Sunday, October 08, 2006

Counter Terrorism and Kirk von Ackermann

There were a number of articles recently on the failure of the 9-11 Commission to include details of a July 10, 2001 briefing by George Tenet and Cofer Black to Condoleezza Rice regarding perceived threats of by Al Qaeda against the United States. What follows at the end of this long post is a brief review of some of those articles.

While this may seem out of place here at the Missing Man, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind visitors that Kirk von Ackermann was a former Air Force Captain who was assigned to a counter terrorism team. You'll find no mention of either Kirk von Ackermann or his team in the 9-11 Commission report.

Von Ackermann's family have a blog, Missing In Iraq. While the family admit to knowing little of his work, they have posted several entries that describe his role in protecting the United States from Terrorism that I'd like to call your attention to.

Well before 9-11, Kirk von Ackermann predicted aircraft could be hijacked and used as weapons against the United States. He also predicted potential targets.

Excerpts from Missing In Iraq

Getting to Iraq part two: Counter Terrorism March 24, 2006

After Y2K, Kirk became more and more consumed by the counter-terrorism world. He was read into higher and higher clearances, learned more and more about the largest threats to the US and her allies. Specifically he became deeply aware of Osama Bin Ladin and his organization.

Kirk was involved with designing readiness excercises - scenarios to be used by various units as they tested their skills. He proposed that a small boat filled with explosives be used as a weapon against a large warship - and was told it was an unrealistic idea. This was, of course, well prior to the USS Cole attack.

He also, along with his team, not only suggested that a commercial jet could be used as a terrorist weapon, but predicted the most likely targets that would be chosen. Again, he was ignored, and sometimes laughed at.
Moving and the British Navy July 26, 2006
Kirk had been doing some pretty amazing stuff over the last year or so. He had, I understand, been literally writing the book on info-ops. His theories, concepts and methods were innovative and exciting, and getting a fair amount of notice. Naturally this was all opaque to me. I heard things about 'briefings' and gradually recognized that the briefings were often to quite senior officers. I know there were commendations and awards, but details were obscured.
November, 1999. Welcome to Virginia. August 04, 2006
Within a week Kirk reported to the Naval base for work. He went through the rigmarole of getting a pass and signing in, and walked onto the floor. Ah, they said, the Air Force guy. Right. Well, actually we’ve decided we don’t really want an info ops unit. Instead, you’re going to join the counter terrorism group. We’re putting you in charge of Y2K.
How to Defeat Y2K Without Really Trying August 07, 2006
Anyway, Kirk became the Y2K goat. There was already a counter-terrorism unit so he was sort of cobbled onto that, and had to suddenly come up to speed on the counter-terrorism world in a matter of weeks. His initial focus was supposed to be on the rollover situation. He did his research, looked into the whole thing thoroughly, and when the briefing came around, he was ready.
A New Approach to The Pamper Problem August 22, 2006
They had a pretty major coup within weeks of Kirk's arrival. As always I don't know details. I think it might be the incident that got a little publicity - the one that was to come through Canada. I do remember Kirk saying there were some Mounties somewhere that he really wanted to buy a drink. And I remember the quote from the unit commander when they gave the briefing after it was all over.
New Year, New World August 25, 2006
There was a silent battle going on, one most people still know nothing about. It had nothing to do with computers or millennium viruses. It was the fight for the next millennium, and it was deadly.
A Little (off-white, clunky) Security August 29, 2006
'They're going to put a secure line in the house,' Kirk announced one day. It was well after Y2K, and no naturally I don't know why. I also didn't ask.

Hmmm... a secure line. Like in 'get the president on the line' - the secure line.
Writing Reality August 31, 2006
So in the Spring or Summer of 2000 Kirk wrote up a little scenario that involved a large navy ship. The idea was that a few terrorists would load up a small zodiac - an inflatable boat with a great little engine and no draft - with explosives, then float it up right next to the ship and detonate it.

The navy was not amused. Their ships, their nice, big, powerful ships, were not vulnerable to things like this. Terrorists would never attack a heavily armed and armored vessel - it just didn't make sense. The scenario was disgarded, never seriously looked at.

The USS Cole was bombed on October 12th, 2000. 17 sailors were killed.
dual lives September 05, 2006
One afternoon we were driving up the highway outside of Langley. I was reading a magazine - the Smithsonian I think - and I was chatting to Kirk about an article discussing the greatest achievement of modern medicine: the successful campaign against smallpox. Wasn't it amazing, I said, the way the WHO had managed it, wasn't it wonderful that the world was safe now from a disease that had been a deadly threat for thousands of years. Very quietly, his hands stiff on the wheel, he said 'it's not gone.'

Just that. But I knew - I knew that not only did he know that more than one country had kept live samples of the virus, he knew intimately the infection rate, the symptoms, the horrific scarring that those lucky enough to survive would suffer. He knew how it could be weaponized, had thought about delivery systems, had worked through countless scenarios in which various populations were targeted and infected.

