Able Danger

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Able Danger was a highly classified United States Army intelligence that was alleged to have identified four of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers before September 11, 2001.[1]

According to Curt Weldon, Republican Congressman and Representative of Pennsylvania, and former defense intelligence official, Able Danger was a "small, highly classified military intelligence unit" which identified Mohamed Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Khalid Almidhar, and Nawaf Alhamzi, as "likely members" of a "Brooklyn" cell of Al Qaeda operating in the United States more than a year before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. [1][2]

According to Weldon

"In the summer of 2000, the military team, known as Able Danger, prepared a chart that included visa photographs of the four men and recommended to the military's Special Operations Command that the information be shared with the Federal Bureau of Investigation," Weldon told the New York Times, August 15, 2005.

"The recommendation was rejected and the information was not shared, they said, apparently at least in part because Mr. Atta, and the others were in the United States on valid entry visas." [3]

The New York Times reported that Al Felzenberg, former spokesman for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, "confirmed that members of its staff, including Philip Zelikow, the executive director, were told about the program on an overseas trip in October 2003 that included stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But Mr. Felzenberg said the briefers did not mention Mr. Atta's name. ... The report produced by the commission last year does not mention the episode." [4]


"Bottom line: This is an intriguing story, but my guess is that Weldon and his source may be considerably embroidering the scope and reliability of what the Able Danger team actually uncovered in 2000 — as people are often wont to do after the fact." --Kevin Drum, Washington Monthly, August 11, 2005.

Atta's Name

First of all, there's a problem regarding Atta's name:

Eric Umansky wrote August 23, 2005, that "Atta's full name is Mohamed Mohamed el-Amir Awad el-Sayed Atta. That's what was on his passport and if you look carefully on his U.S. visa issued in May of 2000. The name he went by before that--the name he used for example on email--is Mohamed el-Amir. Atta didn't go by 'Mohamed Atta' until the late spring of 2000, after Able Danger supposedly ID'd him."

Umansky also posted a link to "the flight manifest from the trip Atta took to Pakistan in November 1999 and his return to Hamburg in February of 2000. On both legs of the flight, the records identify him simply as Mohamed al-Amir."

  • See article for links to passport, visa, email, and flight manifests.

Timeline & Charts

Secondly, there are a number of inconsistencies in the dating of Weldon's "chart", some of which are cited below.

  • "In a particularly dramatic scene in Weldon’s book, Countdown to Terror, the Pennsylvania Republican described personally handing to then-Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, just after Sept. 11, an Able Danger chart produced in 1999 identifying Atta. But Weldon told TIME he’s no longer certain Atta’s name was on that original document. The congressman says he handed Hadley his only copy. Still, last week he referred reporters to a recently reconstructed version of the chart in his office where, among dozens of names and photos of terrorists from around the world, there was a color mug shot of Mohammad Atta, circled in black marker." [5]
  • "[F]ormer 9/11 commissioner Tim Roemer thinks there's something screwy about the Able Danger timeline. Supposedly, the Able Danger team produced a chart that included Mohamed Atta's name and picture, but according to Fox News, Roemer wondered 'how Able Danger got a photo of Atta in 2000 for its alleged chart of terrorists when he had not yet applied for a U.S. visa.'" [6]
  • Capt. Scott Phillpott told Fox News "in a statement" the evening of August 22, 2005, that Atta "was identified as someone with ties to known terrorists ... [but] would not provide more detail, except to say that he is going through the proper channels at the Department of Defense. ... Phillpott wrote 'My story has remained consistent. Atta was identified by Able Danger in January/February 2000.'"
  • However, according to the Wikipedia entry on Atta, he entered the U.S. on June 3, 2000, and the CIA [which allegedly had Atta under surveillance in Germany] ended its "surveillance of Atta ... It is unclear whether the FBI or some other intelligence agency monitored Atta's activities in the U.S." Note that the head shot of Atta posted on the Wikipedia article is captioned "This photograph of Mohamed Atta was released by the FBI in the days following the attack."
Screenshot from Weldon Heritage Foundation Speech, May 23, 2003
  • Weldon Berger from BTC News (Betty the Crow Production) posted August 19, 2005, that "Reporter Laura Rozen noted that she had seen a presentation from [Curt] Weldon very similar to the one he and his source provided [New York Times reporter Douglas Jehl], but more than three years earlier at a Heritage Foundation event in May of 2002. That presentation included a chart very similar to the one Weldon and his source showed Jehl, featuring visa photos of Atta and some of the other 911 hijackers, and its existence raised the question of why Weldon hadn’t created a fuss then or after the Able Danger-free 911 commission report was released."
  • So, Laura Rozen asked August 15, 2005, if Weldon gave his only copy of the chart to Hadley, "how did Weldon get his chart back in time for the May 2002 briefing at Heritage I attended?"

False Memory Syndrome?

There is a second problem with the chart revolving around who actually saw it and what -- and when-- they actually knew about it.

  • In an August 17, 2005, interview, "Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, a specialist in human intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that in the "spring and summer of 2000, ... spreadsheet-style reports by Able Danger identified members of a suspected al-Qaeda cell in Brooklyn, N.Y., that included Mohamed Atta. Other lists of suspected al-Qaeda members included at least three people who would become 9/11 hijackers: Hazmi al-Mihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi and Marwan al-Shehhi."
  • However, on August 18, 2005, Shaffer, "who has been on paid administrative leave ... since his security clearance was suspended in March 2004, said in a telephone interview [with Washington Post reporter Dan Eggen] that a Navy officer and a civilian official affiliated with the Able Danger program told him after the attacks that Atta and other hijackers had been included on a chart more than a year earlier." In other words, Shaffer said that "many of his allegations are not based on his memory but on the recollections of others." [7]
  • Shaffer told Eggen that, "because he was not intimately familiar with the names and photographs of suspected terrorists, he did not realize that hijackers were listed until it was alleged to him after the attacks, Shaffer said. All of the charts that could support his claims have also disappeared, he said.
"'I did see the charts, and I did handle the charts, but my understanding of them was like a layman,' Shaffer said. 'We had identified them as terrorists. But even now I do not remember all the names," Eggen reported.
  • Shaffer's claim is expanded in an August 18, 2005, interview Shaffer had with Deborah Orrin, New York Post Washington bureau chief, who "makes clear a significant point that has been glossed over in some other interviews. Col. Shaffer acknowledges that immediately after Sept. 11, he did not recognize the name Mohammed Atta, or connect the hijackers with the Able Danger work he had been involved in. Rather, one of his colleagues, a woman with a Ph. D. who was in charge of data analysis, came to Shaffer with 'the charts,' and said, 'Look, we had this, we knew them, we knew this.' Now, however, Shaffer says the Pentagon is unable to locate the Able Danger files." [8]
  • Additionally, Shaffer conceded to Fox News on August 19, 2005, "that during his own personal briefing of Sept. 11 commission staffers in Afghanistan in Oct. 2003, he didn't specifically name the terrorists. Instead, he detailed how Able Danger had uncovered information about three terror cells with the use of then-advanced data-mining techniques."
  • Mark Hosenball wrote in the August 29, 2005, online edition of Newsweek Shaffer said "that he and other officers remember seeing charts that included most of the 9/11 hijackers. However, former officials of the 9/11 Commission say the Able Danger claims about 9/11 don't hold water. And the Pentagon spokesman said that Defense investigators so far haven't found any pre-9/11 documents with Muhammad Atta's name on them."

False "Validation"

Media Matters for America reported August 24, 2005, that the New York Times and Fox News "falsely reported that second military official backed up Shaffer's Able Danger claim." See story links:

Data Mining


"Now, this information was not obtained through human sources, radio intercepts, or any other confidential communication. Able Danger operated a data mining operation. It accessed 'publicly available information from government immigration agencies, from Internet sites and from paid search engines like LexisNexis.' In other words, Atta's name must have come up as data through this mining, presumably repeatedly in some sort of pattern in order for his name to have any significance to the miners.

