Microwaves, Lasers, Retired Generals For Sale
By William M. Arkin
Friend's tell me that this week's Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting & Exposition at the Washington Convention Center was all that an orgy of self-congratulation can be. Contractors galore, beltway bandits, luncheons, awards, howitzers, all topped off with a speech by Dick Cheney.
The buzz on the floor was "directed energy" laser, high-powered microwaves, and acoustic weapons that are getting a boost from the prolonged fighting in Iraq. Supporters are hoping that these new exotic technologies will help in the battle against improvised explosive devices and in countering snipers and hidden insurgents.
New Rules for War on Terrorism
After a bruising, three-year battle between the Delta Force generals and the four-stars who command conventional troops around the world, President Bush has given control for managing the administration's global war on terrorism to U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) -- but with a giant caveat.
The new Unified Command Plan 2004, signed by President Bush on March 1, and reported here for the first time, assigns SOCOM as "the lead combatant commander" for "synchronizing" operations against terrorist networks. However, the directive leaves the regional commanders in charge of executing counter-terrorism operations in their own theaters.
The Terrorist Body Count
In October 2003, Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent a memo to four-star commanders asking one of those unforgettable questions: "Are we winning or losing the Global War on Terror?"
"We lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing …," he observed.
Two years later, admitting it still doesn’t have a clue, the Pentagon has finally turned to outside help for an answer.
Myers, Uzbekistan, Nukes Bye Bye
Posse Notaneedus. Though Senator John Warner (R-VA) said last week that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld told him in a telephone conversation that the Pentagon would examine the Posse Comitatus Act to see whether the law impedes military response in domestic emergencies, Defense Department sources tell me that after the initial post-Katrina flurry, there seems little enthusiasm for making changes to the 1878 act. The Pentagon said this week it wanted to "study" whether changes were needed, the bureaucratic kiss of death. Even President Bush has backed off his call for a "broader role" for the military, saying last week he wants a "robust discussion" about federal response to disasters. Even Warner changed his tune. There should be "no rush to judgment" on any decisions to change the military's domestic role, Warner told Congress Daily. "We should look at this very, very carefully."
I've written that changes aren't needed: in an emergency the President can already deploy the military, even providing them with police powers if there is a break down of civil authority. Reports late last week questioning the extent of looting and lawlessness in New Orleans should give everyone pause about the notion of sending 18 year olds with guns into a "war zone" that indeed isn't a war zone.
Talking about robust. The Defense Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee cut fiscal year 2006 Defense Department funding for a feasibility study for a new Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP), an earth penetrating nuclear weapon the administration would like to see developed. Defense Daily also reported this week that the House Armed Services Committee, which provided funding for the RNEP, said the money could only be used research on advanced conventional weapons. The House committee recommended dropping the word "nuclear" from the weapon's name. The danger here is that research work on boutique nuclear warheads moves forward as part of compartmented and special access programs in the future.
There's so much more WE need to know. News this weekend that Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer's security clearance has been permanently been revoked makes the Pentagon look petty, but doesn't tell the entire story. Shaffer became famous this summer as the whistleblower who revealed the compartmented Able Danger war planning effort of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). Shaffer claims that intelligence analysis associated with Able Danger. According to the news reports, Shaffer obtained a medal under false pretenses, improperly flashed military identification while drunk, misused government credit cards, and, hold on, stole pens,
I'll agree that DIA investigators have been dredging up whatever they could. But the news stories, and Shaffer's lawyer, have only been reporting part of the story. I imagine that Shaffer's real problem is revealing the existence of Able Danger in the first place, together with other compartmented programs that he has also made reference to in numerous interviews: Stratus Ivy, Dorhawk Galley, and Able Providence. Shaffer likely had to sign a "non-disclosure" agreement related to his clearance for each of these. I'm all for conscientious government officials going public when they believe their agencies are secretly breaking the law, but you've got to admit, Shaffer's biggest problem seems to be his ability to keep a secret, hence why would the government grant him a security clearance.
Another Katrina? Sources at U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), responsible for U.S. homeland defense, tell me that the intelligence directorate is increasingly concerned about Russian strategic and "asymmetric threats" to North America, and is increasingly looking at spillover from the Chechen conflict; crime, corruption and terrorism within Russia; and maritime threats to North America originating in Russia.
Goodbye Uzbekistan. The State Department announced this week that the United States will leave the Karshi-Khanabad (K2) air base in southern Uzbekistan "without further discussion." Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried was in Uzbekistan on September 27, going on to Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. This week, The Washington Post also reported that Uzbekistan would also stop cooperating with the United States on counterterrorism.
Hello Niger. As part of Operation Enduring Freedom - Trans Sahara, U.S. special operations forces have been in Niger in August. The Air Force's 6th Special Operations Squadron from Hulburt field, Florida, deployed to work with the Nigerien Air Force. Niger is 'an important ally in the fight against international terrorism,' said Gail Dennise Mathieu, U.S. ambassador. They'll all such important allies.
Speaking of anti-terrorism. The U.S. and Indonesia also conducted an anti-terrorist exercise last month, TNI-US Pacific Command Subject Matters Experts Exchange 2005. The two simulated attacking a telecommunications site being hijacked by terrorists. A lot of good the games did…
Revolving doors. Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers retired this week as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and received the usual platitudes from the President and others about his leadership of the military since September 2001. He's off to Kansas State University in his home state, according to some reports with a possible role with the school's Institute for Military History and 20th Century Studies. I'm not sure I could say, as a watcher of Myers for five years, what unique contribution he's made, or what philosophy he holds about military matters, or even what he has contributed. Two memories stick in my head: Myers' vociferous defense of the Iraq war plan -- he's not known for public expressions of emotion -- after others criticized the size of the U.S. ground force early in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The other memory is one of Myers standing next to or behind President Bush at various White House and Crawford events that just happened to occur during the 2004 Presidential campaign. His appearance in uniform with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, and Powell suggested that he was some kind of political appointee, and that the military somehow endorsed the President is his campaigning mode. Maybe the new Chairman could be a little more mindful of the fact that he is a military advisor to the President and not a member of the administration.
Global Military Aircraft Systems announced this week that Army Brig. Gen. Howard W. Yellen will join the company as its General Manager upon his retirement from active duty in mid-November. Earlier this year, Yellin was reported to be Deputy Commander, Combined Forces Special Operations Component Iraq and Commander, Joint Inter-Agency Task Force – Former Regime Element, a job title that reveals more than the general ever would.
Help for Karen Hughes
Codename of the Week: Global Harvest
As Under Secretary of State Karen Hughes begins her monumental campaign to improve the world's opinion of the United States, not to worry, military information warriors are poised to jump in as soon as the FEMA of public diplomacy falters.
Certainly one of the fastest growing military sectors is that of information operations (IO). And in IO, there is no aspect of the military effort to make friends and influence people overseas that is hotter right now than one most people have never even heard of: human factors analysis.
According to an internal Defense Department document, Director of Central Intelligence Directive (DCID) 7/3, "Information Operations and Intelligence Community Related Activities," defines human factors analysis as: "The psychological, cultural, behavioral, and other human attributes that influence decision-making, the flow of information, and the interpretation of information by individuals and groups at any level in any state or organization."
If you are wondering what really happened to the early "data mining" and "link analysis" projects associated with Able Danger and other programs, look no further. It is now resident in new compartmented and secret programs like that of the Global Harvest office at the Joint Information Operations Center (JIOC) in San Antonio, Texas.
A wide variety of human factors analysis work has been done in the intelligence and information warfare communities since the 1990's, just not necessary under that name, and not in one place. The fledgling Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) of the Army that supported Able Danger, the Joint Warfare Analysis Center (JWAC), the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and CIA, as well as a huge cadre of Air Force information warfare specialists in the San Antonio area were all studying foreign leaders’ decision-making, "belief systems," and the communications and information environment they operated in. They produced social network analyses of leaders and their associates, particularly to support operations in Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, and North Korea. The culmination of this early work occurred in Kosovo in 1999, with a full fledged "crony targeting" campaign against Slobodan Milosevic.
By the time the Y2K threat loomed, poised to bring life as we know it to a screeching halt, information warfare (IW) had become such a huge cottage industry that one friend remarked that even the toilet paper in the Pentagon was being labeled IW-related.
As is often the case with these new (or not so new) disciplines, soon enough everything from tactical leaflet drops and loudspeaker operations, to national-level computer network attack and covert operations were being stuffed into IW (and its big brother, Information Operations). There was a need to separate the varsity from the junior varsity, the pedestrian from the boutique.
So the JIOC stood up in September 1999, redesignated from the Joint Command and Control Warfare Center, which was itself formed from the nucleus of the former Joint Electronic Warfare Center (JEWC). In 2000, the DIA established its own Human Factors Analysis Center, and NSA followed with an Electronic Space Analysis Center (nothing to do with space, up there, that is), while the CIA and NSA established a jointly managed Information Operations Technology Center. Soon we were winning the information war!
It was way too much entrepreneurial energy, the shadow warrior types say. Others say it was duplicative, undirected, unfocused. As one expert as the time wrote, the Defense Department's definition of information operations was "so broad" that "IO is everything and it is nothing."
The Pentagon stepped in to harness all of the disparate resources and exert greater control. On January 10, 2003, President Bush signed "change 2" to the Unified Command Plan (UCP) 2002, designating U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), the grand-daddy of very old fashioned nuclear targeting, as the lead command for the worldwide information operations mission. STRATCOM took control of the JIOC, which provides "comprehensive operational and technical support on the information operations (IO) aspects of military operations." (The JIOC was authorized 271 positions as of December 2004, including 100 contractors and three allied officers--Australia, Canada and UK).
Secretary Rumsfeld then signed the classified October 30, 2003 Information Operations Roadmap, a comprehensive plan containing 57 recommendations in order to make information operations a "core military competency."
One of the recommendations was giving STRATCOM operational tasking authority over DIA's Human Factors Analysis Center as well as the NSA’s Electronic Space Analysis Center. With tasking authority over the JIOC and these two other centers (and with its sights set on control of JWAC as well -- JWAC is responsible for the "physical" space) -- the uber information warrior would surely win the information war!
The task of integrating STRATCOM and the various intelligence agencies falls to Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Warfighting Support. Boykin, famous for his lets-win-the-battle-for-hearts-and-minds remarks about Islam and his own Christian faith, has directed that the DOD improve its intelligence support to information operations. In particular, he has directed the strengthening of human factors analysis, methodologies, and products to ensure "actionable" information for planners and operators.
Meanwhile, the Joint Chief of Staff is working to solve the definitional problem that information operations are everything and thus nothing. Its 5 July 2005 draft update of the information operations doctrine, revealed here for the first time, contains a new definition for information operations: "The integrated employment of electronic warfare (EW), computer network operations (CNO), psychological operations (PSYOP), military deception (MILDEC), and operations security (OPSEC), in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, or deny human [my emphasis] and automated decision-making, while protecting our own."
The draft doctrine breaks down the "information environment" into information, physical and cognitive dimensions. The cognitive is called "the most important of the three," and "the mind of the "decision maker" and the "target audience (TA)," formerly called the populace, is called the objective of all information information.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot: Global Harvest. It and other secret projects of these various commands and centers are using dozens of different software programs to integrate all of the "human factors" data, to, you guessed it, win the information war!
Another Law Under Assault
The post-Katrina agitation to repeal the Posse Comitatus Act comes in the wake of another assault on a venerable protection of the rights of Americans, namely the web of Executive Orders and regulations restricting military and civilian intelligence agencies from collecting information on U.S. citizens.
Ever since the Able Danger debate began in August, whistle blower Army reserve intelligence officer Anthony Shaffer and his patron Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) have been suggesting that military lawyers protect terrorists under some archaic pre-9/11 rule.
Shaffer told Government Security News that the problem his data mining intelligence effort ran into "was where do you draw that line regarding protection of U.S. persons -- between U.S. citizens… and these other folks who are here legally, but not technically deserving of the same protections?"
The line is drawn perfectly.
Nothing restricts U.S. military intelligence from collecting information on real terrorists, and nothing even stops U.S. intelligence from passing information indicating terrorist involvement on the part of a U.S. citizen from being passed to the FBI.
These were the rules before 9/11 and despite passage of the USA PATRIOT Act and the creation of new intelligence-law enforcement sharing arrangements, these same rules apply today.
Shaffer and other shadow warriors just don't like lines. They think that they can conduct surveillance, analyze intelligence, enforce the law, and fight the war on terrorism all by themselves. As a result, they see the rules segregating intelligence from law enforcement, let alone intelligence from war fighting and policy (remember Iraq) as niceties that the global war on terrorism can no longer afford.
Since 9/11, as "data mining" and "link analysis" programs have mushroomed in the military and intelligence worlds, there is a need for ever more oversight. Unfortunately, this is a particularly difficult task given the explosion of compartmented programs under the Bush administration, as well as the use of classification devices used in Shaffer's work that put programs out of Congressional reach (more about that next week).
Executive Order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan on 4 December 1981, gives the intelligence community its authority to collect foreign and domestic intelligence and counterintelligence information. The Executive Order updated one originally signed by President Ford after U.S. intelligence agencies were caught collecting information on community, religious and labor leaders, civil rights protestors, and anti-Vietnam war demonstrators. It was either lay down a set of rules to operate by or watch Congress dismantle the CIA in the wake of the Church and Pike Committee hearings of the 1970's.
The more than 20 year old Executive Order specifies how intelligence agencies can collect on U.S. citizens, referred to as United States Persons. A United States Person is defined as a United States Citizen; a permanent resident alien; U.S. corporations, or an association "substantially composed" of U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens. Note that the prohibitions do not apply to foreigners with tourist or student visas, or any who are not permanent resident aliens (that would be all of the 9/11 hijackers).
Within the Department of Defense, the EO is implemented by DOD Directive 5240.1-R, "Procedures Governing the Activities of DoD Intelligence Components that Affect United States Persons," dated December 1982. Army Regulation 381-10, U.S. Army Intelligence Activities, dated July 1, 1984, further implements the EO and DOD Directive.
The EO and the regulations do not in the end prohibit collection on United States Persons; rather they create procedures for doing so. The collection has to meet certain criteria, and internal "intelligence oversight" officers have to approve acquisition and retention of information.
After 9/11, with everyone in panic mode about terrorists inside the United States, Lt. Gen. Robert W. Noonan, then the chief Army intelligence officer, sent a classified memo (Collecting Information on United States Persons, November 5, 2001) to all military intelligence units, clarifying the Ford era rules. Numerous concerns had arisen after 9/11 when Army intelligence officers questioned whether they could receive information from law enforcement authorities about U.S. persons. Noonan said it was the Army's duty to receive all pertinent information "regarding international terrorists who threaten the United States, and its interests, including those responsible for planning, authorizing, committing, or aiding the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001."
Noonan stressed that both "foreign intelligence" and counter-intelligence components could lawfully collect information on U.S. persons if that person was "reasonably believed to be engaged, or about to be engaged, in international terrorist activities." Within the United States, Noonan said "those activities must have a significant connection to a foreign power, organization, or person."
A 15 January 2003 paper, "Intelligence Oversight of INSCOM's [Army Intelligence and Security Command] Information Operations Center" contained in the Report to Congress on the Terrorism Information Awareness Program (pdf) puts all of this in practical terms in a world of automated collection:
"In a system that literally collects hundreds of millions of events every day, inadvertent collection of U.S. person information does occur. An analyst won't know, however, that inadvertently collected U.S. person information resides in a database until he or she does a search for lawful mission related information. In the event U.S. person information is relevant to the mission and should be included in an intelligence product report, such information must receive a legal and intelligence oversight review prior to publication. Depending on the nature and importance of the information, the U.S. person's identifying data may be permitted to stand 'as is,' may be changed to more generic terms, or may not be allowed at all."
In short, there has to be reason for military intelligence components to collect information on U.S. persons, and there has to be "probable cause," if you will, to retain that information once it is identified. No information can be collected (or disseminated) by intelligence elements about a person or organization solely because of "unlawful advocacy of measures in opposition to government policy." Basic rights and freedoms cannot "and will not" be rescinded merely because an emergency has been declared, DOD directives say. All of the regulations agree that information collected on persons or a group breaking the law is be treated as criminal information and not as intelligence data.
William Dugan, the Pentagon head of intelligence oversight and the official charged with ensuring that military intelligence complies with the rules on U.S. persons told Congress last week, "If the intelligence component is unsure if the information they have obtained is proper for them to keep, the Intelligence Oversight rules allow them to temporarily retain the information for 90 days solely to determine whether it may be permanently retained." Information on U.S. persons must either be passed to an appropriate law enforcement agency or purged from the system.
In this day and age where successful counter-terrorism depends upon how fast intelligence collectors and analysts can move information either to law enforcement authorities or war fighters, the 90 day restriction seems perfectly reasonable.
One can only wonder at this point what information the Army's Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) really collected on behalf of Able Danger that necessitated a complete purge and destruction of its entire database.
(Coming Up: The "Force Protection" Loophole and the Danger of Compartmented Activities.)
Disabling Able Danger
In April 2000, Able Danger, only months old, was abruptly shut down. Caught violating Reagan administration Executive Orders and Defense Department and Army regulations restricting intelligence agencies from collecting information on United States "persons," the highly compartmented cell within the Army's Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) was halted in its effort to use data mining and link analysis to characterize the worldwide nature of the al Qaeda terrorist network.
Anthony Shaffer, the whistle blower who went public in August, claims lawyers shut down the operation just at the point that it named and identified 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta.
As I wrote yesterday, Shaffer is pretty lonely in his recollections. Of some 80 people interviewed by the Defense Department as part of its Able Danger internal investigation, the Pentagon says that three additional workers remember seeing either a chart with a photo or a reference to Mohamed Atta.
The general in charge of the Special Operations Command, Gen. Bryan "Doug" Brown, also went on the record this weekend telling the St. Petersburg Times that he was "pretty sure" Able Danger did not identify Mohamed Atta before 9/11.
Two Defense Department lawyers familiar with the case told me that there is no evidence that lawyers directed the destruction of information nor restricted any sharing of useful intelligence with the FBI, as Shaffer claims.
The real story here is how another renegade intelligence effort subsisting on hyper secrecy ran afoul of regulations first implemented in the Ford administration when U.S. intelligence agencies were caught collecting information on community, religious and labor leaders, civil rights protestors, and anti-Vietnam war demonstrators.
"What began as a force protection mission for DOD organizations, evolved, through mission creep, lack of clear rules, and the lack of meaningful oversight, into an abuse of … Constitutional rights…," William Dugan, Pentagon chief of intelligence oversight, said last week. He was describing the experiences of the 1960s and 1970s.
Shaffer and others use words like "out-of-the-box" and "entrepreneurial" to describe the LIWA intelligence collection. The buzz words suggest, of course, that other intelligence efforts were in-the-box and boring, that only the LIWA and other compartmented workers were motivated and insightful enough to take chances, that if the lawyers and the bureaucrats and the Clintonistas and the other villains had just gotten out of the way, there would have been no 9/11. If only…
But in 2000, the problem was also a pretty simple one: An off-the-books intelligence effort once again abused the "force protection" justification to collect information on Americans. Military commanders, mindful of the law and regulations, shut down the operation.
When Able Danger approached LIWA in 1999 to help with the al Qaeda campaign plan, the organization was already involved in a number of highly classified counter-terrorism data mining efforts. LIWA's al Qaeda project collected 2.5 terabytes of "open source" information, Shaffer says, a ridiculously immense amount of data equivalent to 500 million pages of text or a pile of paper 30,000 miles high if it were all printed out -- court records, news databases, credit card and telephone records. "Anything we could get our hands on," says Shaffer.
"Open source" here means unclassified information, that is, information that has not been collected and compiled by U.S. intelligence, for example, intelligence information derived from electronic eavesdropping or human agents that the United States classifies at birth.