And gradually I realized that he was living like that constantly. Everywhere we went, there was part of him looking around and evaluating targets, thinking about blast zones, considering mortality rates, political value, public reaction.
Torn September 06, 2006
The intelligence world is a strange place, a place where sources and information are impossibly valuable and are fiercely guarded - not just from the enemy without, but from other intelligence branches. CIA, DIA - all of those 'men in black' view eachother with deep suspicion. They do not, to put it mildly, play well with others.

And then there was the entrenched mindset, the very conservative status quo above Kirk. The people at that level had come into the intel world during the cold war, and their focus had never really changed. They were used to a particular kind of enemy - one that was established, codified, predictable; a known quantity with a home to protect. They were extremely good at dealing with this enemy, they knew it cold. But the new world, the world of Bin Laden was not like that, and they were slow to change. So Kirk was endlessly fighting against people who did not want to listen, people who firmly believed they knew everything.
Dies Irae September 27, 2006
He had written it. He had suggested that a terrorist could use a commercial plane, one loaded wtih fuel, as an effective bomb. What if, he had written, what would we do if... and they had laughed. No one would do that. No one had ever done that. It has never happened before.

There are buildings that will be targeted, he said. Bin Laden failed once with the Trade Center - he's going to try again. And there are others, and he listed them. The Pentagon. The White House.
Regrets October 03, 2006
He was approached about going back - not into the military, but as a civilian. There were a couple of offers, and he did seriously think about it. It would mean uprooting again, returning to the East Coast and taking the kids out of school yet again. And it would mean accepting the counter-terrorism world as his world for the rest of his career; there would be no going back from this one.

It was a long, and drawn out decision. We talked endlessly, he called friends for advice, talked to people still in the world, tried to get a feel for what was happening. There was chaos of course. This hit the intel world hard, and people were still trying to sort out the aftermath. Much of it sounded good though - many of the people who were most blind, most hidebound and obstructionist were gone. Change was happening, change that had been needed for years. What sort of useful role Kirk could play, however, wasn't clear. In the end he was afraid that once again he would be drawn into a dark and horrible world and still be unable to make a difference.
There is so much more about Kirk von Ackerman at Missing In Iraq. I hope you'll take the time to read the blog. Please be sure to read the archives.

Recent articles on Al Qaeda Threat in the summer of 2001

Because of the sheer seriousness of the recent articles, I feel the need to include excerpts rather than just providing reference links as I might normally have done. This isn't about politics but rather about the need for the United States to make Counter Terrorism a higher priority. And that means respecting, listening to, and encouraging people like Kirk von Ackermann in the work they do. Even if what they say or think is too far outside of the box to be comfortable to the status quo.


Tenet Recalled Warning Rice By Dan Eggen and Robin Wright, Washington Post, October 3, 2006
According to the transcript, Tenet told Rice there were signs that there could be an al-Qaeda attack in weeks or perhaps months, that there would be multiple, simultaneous attacks causing major human casualties, and that the focus would be U.S. targets, facilities or interests. But the intelligence reporting focused almost entirely on the attacks occurring overseas, Tenet told the commission.
Two Months Before 9/11, an Urgent Warning to Rice Washington Post, October 1, 2006
On July 10, 2001, two months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, then-CIA Director George J. Tenet met with his counterterrorism chief, J. Cofer Black, at CIA headquarters to review the latest on Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist organization. Black laid out the case, consisting of communications intercepts and other top-secret intelligence showing the increasing likelihood that al-Qaeda would soon attack the United States. It was a mass of fragments and dots that nonetheless made a compelling case, so compelling to Tenet that he decided he and Black should go to the White House immediately.

Tenet called Condoleezza Rice, then national security adviser, from the car and said he needed to see her right away. There was no practical way she could refuse such a request from the CIA director.

For months, Tenet had been pressing Rice to set a clear counterterrorism policy, including specific presidential orders called "findings" that would give the CIA stronger authority to conduct covert action against bin Laden. Perhaps a dramatic appearance -- Black called it an "out of cycle" session, beyond Tenet's regular weekly meeting with Rice -- would get her attention.
As a side note, the threats appear to have been taken seriously enough for John Ashcroft to have stopped flying commercial airlines in July 2001. Ashcroft has denied receiving Tenet's briefing.

Rumsfeld, Ashcroft said to have received warning of attack By Jonathan S. Landay, Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott, McClatchy Newspapers, October 2, 2006
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former Attorney General John Ashcroft received the same CIA briefing about an imminent al-Qaida strike on an American target that was given to the White House two months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The State Department's disclosure Monday that the pair was briefed within a week after then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was told about the threat on July 10, 2001, raised new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don't remember the warning.
Ashcroft Flying High, CBS, July 26, 2001
In response to inquiries from CBS News over why Ashcroft was traveling exclusively by leased jet aircraft instead of commercial airlines, the Justice Department cited what it called a "threat assessment" by the FBI, and said Ashcroft has been advised to travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term.

No comments: