any discussion
with Shaffer in which Shaffer briefed him on Able Danger or an
intelligence mission to find Al Qaeda cells. Isler emphasized
that in his role as deputy director for operations at the Defense
Intelligence Agency he had no authority over any programs run
out of the J-3 unit of the Joint Staff, and no authority over
any program run by the Special Operations Command.]
How soon after the 9/11 attack did you realize that Able Danger
had actually identified about a year earlier the Brooklyn cell
and several of the actual 9/11 terrorists, including Mohammed
It was within two weeks of 9/11, when one of my colleagues, who
had kept one of the charts, called me and said, “You’re
not going to believe this. He’s on one of our charts --
Atta.” I just felt this sinking in the pit of my stomach
like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Nope, you want to come see?”
This [colleague] and I get together for coffee.
“Here it is,” [said the colleague.]
I’m just sitting there shocked, like I can’t believe
we have this, and I asked, “What are we going to do about
this?” and [the colleague] said, “I don’t know
I was told later that the information [on Able Danger’s
findings] was passed by Congressman [Curt] Weldon over to Stephen
Hadley [then the deputy national security advisor in the Bush
White House]. At that point in time, I was convinced, “Okay,
we got the word out. We’re good to go. At least someone
will know now that this happened.”
Was your motivation at this point to be able to say, “I
told you so,” or to have it recognized that there had been
some good intelligence work carried out and that maybe someone
would want to keep that effort going?
The problem was everything was in total chaos at that time. I
accepted recalled active duty and took command of a special mission
unit which did another counter terrorism mission. So, we moved
on our merry way, to do other things. I can’t speak for
Capt. Scott Philpott and my other colleagues, but I do believe
that everybody felt that the information got to where it needs
to be and we’re just going to let it go now.
Did you ever hear anything to suggest that anybody either in the
White House or in higher military or civilian DoD leadership positions
actually said, “Look at what Able Danger found. We should
keep this going.”
I thought that maybe some of the good work we had done was continuing
to do good things. But, I heard Richard Ben-Veniste [one of the
9/11 Commission members] confirm that no such capability exists
today to try to replicate what we did. So, that’s a 9/11
commissioner confirming that no such [data mining] capabilities
How did the thought dawn on you -- or another Able Danger colleague
-- that you should talk to the 9/11 Commission?
It’s interesting how that came up. Going into October of
2003, I was deployed to Afghanistan as the operations officer
overseeing all of DIA’s collection activities in that country.
The 9/11 Commission shows up and announces, through the chain
of command -- I did this above-board, through the chain of command,
General [Lloyd] Austin, being the two-star commander of Task Force
180 and Brigadier General [Byron] Bagby, being his deputy. Word
came down through them, saying, “Is there anyone here assigned
to this command who has information that is relevant to the pre-9/11
intelligence or operations environment? Please tell us so we can
have you go talk to the commissioners, to Dr. [Philip] Zelikow.”
Note: As executive director, Dr. Zelikow was the Commission’s
top staff member.]
These are my talking points. [Shaffer showed GSN a typed, one-page
memo, with a series of bulleted points, but would not allow GSN
to publish the memo.]
I went through this whole thing with [Zelikow and other staff
members.] I talked about the background, what Stratus Ivy was.
I went through the integrated human collection planning effort.
I talked about how we planned to do that, the application of U.S.
technology. You notice how much time we’re taking now to
talk about it.
Same thing [in Afghanistan.] It took time to go through these
points. The bottomline was, and the way I phrased it was, “We
found two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, to include
That’s the way I phrased it to them. I don’t know
if they didn’t recognize the Atta part, but I did specifically
mention two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, and at the
end of that I threw in Atta.
Because my focus, honestly, was that we found two of the three
cells. That was to me the most important factor, rather than focusing
on Atta, as an individual. And that was what I told them.
I basically gave them background on each one of these three agencies
and how it worked. The fact was several DoD seniors saw what I
was doing [as similar to] the movie “Kelly’s Heroes”
with Clint Eastwood?
In “Kelly’s Heroes,” Clint Eastwood takes a
bunch of guys and goes off for gold behind enemy lines during
World War II. [Some DoD officials] compared us to being some renegade
element totally out of control, doing something which made no
sense to them. So, the “crazy factor” was a big issue
that I was dealing with at that time. I’m showing you exactly
what I put in my notes and said to the 9/11 Commission.
So, as far as you’re concerned, you not only gave a thorough
briefing on everything that had happened, but also identified
-- maybe as a throwaway line -- that you found these cells and
That would seem to be the “money” line. How does somebody
[working for the 9/11 Commission] not have his eyes pop open when
you say, “Oh, by the way sir, we also identified Mohammed
Atta a year before the attacks.”
As I recall, at the end of the meeting, there was silence. People
were just silent at what I’d said.
Now, I don’t know how to interpret that, but I do know that
two things came out of that meeting, some of which are admitted
by the 9/11 Commission now.
