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'Able Danger' Yielded Counterterrorism Tools, Official Says

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2006 – The Defense Department did not hamper the transfer of intelligence gleaned from the Able Danger program to other agencies, and the program did, in fact, yield useful tools for the counterterrorism effort, a senior DoD official said here today.

In an interview before testifying at the House Armed Services Committee, Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said an extensive DoD review found that there were no formal requests for Able Danger information before Sept. 11, 2001, from other governmental agencies to DoD. The review also found that no one within DoD did anything to prohibit intelligence information from being transferred, Cambone said.

The Able Danger program was a 15-month planning activity started in October 1999 to develop an information operations plan against transnational terrorism. A review of the program was launched in August 2005 after a military officer who worked with Able Danger came forward with allegations that the program had produced a chart with a photo of Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, linking him to a Brooklyn cell of al Qaeda.

The review did not find the alleged chart, or any data from which such a chart would have been derived, Cambone said. A group of 90 people spent about 6,500 hours reviewing documents, searching for information and interviewing people who were involved with the program, he said.

The review also used current technology, which is much improved, to determine if information about Atta was available during the Able Danger time frame, Cambone said. No information was found.

Able Danger was not an operational activity, but was meant to demonstrate how data-mining tools could be used to provide useful information for counterterrorism efforts, Cambone said. The program used open sources on the Internet to gather information about people, events, dates and locations, and then used analysts to sort through the information and look for connections, he explained.

"Able Danger has demonstrated that it's possible to make use of those tools, and do so in a way that's effective," he said. "It has become a useful, but surely not silver-bullet-like instrument."

The information-gathering process used in Able Danger has been transferred to other U.S. government agencies and used to look for intelligence patterns that could help with operations, Cambone said.

Able Danger was the beginning of an effort by DoD to look forward and plan for future terrorist threats, Cambone said, and different agencies have made considerable progress in that area. U.S. Special Operations Command and the Army's Information Dominance Center house state-of-the-art capabilities and other agencies also have the ability to process, analyze, fuse and graphically display data, he said.

"Today these centers are collaborating on a continual basis, enhancing our ability to coordinate and conduct intelligence and operations in counter terrorism, counter proliferation, information operations, and unconventional warfare," he said.

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Stephen Cambone

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