"So there must be data referring to Atta then — right? If so, where is it? There must be documents where Atta's name came up, frequently enough so that Atta would stick out among all the other names which come up in through the data mine. And curiously, not one document with Atta's name has yet come to light." [9]


Buckland, a statistician trained in data mining, posted August 16, 2005, on

"Probably the only data available to the government that shows Atta for sure is immigration data. When he entered or exited, type of visa, etc. That's pretty barren ground for predicting interesting stuff like terroristic activities. I have serious doubts that data from Egypt (Atta's homeland) would have been either forthcoming or interesting as it would present horrendous integration issues, and real data miners tend to try to stay away from those. I also doubt that integrating credit bureau stuff would have been worth the hassle, as most of the hijackers seem to have been reasonably well off financially.
"Airline data would have been even less useful. Prior to 9/11 there was no single repository that housed airline data, each airline keeping it's own data separate. Also airline data is extremely hard to work with. There's no identifier in airline data to identify a passenger beyond name. Matching millions of people and their visa data with airline travel patterns is just something that isn't going to happen with a team of 11 guys. That in itself is a project for years and a large team."
No Training Set: "However prior to 9/11 there was almost no record of terrorism by foreigners. Without a large number of actual terrorist events in this country there's just no way to correlate the attributes of a terrorist and assign probabilities to the event. No way to train the model. Prior to 2001 terrorist data included ex army guys from Kansas and 60's era protesters. Picking out an Egyptian student as a terrorist? Just can't happen."

Buckland concludes: "I don't doubt that a group calling themself Able Danger existed, and they may have played a little with data mining techniques. However nothing presented leads me to think that they would have had any success in finding terrorists, and the fact that people are talking without any supporting documentation tells me that it may not exist. A more likely scenario is that some staffers produced some names (any data mining software will produce results). How many names were on the list? Sixty is a number that I've heard, but that hasn't been confirmed. Would a list of 60 names have been meaningful? What about 60,000? With the number of people entering and exiting this country the difference in those list is a rounding error. The 'propensity to terrorism' of the 60,000th name would have been virtually identical to the 60th. That's just the way picking very rare events work."

Atta "Green Card"

In his January 2005 speech to the U.S. House of Representatives, Weldon asserted that lawyers in the administration said that the FBI could not pursue contact against the terrorist cell because Mohamed Atta was in the U.S. on a green card, lawnorder posted August 13, 2005, on the Daily Kos.

Justin Raimondo wrote August 12, 2005, that "Something about this doesn't quite ring true: none of the hijackers had a green card. Most came in on tourist visas: some had made easily detectable false statements on their visa applications, and might have been legally deported."

"Justin then points to a 9/11 commission statement on the hijackers means of entry in America where we indeed confirm that all of them but 1 had sought - and most got - tourist visas. It also reveals that Atta often violated rules on his tourist visa (extended stay, entering with wrong visa), which makes Curt Weldon's contention that lawyers vetoed the arrest of Atta based on his green card a blatant lie. ... So why the lie, why now?" [10]

9/11 Commission Conclusion

Media Matters for America reported August 16, 2005, Weldon's "claim about military intelligence awareness of Atta, ... has been strongly undermined in news accounts. Moreover, the [August 15, 2005, New York Post] editorial ignored an August 12 memo from the commission detailing its investigation into the Atta allegations and subsequent conclusion that the evidence did not warrant inclusion in its final report."


"Weldon's intended target seems to be the CIA and Clinton, but not so fast, it certainly is far more enlightening and complicated than first appears. Just another gadfly theory of his, or ... does this present a rare opportunity for some truth outing? You bet it does.

"Weldon's arrant stinger missile, 'Able Danger', is looping right back to Bush & Co. already in hyper damage control mode.

"Philip Zelikow is now ground zero in [both the] 911 cover-up and 'mything' the coming war with Iran." --Hector Solon, Daily Kos, August 11, 2005.

Conservatives Blame the Clinton administration

SourceWatch Resources

External links


House Armed Services Committee's Able Danger Hearing - February 15, 2006

(Files hosted by Federation of American Scientists)

DOD IG's Report

Able Danger: Articles & Commentary

  1. Nafeez Ahmed Whitewashing the Protection of Terrorists on US Soil The Raw Story, August 18, 2005