Two US military intelligence officer, Navy Captain Scott Phillpott and Army Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, and a civilian technician, J.D. Smith now say that a secret military intelligence unit codenamed Able Danger had identified Mohammed Atta and three of his 9-11 hijacking associates in early 2000. Phillpott and Smith also said that the unit had a photograph of Atta.
According to these witnesses, Able Danger had found Atta via "data mining." Smith says "I am absolutely positive that he [Atta] was on our chart among other pictures and ties that we were doing mainly based upon [terror] cells in New York City," Smith said.
Smith, although himself only worked on open source material, said "the data was gathered from a variety of sources, including about 30 or 40 individuals. He said they all had strong Middle Eastern connections and were paid for their information. Smith said Able Danger's photo of Atta was obtained from overseas." It is possible Atta could have been located by only the cross-referencing of non-classified data. Here is how.
First, Able Danger could come up with a list of Arabs who might have secretly visited al-Qaeda camps across the Afganistan border of Pakistan. To do this, it would obtained from airline manifests the names of Arab males who flew to Pakistan in 1999 and the names of Arab males who applied for a U.S. visa with a newly issued passport. It could then cross-reference both lists against the passport issuance dates. Presumably, the Arabs on that list seeking to hide trips to al-Qaeda facilities in Pakistan and Afghanistan from US authorities would have gotten new passports after the trip to Pakistan to hide the Pakistan stamps on their old passports. On the short list of Arabs who had been to Pakisatan then obtained new passports would be the names of Atta and al-Shehhi.
Next, since it emerged out of the 1998 investigation of al-Qaeda attacks in Africa that Osama Bin Laden planned to train pilots for crop dusting and other agriculture tasks, Able Danger would cross-reference its short list with applicants to US flight schools. Here Atta's name would come up 31 times, as he applied to 31 flight schools.
Then, Able Danger could check the address both men used on their visa application, 54 Marienstrasse in Hamburg, and this could match the address given by other al-Qaeda suspects. (The 911 Commission had no opportunity to examine Atta and al-Shehhi’s visa applications-- or even determine when they applied-- because in 2001 the files were destroyed "according to routine document handling practices" by the Department of State.)
If just this level of data mining could yield the name and photograph of Atta, the question arises: Did other US intelligence services, such as CIA, with similar data mining techniques (as well as links with informants and foreign intelligence services) have similar results?
Stay tuned. The answer to the mystery of Able Danger will have to await the scheduled hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.