However, the open source label tends to hide the real problem the Able Danger sponsored effort ran into.
"They were not only using advanced data mining technology, they were also looking at data that no one else was looking at," Shaffer says.
According to military sources familiar with the Able Danger legal side, the effort stepped over the line when LIWA contractors purchased photographic collections of people entering and exiting mosques in the United States and overseas. One source says that LIWA contractors dealt with a questionable source of photographs in California, either a white supremacy group or some other anti-Islamic organization.
"There are records of who goes where regarding visits to mosques," Shaffer told Government Security News. "That was the data that LIWA was buying off the Internet from information brokers." It was stuff no one else bothered to look at, says Shaffer.
LIWA purchased an open-source, six-month data run, Shaffer says, and analysts developed a set of eight data points common to 1993 World Trade Center bombers and associates. With advanced software, including facial recognition software able to track individuals from the collected photographs, Shaffer says contractors "made the link between [Mohammed] Atta and [Sheik Omar Abdel] Rahman, the first World Trade Center bomber."
Thomas Gandy, Army Director of Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence, said at the September 1 Pentagon briefing that the problem with LIWA’s work was that "it was a gobbling up of a lot of data from a lot of sources and put (it) in one pile." Thus there was a "commingling of U.S. person data" with other data. The contractors and software specialists did not take precautions to tag data from different sources or to segregate information about wholly innocent Americans of Islamic faith from others who were not US persons.
Gandy says "there was no perceived imminent threat" or "imminent crime going to occur" that might have justified retention of the gigantic database. Under the regulations, LIWA could have argued that it indeed was on to something and sought justification to continue, but the truth seems to be that while LIWA workers and contractor might have seen what there were doing as actual detective work to uncover terrorists, Able Danger and SOCOM saw the project mostly as an experiment to prove the usefulness of the technology.
So just months after LIWA began its seat-of-the-pants effort, it was directed to destroy its 2.5 terabytes.
(Tomorrow: The Law Takes Hold)
Note to readers: In my original posting, I used the spelling "Mohammed" that readers latched onto as some perhaps some kind of conspiracy on my part. It was an error to spell Atta's name different than he did in his visa applications and on his Florida drivers license. Though I hesitate to quote the 911 Commission's spelling as so many readers think that is a conspiracy as well. According to the Wikipedia entry, Atta used "several aliases and alternate spellings, including Mehan Atta, Mohammed Atta, Mohammad El Amir, Mohamed El Sayed, Muhammad Muhammad Al Amir Awag Al Sayyid Atta, and Muhammad Muhammad Al-Amir Awad Al Sayad. The will that he allegedly wrote in 1996 gives his name as 'Mohamed Mohamed Elamir Awad Elsayed.'"
I did a LexisNexis search of the last 90 days of news to check the prevailing spelling. There were 482 hits for "Mohammed Atta" and 528 for "Mohamed Atta." The Washington Post convention is Mohamed Atta.
The Secret History of Able Danger
Ever since Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) claimed in August that Pentagon analysts had identified 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta in early 2000, a secret intelligence operation code named Able Danger has become the latest fantasy of left and right wing conspiracy theorists.
The matter was to have come to a head last week when the Senate Judiciary Committee held a special Able Danger hearing. But the Pentagon declined to allow even unclassified testimony at the open hearing, arguing that the matter better rested with the Intelligence Committee.
Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) accused the Pentagon of "stonewalling," and all of a sudden, Weldon seemed vindicated in his claims that the Defense Department, and the 9/11 Commission, had something to hide.
The Pentagon is hiding something. But it’s not what Weldon thinks.
First, to debunk the myths:
- As best as I can determine, having spent tens of hours talking to military sources involved with the issue, intelligence analysts did not identify anyone prior to 9/11, Mohammed Atta included, as a suspect in any upcoming terrorist attack.
- It is not even clear that a "Mohammed Atta" was identified, let alone that it is the same Atta who died on 9/11.
- No military lawyers prevented intelligence sleuths from passing useful information to the FBI.
- Able Danger itself was not an intelligence program.
As a representative of U.S. Special Operations Command said at a special Pentagon briefing arranged on September 1, Able Danger "was merely the name attributed to a 15-month planning effort" to begin building a war on terrorism. This is the real story.
In early October 1999, three months after Osama bin Laden was added to the U.S. "ten most wanted" list as the mastermind behind the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and more than a year after President Clinton signed a Presidential Directive laying out a renewed counter-terrorism program, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Hugh Shelton, tasked U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to develop a "campaign plan" against transnational terrorism, specifically al Qaeda. The code name assigned to the planning effort, and the name of the cell of about 10 planners in SOCOM was Able Danger.
Like most government activity associated with counter-terrorism in the late 1990's, Able Danger was a "compartmented" effort. After the 1998 embassy bombings, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger directed that a tightly compartmented process be put in place to keep all counter-terrorism military planning secret. Under "this" Polo Step compartment, the Navy was required to station a force of Tomahawk cruise missile-shooting submarines off the Pakistani coast at all times, and the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), regionally responsible for Afghanistan, worked with the Joint Chiefs to develop a set of 13 military options against Al Qaeda under a war plan called Infinite Resolve.