First, Zelikow approached me at the end of the meeting and said,
“This is important. We need to continue this dialogue when
we get back to the states. Here’s my card.”
Now a senior executive handing an [Army] major his card, I would
consider that a fairly big indication that “Hey, there’s
something to this.”
Second thing, by the 9/11 Commission’s own statement of
12 August, it talks about Dr. Zelikow calling back [to the U.S.]
immediately. My understanding from talking to another member of
the press is that [Zelikow’s] call came into America at
four o clock in the morning. He got people out of bed over this.
So, I don’t know what they heard. I can only tell you that
I was told by Zelikow to re-contact him and we have their own
statement here. So, it seems to me that what they’re saying
about [Able Danger] not being important is contradicted by the
fact that he did tell me to contact him.
Their statement, more or less, says, “We thought Able Danger
was important, we looked into it but then reached the conclusion
that either you weren’t entirely credible or the information
wasn’t historically significant.”
They might have cooled down a little bit. They might have been
very hot when they first heard it, but then reached the conclusion,
perhaps reasonably, perhaps unreasonably, that, “This isn’t
that significant after all.”
I agree they may have reached that conclusion, but I believe the
investigative rigor that would be required to reach that conclusion
actually was not done. I’m a trained investigator myself,
and you always ask Who, What, When, Where, Why, How. Can you do
that in 30 days or 60 days after something like this is given
Plus, I offered them access to my full copy of Able Danger documents.
I let him know that because I was operating as Able Danger’s
forward headquarters -- because they were in Tampa or Texas --
to preclude having to bring all this classified information back
and forth. I became their repository of both briefing charts,
summations and authority documents, so they didn’t have
to worry about bringing all this classified material on aircraft.
Therefore, I had a full copy of this. I just kept it because I
was worried about something like this happening one day. My former
deputy was a finance officer. She kept immaculate records of all
the legal documents. We had all this. I informed Dr. Zelikow that
I had a copy of all this stuff and I offered it to him. I think
that was one of the reasons he wanted me to re-contact him; so
he could look at it.
And what happened?
I returned in December , took 30 days of leave, came back
off of leave, and I called Dr. Zelikow’s number on his card
the first week of January  Someone answers the phone and
says, “Yes, we remember you. I will talk to Dr. Zelikow
and find out when he wants you to come in.”
A week goes by, no phone call back. I called them a week later
and said, “Hey, what gives?”
“Yeah, we know who you are. ummmmm. Dr. Zelikow tells me
that he does not see the need for you to come in. We have all
the information on Able Danger.”
This is the second week of January. To my knowledge, the Able
Danger documentation, which they claimed that they did get, which
was about two briefcase-sized containers, didn’t show up
until February or March. So, I don’t know what they were
looking at or what they’d been told about, but I can tell
you, from my understanding, they did not have a full set of information
at that point in time.
What is your explanation for Zelikow’s actions.
Based on my lawyer’s recommendation, I want to remain tied
to the facts that I’m aware of. There are some troubling
timelines here. I told them about the set of documents in January.
Then, in March of 2004, there are some allegations drummed up
against me regarding $67 in phone charges, which were accumulated
25 cents at a time over 18 months. Even though when they told
me about this issue, I offered to pay it back, they chose instead
to spend in our estimation $400,000 to investigate all these issues
simply to drum up this information. By the way, these allegations
were refuted by the Army by the fact that in the same year, 2004,
I was promoted on schedule to lieutenant colonel.
So you’re suggesting that based in part or entirely on your
coming forward to the 9/11 Commission and raising these issues
that that might have ruffled somebody’s feathers?
There are some troubling facts that remain. The last time I saw
the data I’m referring to is also the February 2004 timeframe.
Since then, the data regarding the Able Danger set of documents
has not been located.
Since GSN broke this Able Danger story in early August, how has
the civilian DoD leadership and the uniformed military leadership
reacted to your revelations?
There’s been troubling things occurring to several of us.
At this point in time, we have provided [information about] any
issues of concern to DoD leadership.
As I understand it, the Army, acting as an honest broker in this
entire process, is truly trying to investigate to get all the
However, there is an appearance that all the facts are not in
yet and that the investigation continues. You are aware that other
folks besides me have come forward and said this actually happened.
You have Captain Philpott, you’ve got J.D. Smith, who said,
“Hey, not only is what they’re saying true; I’m
the guy who did the data mining which resulted in the Atta link.”
So, you’ve got this now.
The question then becomes, “What has DoD really been able
to find and are they going to share it with everybody?”
It is my opinion, based on what I’ve heard, that DoD has
a lot more information that confirms our story than they’ve
released to the public.
Is it your view that DoD, and perhaps other parties, are doing
their best to avoid taking the blame for what is, of course, a
I wouldn’t ask you or anyone else to be naïve about
that. I’m sure that’s a factor in how they’re
planning things. However, I know that the former members of Able
Danger have been cooperating fully. Anytime DoD has had a question
for us, we’ve come forward and answered it.
