Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, correctly asserts the terrorist attack on America on September 11, 2001, could have been averted.
The assertion was based on his efforts as early as 1999 to create a national collaborative or fusion center. It would data-mine vast amounts of information from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement to confront such asymmetrical threats as terrorism, proliferation, illegal arms trafficking, espionage, narcotics and information warfare and cyber-terrorism.
It was a process that produced, among other things, the Able Danger open-source analysis that reportedly revealed hijacker Mohamed Atta as a potential terrorist before the attack.
Mr. Weldon first sought help from Eileen Preisser, who ran the Information Dominance Center at the U.S. Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) at Fort Belvoir, Va. He then asked this writer to work with Ms. Preisser to see how the Army initiative could be expanded into a national effort.
As Mr. Weldon envisioned it, the national collaborative center would have been comprised of a system of mini-centers or “pods” of some 34 entities from the U.S. intelligence community and law enforcement agencies to function in a common operating environment.
It would not have been just another analytical unit. The effect of data-mining information that had already been analyzed was to game-plan particular issues and offer options to policymakers and national commanders to deal with them.
For example, say terrorists in South America work with drug cartels raise money to buy weapons on the “gray” arms market to smuggle to terror cells in the U.S. Information from independent analytical centers dedicated to the elements in this hypothetical scenario would be fused at the center to determine a course of action.
Potential end-users would have been the White House, Congress, State and Defense Departments, Joint Chiefs of Staff, the regional commanders-in-chiefs (CINCs) and government operation centers.
In a July 30, 1999, letter to then-Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre, Mr. Weldon proposed creating a national entity “that can acquire, fuse and analyze disparate data from many agencies to support the policymaker in taking action against asymmetrical threats. “These challenges are beginning to overlap, thereby blurring their distinction while posing increasing threats to our nation.”
Mr. Weldon pointed out that the Defense Department “has a unique opportunity” to create a centralized national center, which he called the National Operations Analysis Hub (NOAH, to protect against the “flood of threats.”
The NOAH would have been created by presidential executive order as a tool of the National Security Council. The Defense Department would have been designated to run it.
Mr. Weldon’s proposal, however, met with immediate opposition from the Defense Department. The office of the assistant secretary for command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I), now renamed networks and information integration, especially pushed for creating the Joint Central Analytic Group (JCAG). C3I was concerned that money for the national collaborative center would be diverted from the long-sought JCAG counterintelligence analytical center.
Unfortunately, the JCAG, now at the Defense Intelligence Agency at Bolling Air Force Base, doesn’t talk to other analytical centers that deal with various asymmetrical threats.
Nor do the other existing analytical centers dedicated to collecting information on terrorism, proliferation, arms smuggling and other threats talk to each another regularly.
Following the initial DoD turndown, Ellen Preisser and this writer then data-mined unclassified information to report to Mr. Weldon on possible Chinese front companies in the United States seeking technology for the People’s Liberation Army.