The Long ViewThe Long View: Would that we knew that we didn’t know

Published 8 December 2005

This is how Donald Rumsfeld would put it: There are two kinds of things we don’t know — those that we know we don’t know, and those that we don’t know we don’t know. So here is a disturbing story about something we didn’t know we didn’t know, but that now we know we didn’t know but wish we did. In a secret corner at Fort Belvoir in Virginia a little-known intelligence operation — with the Orwellian name of Information Dominance Center — works to collect information on enemies of the United States. By the spring of 2000 the unit had collected an enormous cache of information about the al Qaeda terrorist network. It described the group’s presence in countries around the world, including the United States. The intelligence data totaled 2.5 terabytes, which is equal to about 12 percent of all printed pages held by the Library of Congress. Neither the FBI nor the CIA had ever seen the information, or told that it even existed. It was part of the Army’s Able Danger operation. In the spring of 2000 it no longer made a difference: A 35-year old Army major named Erik Kleinsmith destroyed every bit of this mountain of information.

What happened? Why did he do it? How come a midlevel officer in a minor intelligence outfit could obtain such information in the first place, and then destroy it? Inquiring minds want to know. See Shane Harris’s riveting National Journal report