The only concern we have now is the fact that we’ve not
been active participants in that investigation, for two reasons.
First, how do you confirm, as DoD, that you have all the Able
Danger documents unless you bring in someone who was part of the
original Able Danger team? To date, that has not happened. We’d
like to believe that it will happen at some point in time.
Second, we’re concerned about the fact that there are other
folks who we know that have this knowledge -- and we believe that
DOD knows also -- yet the statement was issued [by a DoD spokesman]
yesterday [August 23,2005], saying, “There’s no evidence…”
Suppose you get to the point, where everybody says, “Yes,
Able Danger existed; yes, they did this great data mining; yes,
they identified the cells and Atta; yes, they tried to submit
it to the FBI; yes, the lawyers, maybe with good intentions, blocked
them; and, yes, that was a royal screw up.” Everyone agrees
to all that. What then? What is your goal? What, beyond everybody
agreeing that your story is 100 percent accurate, are you looking
The ultimate goal is what created this whole event to begin with.
The intent of Congressman Weldon, and the Army and maybe the leadership
was to re-create this [data mining] capability. That’s why
this all came up. In the January / February timeframe, we started
down the path with Captain Philpott in the lead, saying, “We
need to look at how we can recreate the suite of Able Danger capabilities.”
That’s when I came into it, because of my knowledge of,
and having managed part of the process last time. Army and Navy
went to Weldon and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if
we had some funding for this?” That’s the key. [Rep.Weldon]
asked the hard question, “What happened to the previous
iteration of this?” And that’s when the story came
I can tell you that both Army and Navy had told us to tell the
truth to Congress about what happened. That is a fact. Every time
we’ve talked to Army and Navy leadership, they’ve
said, “Tell the truth.” And that is what we’ve
tried to do here. The only reason that this is now in front of
the public is because [Congressman Weldon] had the courage to
take that information and to do something with it.
I believe it was his intent to put it into the record on 27 June
2005, just to justify the expense of putting this into the upcoming
FY2006 appropriations bill. But that was the ultimate objective
here -- to build something called Able Providence. Able Providence
being the follow up to [Able Danger.] In the simplest terms, to
create a global, 21st century armored cavalry capability. Again,
the idea here, going back to Gettysburg, when General Buford went
after and seized the high ground of Gettysburg. That was a decisive
point of that battle.
What is the specific recommendation that you may have carried
to Congressman Weldon and sought funds for? What’s the essence
of what that program would be all about?
Two parts. First is something called Kimberlite Magic which is
the database / technology piece, which was essentially the LIWA
technology piece – the data mining, the Spire, the Parentage,
all those different software packages doing what LIWA did. That
very smart data mining / intelligence neural-netting and processing
Kimblerlite is the tunnel from which diamonds are pushed through
the earth towards the surface. A great deal of pressure presses
That’s the first of two parts.
Right and Able Providence is going to be the larger piece of that
which basically uses complex data display tools to allow operational
planners, such as myself, who are technology novices, to look
at and make sense of the data.
How much were you looking for in terms of funding? What’s
the dollar value?
You’ll laugh. We’re talking about less than $50 million
dollars for the entire thing and that’s small bucks compared
to other programs. Just for the technology, we’re talking
about $13 million for the Navy, probably about another $12 or
$13 million for the Army. With some other upgrades and personnel
issues, we’re talking about under $50 million dollars.
Is that money in the 2006 bill? Where does it stand?
The last time I discussed this, and this is actually my real job
right now, we’re working with a senior staffer. He’s
already notified both the Army and the Navy that the intent is
for the Hill to fund this capability. So, that’s where the
negotiation is right now.
So, if all is said and done and this whole hullabaloo gets this
Kimblerlite Magic and Able Providence launched, it will be a success?
That will be success. That’s all I want.
It’s a hell of a lot of effort to go through to get a measly
$50 million. Usually, a senior congressman, like Curt Weldon,
can get a $50 million program done over lunch; over a bowl of
That’s what we’re going for. All this public stuff
was not our intent. Our intent was simply and quietly to get this
capability up-and-running, and focused on the fact that warfare
has changed. Fundamentally, we want to find a way to change the
culture to match the new war fighting thinking. To be entrepreneurial,
to use this technology to establish partnerships of the willing,
people who are willing to partner with us.
Just like we did in the original Able Danger concept, you took
three separate organizations, Army, SOCOM and DIA, small components
of each, focused them on one problem. It was like, if you don’t
mind me saying, a big apprentice task: go after Al Qaeda. That’s
what we’re talking about here. Just being able to think
out of the box, to get out of the normal government channels and
think like a businessman.
Just out of curiosity, why was Congressman Weldon willing to talk
first with GSN about Able Danger?
You’re an insider magazine. There was a belief that if we’re
going to talk about this with anyone, you’d be the best
to get this word out to government insiders because they would
take notice of it. And the idea here is to show people, “Hey,
this happened before. We want to do it again,” and in some
ways maybe even elicit some support from the government to move