As the Able Danger cell began its work, its first questions were: What is al Qaeda? How big is it? Where is it?
As the 9/11 Commission said in its final report: "Despite the availability of information that al Qaeda was a global network … policymakers knew little about the organization. The reams of new information that the CIA’s Bin Laden unit had been developing since 1996 had not been pulled together and synthesized for the rest of the government."
Able Danger reached out to intelligence organizations that were not only involved in monitoring al Qaeda, but also those that were specialists in synthesizing new information.
One such organization was the new Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA), a part of the Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM). LIWA was organized in March 1995 to integrate "information warfare" into Army operations. On paper, that meant everything from manning new command centers in order to protect Army Internet connections from hackers to providing support for battlefield "psychological operations."
But LIWA, along with other information warfare organizations, was also developing offensive information warfare capabilities, including computer network attack and other cyber-related covert operations. And for that, there was a widespread recognition of the need for intelligence of much higher "granularity," or specificity, particularly about people, than had ever before been compiled on a large scale.
Starting in 1996, LIWA deployed teams to Bosnia. They were part of a new vanguard of information warriors. They required detailed information on factions and individuals: decision-maker identities, biases and inter-relationships, identification of critical communications and information links and nodes, demographic data, populace biases and pre-dispositions. The goal was to harness this information to determine potential pressure points to leverage decision-maker/populace behaviors.
(Illustration: An information warfare "matrix" used by LIWA in Bosnia. The field support team employed data mining and link analysis to build a picture of pressure points associated with the Bosnian leadership, the same kind of modeling it would later employ on al Qaeda for Able Danger.)
Back at Ft. Belvoir, VA, the LIWA Advanced Concepts and Analysis division, and later the Army's Information Dominance Center (IDC) was employing new means for achieving "information dominance." With the explosion of electronic information and the ability to move vast quantities of data quickly, analysts were increasingly facing the same problem confronting forensic accountants, insurance fraud investigators, and bank examiners: Large amounts of data was increasingly available, but it needed to be put in relational form in order to develop patterns, and then sense needed to be made of the patterns to reveal what had already happened or was about to happen.
In academia, in government, in the information industry, even in marketing, hundreds of different technical approaches were being pursued, both classified and unclassified. One such effort immediately enlisted by the U.S. intelligence community and information targeteers was data mining, a capability to discover new patterns of indicators that identify events of interest when they cannot be directly observed. Data mining techniques applied to large "transaction" databases (travel or credit card records or telephone logs) could be used to uncover clandestine relationships or activities.
Another method being developed was social network analysis. This analyzes the types and frequencies of interactions among people to determine formal and informal leadership hierarchies.
In the intelligence community, most of the early data mining and link analysis efforts involved monitoring terrorist financial transactions. For example, after Somalia disintegrated in 1991 and many Somalis migrated to the U.S. and Europe, they began to send money home via the "al-Barakaat" network of money remitters. In October 1996, the FBI began to track connections between the al-Barakaat system and terrorist groups, and in the late 1990's, the intelligence community, using similar analysis to track money transfers, began to draw links between al-Barakaat and Osama bin Laden.
Inside the intelligence community, at LIWA and other organizations, data mining and link analysis was being conducted on elite and so-called "crony" networks in Bosnia (and later in Serbia during Kosovo operations), on international drug cartels, on corruption and contract killings in Russia, on weapons proliferation and sensitive trade with China, and on terrorist linkages in the Far East.
In December 1999, LIWA was approached by SOCOM to support Able Danger by conducting data mining and link analysis of the al Qaeda network. The project was initially focused on unclassified data mining using U.S. and foreign news databases, commercially available records of financial transactions, court records, licenses, travel records and phone books. The goal was to find links between potential or known terrorists. Analysts used "spiders" -- automated robots -- to go out on the Internet and collect whatever they could. "Anything we could get our hands on," says Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, the Army reserve whistle blower who was assigned to the LIWA effort.
Using the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and associated lists of suspect individuals as a starting point, LIWA began to compile databases of "associated" individuals, and then they began to "data mine" their mountains of collected records to find links between them. What they ended up with—and what is still being hidden today—is the questionable (read: potentially illegal) collection and acquisition of information on American citizens before and after 9/11.
(Tomorrow: Overreach and how the data-mining project goes awry.)
Rita and Katrina will surely stoke the fires of those who want U.S. forces out of Iraq, as much as it will embolden those who argue that because U.S. military forces are at a breaking point in Iraq, the Army should be increased in size. But it's also good to remind ourselves that there is a lot more going on, and a fabulous worldwide military infrastructure to support not just operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but other pockets of the American empire. I'm a close watcher of military exercises, one of the best ways to gauge what the military is really doing and thinking. Here are some of the latest.
Bright Star 05/06, the largest military exercise the U.S. conducts in the Middle East, began in western Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea September 10. Scheduled every two years (but canceled in 2003 because of the Iraq war), the current six week versions includes air, naval, amphibious and special operations field training by Egyptian and U.S. soldiers, with contingents from France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the UK. Overall, some 16,000 military personnel are involved. Observers from "up to" 36 countries are also present during the war games, U.S. officials say. Paratroopers from Egypt, Germany, Jordan and the Netherlands jumped with the 82nd Airborne on September 15. The Pakistani press has also reported the presence of the Special Services Group (I thought they were busy hunting for Al Qaeda?).
While the U.S. is busy in Egypt fighting the last war, Russia and Uzbekistan conducted their first ever bilateral exercise last week. In July, after U.S. criticism of the bloody suppression of a rebellion in the Uzbek town of Andijan in May, Uzbekistan told the U.S. military it would have six months to vacate the "K2" base at Kharshi-Khanabad. K2 was one of the key Afghanistan staging bases for the CIA and special operations forces in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and had up until this summer been a showcase for those who argue the value of peacetime military relations: if we hadn't been cozy with Uzbekistan and conducting exercises in the late 1990's, we wouldn't have been able to move so quickly, the argument goes.
Military sources tell me that it is unlikely that K2 will be replaced with a new full-fledged base in Central Asia. But Tajikistan hinted last week that it could host some US military equipment and personnel, and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Gen. John Abizaid, was in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on August 23.
Another major U.S. base in the region, in Kyrgyzstan, is an obvious candidate for increased activity, but Kyrgyzstan has been under pressure from Russia and China who demand that it set a date for U.S. withdrawal from Manas. But the race is on: Russia has established its own military airbase in Kyrgyzstan and last year it also won approval to keep its 6,000 troop-strong 201st Division at a permanent base in Tajikistan. Of course the U.S. does have major bases in Afghanistan, and maintains a couple of important secret bases in Pakistan.
Though Pakistan gets to participate in varsity U.S. military exercises like Bright Star, there must be some anxiety at the flurry of "next war" military activity by the United States with India. Yesterday the U.S. and India began the nine-day naval exercise "Malabar 05" in the North Arabian Sea. The exercise, the eighth in the U.S.-Indian series, includes the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz and its battle group operating Indian Navy counterparts. The thrust of Malabar 05 is "counter-terrorism operations at sea," says Rear Admiral D.K. Joshi, the Indian Assistant Chief of Naval Staff. The exercise includes U.S. P-3C Orion P3C maritime reconnaissance aircraft operating from Dabolim in Goa (the U.S. is trying to sell some of the planes to the Indians). Malabar 05 will be followed up by a joint Indo-U.S. special operations exercise in Guam in January 2006.
The USS Safeguard meanwhile also began conducting the first-ever salvage exercise (SALVEX) with the Indian navy on September 12 in and off the waters of Cochin. And on September 13, India officials announced that a joint U.S.-Indian "Yudh Abhyas" exercise began at the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School near the Mizoram-Assam border town of Vairengte. It is the third exercise since U.S. soldiers started visiting the school for cooperative counter-terrorism work in April 2003. According to DOD documents, U.S. and Indian contingents will continue their anti-terrorism joint exercises January 16-31, 2006 at Choubatia in Uttar Pradesh.
Indian and U.S. air force pilots also recently conducted a set of week-long flying exchanges between Misawa airbase in Japan and an Indian base, where U.S. pilots got to fly a Russian-made SU-30 fighter jet. The exchange visits are in preparation for a "Cope India" exercise scheduled for November. The bilateral training exercise will be the second in India in less than two years. Representatives from the Indian military also observed the U.S. "Cope Thunder" exercise in Alaska in June.
All of this comes at a time when India and Russia are preparing their first-ever joint army exercise involving their own paratrooper drop in Rajasthan's Aravali hills to destroy a "terrorist" base, scheduled for October. And India, China and Russia are also planning what Moscow describes as "the biggest military exercise in the world" in 2006, follow-on to the Russian-Chinese "Peace Mission 2005."
It's always about peace.
There will be a quiz on Friday.
Just when that Korea problem was all solved. Is it just me, or is some of the best military talent being assigned to the Pacific and Korea/China problem? Last week, the Pentagon announced the assignment of Army Gen. Burwell B. ("BB") Bell as commander of U.S. Forces Korea and combined U.S. and South Korean forces, as well as the assignment of Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Leaf, as deputy commander, U.S. Pacific Command. They join other top managers and war fighters already assigned to the Pacific theater.
Maybe I'll get a call back now. Longstanding "acting" Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Larry Di Rita is finally going to get to do something he is actually interested in, as the White House announced this week that Dorrance Smith, former executive producer of ABC's This Week, assistant to former President Bush for media affairs, and former media adviser for the Coalition Provision Authority in Baghdad would become the new Pentagon spokesperson. In a April 25, 2005 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Smith said "Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and al Qaeda have a partner in Al- Jazeera and, by extension, most networks in the U.S." I guess someone in charge of winning the battle for hearts and minds will now have to work overtime with him at the podium.
This is also certain to win hearts and minds. Raytheon Missile Systems announced that it had delivered "a short-range millimeter wave directed energy non-lethal weapon to the Department of Defense's Full Spectrum Effects Platform (FSEP) program -- also known as Project Sheriff -- for the Office of Force Transformation (OFT)." For those who do read English, this will be the first ever anti-personnel microwave weapon to be deployed by the United States (or probably any other country).
The beam heats the skin to levels of excruciating pain, encouraging anyone who comes in contact with the beam to flee. Raytheon is incorporating the microwave weapon into a Stryker combat vehicle, ultimate destination Iraq. "The millimeter wave energy beam can help discriminate the threat and assess the intent of an aggressor with a temporary reversible effect whose safety has been established and demonstrated in more than 12 years of testing by the Air Force Research Laboratory with sponsorship from the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate," Raytheon says. In fact the whole program has been saved by the Iraq war; it was previously floundering because despite constant incantations that the weapon was safe, sane military commanders and leaders didn't want to be the first to employ it.
The experience of space cadets. DOD announced this week that the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence intends to award a "sole source" contract to Toffler Associates on Manchester, MA. The firm is the offspring of futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler, authors of The Third Wave, War & Anti-War, and Future Shock. Sole source. I guess there isn't any other company that can provides recommendations "for the standup of a Defense Intelligence Human Capital management office to manage and administer the Defense Civilian Intelligence Personnel System (DCIPS)."
The Department of Homeland Security Red Cell. Thanks to RH, DS, RA, RB, and GG for their contributions to uncover a list of "Red Cell" big-thinkers.
- Daniel S. Gressang IV, faculty, Joint Military Intelligence College
- Benjamin D. Goss, academic, 2004 Super Bowl Red Cell
- Dr. Colby Burke Jubenville, Sports Management, Middle Tennessee State University, 2004 Super Bowl Red Cell
- Dr. Tim Kotnour, University of Central Florida
- Brennan McKernan, DHS Red Cell
- Brad Meltzer, Montgomery Country based Washington themed fiction book author
- Jon Nowick, DHS Director, Analytic Red Cell Program
- Dr. Jim Pearson, University of Central Florida
- Robert ("Bob") Rich, Dr. Randy Shumaker, University of Central Florida
- Brad Thor, military thriller author
- Andy Wright, DHS Program Manager, Analytic Red Cell Program
Others suggested "rock star" Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, late of the Doobie Brothers, who has also gotten into national security consulting and is one of the Pentagon "experts" on ballistic missile defense.
Rita Shows New Rules Not Needed
Many readers have responded to my reporting on the issue of the military's domestic role this week, almost evenly split between those who believe something needs to be done to give the President more authority to respond to emergencies, and those who don't. A number of readers have lamented that Washington will likely do what it does best: reorganize. This from Gimlet: "Just as there was little need to overhaul intelligence agencies after 9/11 (there was a need to fire some people), there is no need to expand military authority now in support of civil emergency operations."
Rita is proving so far that we don't need a change in laws or a reorganization to adequately respond to disasters.
"Our armed forces have pre-positioned troops," the President said at the Pentagon Wednesday. "We have resources there to help the federal, state and local officials to respond swiftly and effectively."
That's the way it should be, local and state first, federal and military assisting.
In contrast with Katrina, Lt. Gen. Robert Clark, commander of the Fifth Army at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, was put in charge of Joint Task Force Rita before the storm hit.
Thousands of National Guard troops have been on the move for days. Active duty military resources up to and including Air Force U-2s and reconnaissance satellites are in support.
It's such an orderly process, when you are prepared and paying attention, that is. "As directed by the secretary of defense and in accordance with the National Response Plan … [DOD] is supporting Homeland Security Department and FEMA disaster preparation efforts," the Pentagon said yesterday.
I am also struck by the irony of National Guard troops overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan while active duty troops are being "mobilized" here. Perhaps even more fundamental restructuring needs to take in the National Guard: Focus it more on State and domestic missions first. Guard units at the State level would organize around disaster response, civil affairs, engineering, transport and military police units, and once state and domestic needs were fulfilled, then "combat" units would be created. This might require the elimination of units likes field artillery and MLRS in the Guard, shifting the burden of specialized combat to the reserves and active military.
Can't be done because the size of the active military has so shrunk that it is dependent on the Guard for mobilization for the big one? Which big one are we talking about? I remember I had a conversation with a senior Defense Department official a few years back when pre-9/11 Rumsfeld cut back B-1 bomber units in the Air Force. I asked how the Pentagon saw generating a sustained long-range bombing campaign, say in a war with China, and he said, well Bill, if you want to have a traditional force structure capable of fighting China then we need a lot bigger military and even more heavy bombers. The bottom line is, we make choices about how to use limited resources even in these times of gargantuan military spending.
Maybe the preparations for Hurricane Rita won't provoke the big change, and maybe the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA will perform well enough to alleviate some of the criticism and take some of the heat off.
But something is still wrong with our post 9/11 domestic set-up, and the way we look at even purely civil "homeland security" preparedness (do we have to call it that?). The President isn't going to some FEMA command center or homeland security bunker to monitor Rita. Tonight, he'll be arriving at Northern Command (NORTHCOM) headquarters in Colorado Springs.