The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11


Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author Ron Suskind takes you deep inside America's real battles with violent, unrelenting terrorists — a game of kill-or-be-killed, from the Oval Office to the streets of Karachi.

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One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11

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Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and bestselling author Ron Suskind takes you deep inside America's real battles with violent, unrelenting terrorists — a game of kill-or-be-killed, from the Oval Office to the streets of Karachi.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Phenomenal book. We all should read it and start asking questions." — Major General John Batiste

"A must-read bestseller." — Frank Rich, The New York Times

"This is an important book, filled with the surest sign of great reporting: the unexpected. It enriches our understanding of even familiar episodes from the Bush administration's war on terror and tells us some jaw-dropping stories we haven't heard before." — Barton Gellman, The Washington Post

"A doomsday tale masked as a John le Carré thriller.... Suskind lays out evidence of success, failure, humility and hubris." — Bill Glauber, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Riveting.... Sheds new light on the Bush White House's strategic thinking and its doctrine of pre-emptive action, but also underscores the roles that personality and ideology played in shaping the administration's decision to go to war in Iraq." — Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"A richly detailed and layered account.... It makes for deeply unsettling reading and is a major contribution to our national conversation.... [Suskind] is a gifted and enterprising reporter and those attributes inform nearly every part of this important book.... Compelling." — Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times

"If Bob Woodward is the chronicler of the Bush administration, Ron Suskind is its analyst.... A page-turning, blow-by-blow, inside-the-administration account.... Historians will be grateful for it as they write the many final drafts in the decades to come." — Michael Hill, The Baltimore Sun

"Suskind's great achievement here is to reveal how the Bush administration short-circuited and ultimately corrupted the way America's government is supposed to work." — Gary Kamiya,

Michiko Kakutani
In fleshing out key relationships among administration members — most notably, between Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush, Mr. Bush and Mr. Tenet, and Mr. Tenet and Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser — it adds some big, revealing chunks to the evolving jigsaw-puzzle portrait of this White House and its modus operandi, while also giving the reader some up close and personal looks at the government's day-to-day operations in the war on terror.
— The New York Times
Barton Gellman
This is an important book, filled with the surest sign of great reporting: the unexpected. It enriches our understanding of even familiar episodes from the Bush administration's war on terror and tells some jaw-dropping stories we haven't heard before.
— The Washington Post
The New Yorker
In November, 2001, Suskind writes, Vice-President Dick Cheney announced that if there was “a one percent chance” that a threat was real “we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” He added, “It’s not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence.” This view of a White House dangerously indifferent to facts is familiar from, among other sources, Suskind’s “The Price of Loyalty,” but he adds much here that is disconcerting, particularly regarding the embrace of torture. (It’s hard to shake the image of Bush asking, literally, for Ayman al-Zawahiri’s head, which the C.I.A. briefly thought it had found in a riverbed in Afghanistan.) Suskind, whose main source seems to be the former C.I.A. director George Tenet (to whom he is very kind), has made news with revelations about Western Union’s coöperation with the C.I.A. and about a plan to release cyanide gas in subways, although it’s not clear that this threat was more real than other phantoms the White House chased.
Publishers Weekly
Herrmann is ideal for this reading. He has the voice and style of a trusted news anchor, but is also a masterly interpreter of Suskind's ironic and painful narration of how the Dick Cheney/Donald Rumsfeld friendship and power grab got us into the fix we're in today. "Even if there's only a one percent chance of the unimaginable becoming true, act as though it's a certainty," Cheney told CIA and NSA officials in Nov. 2001. "It's not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence. It's about our response." This separation of fact-based analysis and action, Cheney's 1% doctrine, became the basis of decision making in both foreign and domestic affairs, with the Patriot Act as its legal underpinning. Rumsfeld hired his prot g Cheney during the Bush Sr. administration, and both believed that Bush "missed history's call" by leaving Saddam Hussein in power. Since Bush Jr. had no foreign affairs experience, it wasn't difficult to start pushing him into Iraq even before 9/11 offered such "rationale" as WMDs and an al-Queda connection. "Such alignments," says Suskind, "often turn the wheel of history." Suskind believes George Tenet was so grateful that Bush didn't fire him after 9/11 that, though the CIA knew better, he loyally permitted the endless fabrication of "facts" to become the backbone of public policy statements. Simultaneous release with the Simon & Schuster hardcover. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
How America is fighting the terrorists and how the terrorists adapt and fight back. An embargoed book from the author of The Price of Loyalty; with an eight-city tour. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743271103
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 5/15/2007
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 967,873
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ron Suskind is the author of the # 1 New York Times bestseller The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed A Hope in the Unseen. He has been senior national affairs reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where he won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. Visit the author's website at

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Read an Excerpt


The "what ifs" can kill you.

Something missed. A failure of will. A turn in one direction when the other way was the right path.

Over time, people tend to get past them. We did what we could, they say, and move on.

But, in terms of the tragedy of 9/11, a particular regret lingers for those who might have made a difference.

The alarming August 6, 2001, memo from the CIA to the President — "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US" — has been widely noted in the past few years.

But, also in August, CIA analysts flew to Crawford to personally brief the President — to intrude on his vacation with face-to-face alerts.

The analytical arm of CIA was in a kind of panic mode at this point. Other intelligence services, including those from the Arab world, were sounding an alarm. The arrows were all in the red. They didn't know place or time of an attack, but something was coming. The President needed to know.

Verbal briefings of George W. Bush are acts of almost inestimable import in the affairs of the nation — more so than is the case for other recent presidents. He's not much of a reader, this President, and never has been, despite White House efforts to trumpet which serious books he is reading at various times. He's not a President who sees much value in hearing from a wide array of voices — he has made that clear. His circle of truly trusted advisers is small — smaller as President, in many ways, than it was when he was governor. But he's a very good listener and an extremely visual listener. He sizes people up swiftly and aptly, watches them carefully, and trusts his eyes. It is a gift, this nonverbal acuity, that he relies on in managing the almost overwhelming duties of the presidency: countless decisions each day, each one important; a daunting array of issues to grasp; an endless stream of politicized experts and expert politicos, all speaking in earnest tones. What does George W. Bush do? He makes it personal. He may not have had a great deal of experience, especially in foreign affairs, before arriving in the job, but — because of his trust in these interpretive abilities — he doesn't view that as a deficit. The expert, sitting before him, has done the hard work, the heavy lifting, and the President tries to gauge how "certain" they are of what they say, even if the issues may be unfamiliar to him. Do they seem nervous or unsure? Are they fudging? Why do they think what they do...and what do they think of him? That last part is very important.

The trap, of course, is that while these tactile, visceral markers can be crucial — especially in terms of handling the posturing of top officials — they sometimes are not. The thing to focus on, at certain moments, is what someone says, not who is saying it, or how they're saying it.

And, at an eyeball-to-eyeball intelligence briefing during this urgent summer, George W. Bush seems to have made the wrong choice.

He looked hard at the panicked CIA briefer.

"All right," he said. "You've covered your ass, now."

• • •

George Tenet and his team had evacuated their offices at CIA headquarters by midmorning on September 11, 2001, but they didn't get far.

Across a concrete square were vacant offices in the CIA's print shop — a nondescript two-story building on the Langley, Virginia, campus that generates, daily, the output of a dozen Kinkos, including regular, numerous briefing books over the past year on al Qaeda, or the base. That's where they fled to — the place that printed the reports.

Tenet, his deputy John McLaughlin, and a few others crowded into a conference room, a windowless, white square room, and frantically began to work a bank of phones, trying to get updates, status reports, anything. It was early, midday. Facts that would soon be common knowledge — familiar even to schoolchildren — were coming into focus. Where was clear, as was when and how — visible to anyone with a television. Why — if it was, indeed, the Islamic extremists they suspected — was the unanswered question since the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. The steady growth of jihadist terror had produced a rising hum inside the CIA and, eventually, in other parts of the government. Yet the causes, a clear strategic understanding of what drove the enemy and what they wanted, remained cloudy.

This day brought newfound clarity. At 1:10 p.m., an analyst burst into the room holding printouts. There were manifests from the four flights, just sent to him from an official at the Federal Aviation Administration — an agency that had spent the nightmare morning locating and grounding hundreds of planes that were airborne at the moment of the first attack. Sending passenger lists to CIA for review was among the day's first acts of recollection.

"Two names," the analyst said, flattening a page on the table. "These two we know." Everyone crowded around, looking at the printout for American Airlines Flight 77, which had left the Pentagon in flames. Staring back were the names of Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, men who had appeared on various internal lists as members of al Qaeda. Everyone stared at the names. Who...was now visible in history's unforgiving light.

"There it is," said Tenet, quietly, a man meeting a recurring nightmare in daylight. "Confirmation. Oh, Jesus." And then silence. Could have been ten seconds. Could have been a minute.

Two hours later, Air Force One landed at Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska. A shaken George W. Bush assembled principal advisers for a video conference, the first high-level meeting since the attacks. Tenet reported the discovery of known al Qaeda operatives on the manifest of American Airlines Flight 77, including al-Mihdhar, who, noticed by CIA a year before in Malaysia, had a valid U.S. visa, and seemed to have slipped into the country unnoticed by both CIA and FBI. Bush murmured something terse and scolding about miscommunication between the agency and the bureau, but it was flattened by the crush of incoming evidence: al Qaeda. The culprit.

Starting points are ever elusive — when does anything really start in the ever-repeating human journey? — but this is as close as we will probably get. The facts were indisputable. And a war, some sort of war, was bound to begin.

• • •

What happened on September 11 was almost matched in importance by what would happen on September 12.

That was the day America began to gather itself for a response. The reply to tragedy would, ultimately, shape the nation's character.

Familiar faces guiding the ship of state quickly became vessels of an acute yearning — a public prayer that the President, his advisers, and the men and women atop government would be capable and courageous and sufficient to the moment. This book is surely about them, carrying new, clarified renditions of what they did, why they did it; what they've learned, what they haven't.

But it is also about a community of Americans who, up to now, have remained largely unseen, the ardent and expert who care not one whit for matters of presentation, for how best to manage the attentions of an anxious American public, or the U.S. Congress, or a wary global community.

These men and women — these invisibles — are actually fighting the fight. They have to worry only about the battle against shadowy global armies bent on destruction, and about winning it. After grand pronouncements are made describing a new kind of war and the vanquishing of evil, they are the ones who must then fashion a plan, and figure out where to turn and what to do when there is no map, no compass, and a darkened horizon. They report back about how things are really going, and then watch, often in disbelief, as the public is apprised of progress and the latest developments. In an age when assertion tends to overwhelm evidence, when claim so easily trumps fact, they know precisely where the breakpoints lie. That makes them valuable and dangerous; that makes their silence a priority to those who must answer to the vox populi, or, eventually, to posterity.

There are optical illusions at work here. The notables — Bush and Cheney, Rice and Tenet — are ever conspicuous, magnified, commanding our attention. They take credit and, if unavoidable, blame for things they often had little to do with; they tell us that everything will be fine, or that we should be very afraid, or both. They exude confidence, a key to modern-day success, even while they're privately solicitous of those upon whom their fortunes truly rest: the twenty-something with a flair for Arabic, trolling Web sites day and night; the agent who figures out how the money flows from the vitriolic to the truly violent; the spy who identifies a source ready to talk, and then protects that golden goose at all costs; the paratrooper wearing night-vision goggles who kicks down the door of an apartment in Karachi.

For those at the top, the defining posture is relentless impatience: impatience to justify action and rhetoric and to assuage the guilt that haunts anyone who was in a position of power before 9/11, and might have done something differently. For the sleep-starved professionals just beneath the line of sight — as invisible, in many ways, as their murderous opponents — the basic emotion is suppressed panic; and a willed conviction, despite contrary evidence, that every problem has a solution.

To understand America's actual response to 9/11, you have to talk to both groups, and hear them talk to each other, an often tense dialogue between those who sweat the details and improvise action plans, the doers; and those — from the President on down — who check on progress, present the results, and are repositories of public faith. The crucial task, for both sides, is to come up with answers, under pressure that is almost beyond measure.

Grab some shoes and walk in them.

From on high, it's a dance of fitful indirection, furrowed brows, and passive verbs. Of getting reports on one potential threat after another, knowing most of them are specious, but not understanding exactly why that is indisputably so, or what you might be missing, and then calling another meeting to try to better target your questions. And, along the way, deciding what people — busy Americans on the partisan landscape or some congressional oversight committee — should know, in an era when political savants contend that speaking truth in public is a dangerous practice. And then, it's time for the next briefing, the next conference table and spiderweb chart filled with hard-to-parse Arab names and gossamer connections. In a quieter time, Bill Clinton could grouse to Alan Greenspan that his presidential fortunes — and those of the country's economy — would be determined by judgments from the bond market. Now, they may be determined by whether some mall security guard in Palo Alto notices that the guy in Neiman Marcus is wearing an overcoat in the summer and smells like gardenias and is carrying a funny suitcase; and it will be further determined — the nation's fate, that is — by whether that guard calls the FBI, and whether someone answers, and whether the call is transferred to somebody else who knows what all that means, in time.

But, wait, does the FBI even know that the CIA is all but sure that a hundred or so suitcase nuclear weapons, produced way back when by the Soviets, are unaccounted for? And that bin Laden, along with the Chechen rebels and a bunch of terrorist groups you've never heard of, have been actively trying to get their hands on that kind of a weapon for years? Should they know? Does it help if FBI knows? — or, for that matter, the busy pedestrian, who can be easily frozen by fear into not buying, or doing, or dreaming big, and if people stop any of those things, en masse, the gears of prosperity and uplift will start to slow, God forbid. Then again, fear, no doubt has its place, trumping other emotions, focusing a distracted rabble and getting them orderly and seeing clearly what their earnest leaders are up against. Appreciation, especially without too many probing questions, is a lovely thing. So, at day's end, maybe we'll release a little information, just a tiny part of this bracing story or that, to let everyone know that they should be afraid, of course, but not so very much because we — the duly elected and our trusted appointees — are in control of the situation.

And while this is decided, across the conference table sit a group of unheralded warriors who are trying to pick up your subtly self-interested line of reasoning. You suspect that they're sizing you up, all the while, and you're probably right that it's not all that favorably, but they're sympathetic to your modern-day dilemma, as you are to theirs, especially because theirs may be the tougher job — the one upon which everything really rests.

From their shoes, you can actually feel the soft turf of a shifting landscape. Changes with each step. Walk a while, and you begin to know enough to sense what you don't know, or can't be sure of, as well as the few helpful things that have been discovered and verified about how the world's terror networks now operate, and how they are evolving. You know that the enemy is everywhere and nowhere, crouched, patient and clever, watching how you move so they can move in the opposite direction, the surprising direction, undetected. You whipsaw between grudging respect for their methodology and murderous rage — if you only get your hands on the courier, the cell leader, the top lieutenant, then they'd know suffering. And tell all. If only. And then you could sleep, at least that night, because you'd know where to aim the armed aerial drone or the muscled-up unit with the night-vision goggles — so much firepower, built up and ready; so few clues about where to point it. Or so few good clues, solid clues. Plenty of noise, God knows, leads galore, piled to the ceiling, and you spend half your life chasing nothing, garbage. Everything starts to look suspicious: whole groups of people with their strange tongues and habits and deeply held certainties prompt alarm, because the ways they move from anger to rage to violence are not so very clear, and if one out of a hundred, a thousand, makes that jump you're talking an army — a vast, invisible army — un-uniformed and moving freely through a marketplace where anything can be found and tried — unbelievably destructive stuff — all click and buy, with downloadable manuals. And you haven't seen your wife, or husband, or kids, or whoever you care about in weeks, or months; and while you thrash this way and that, everyone you meet, including your bosses, asks "Are we safe, are we safe yet?" — even people who should know better — while you miss everything: the baby showers, the school plays, the weddings and funerals. And you look for handles, a framework from the familiar, to make sense of the solemn insanity of this life, deep inside the so-called "war on terror," and you realize you're neck-deep in a global game of Marco Polo, in an ocean-size pool — but all of it deadly serious, winner take all. It's terrible in that pool. Especially when it's deathly quiet — the way it is in the months after 9/11 — and no one is answering when you yell "Marco," and you only feel the occasional whoosh as your opponent silently passes, and you snap around while images of burning buildings and exploding planes dance behind your closed eyelids.

• • •

Tucked within the colliding perspectives, there were, from the very start, a few things that were shared. The notables and the invisibles together embraced a profound sense of urgency. All parties took a vow of sorts on September 12. As public servants, they solemnly swore to do whatever they could to confront and defeat al Qaeda and its global network of terrorists and supporters. They vowed to work each day and every night. They'd press themselves toward clear-eyed and innovative thinking. They'd stop at nothing.

Just as soon as they figured out where to start.

The preferred analogy inside government for these early days is the Apollo 13 challenge, a reliable standard, as well, of management schools and motivational speakers. It refers to a particular moment in 1970 when an air filter on a disabled NASA craft, 200,000 miles from Earth, needed to be built with whatever the astronauts had on hand. An engineering team in Houston gathered a sampling of all the loose items aboard the distant spacecraft — duct tape, hoses, medical equipment — dumped them on a table, and got to work. They needed a remedy, a way to attach a square filter into a round fitting, in a few hours, or the crew would be asphyxiated. The solution also had to be elegant; it was no good if the crew couldn't manage the construction. Driving the proceedings is a mantra that has become ubiquitous since Ron Howard's movie about the mission was released in 1995: "Failure is not an option."

All this applies nicely to the "war on terror." Decisions made in the wake of the catastrophe carried the same improvisational and emotional force. That latter part is easy to forget: the desire to help, in any way possible, was the first, pure impulse. Agencies of the world's most powerful nation were impelled to employ whatever they had available to match an unforeseen mission, a new charge; to find, each of them, a worthwhile avenue for their institutional might. Sometimes this worked. Often it did not. Paths were set early, in crisis. Failure — or even the admission of small defeats or confusion — was not an option. The Pentagon had a standing army. CIA, and its eavesdropping affiliates from the National Security Agency (NSA) on down, had intelligence — the night vision to pierce the darkness. Justice had the rule of law, and FBI an army of domestic agents. Treasury had access to global financial data...and so forth, building by building, across the frightened capital. Where each path led, in large measure, would define the coming four-plus years, where we, as a nation, are now. And where we are bound.

All throughout, however, humming beneath the smooth surface of press releases and official-speak, has been a rising din of "cognitive dissonance" — that evocative term for how collisions of competing ideas create dissonance, a discomfiting noise that compels the mind to modify existing beliefs or invent new ones as it searches for quiet. It is that process that so often drives forward motion in the cacophony of modern life.

The vast federal government, under stress, does not work quite so efficiently as a single mind. It has protective urges, competing agendas, rules for who does what and who represents actions to the citizenry, the sovereign, the bosses; it accomplishes a great deal, yes, but is defined often by its dysfunctions. And that means it lies and dissembles, hides what it can, and sometimes acts out of self-preservation, because without your trust it is nothing but office space.

This has long been the case — a matter of life force trapped inside bureaucracies that everyone from Max Weber to Stephen R. Covey has fretted over — and maybe that's just something to be accepted, a point of resignation. Maybe, people don't really want to know about the internal disputes and roiling uncertainty, the dissonance. Or maybe they don't want to take on the turmoil and clarity that inhabit those on history's fault line — both the notables, who watch each active verb, and their fierce, frank invisible partners, whom you will now meet in the coming pages — as, side by side, they chase shadows on the cave wall of an enemy who is newly armed with destructive capability and sectarian certainty, and patience, and clever resolve, and, maybe, tactical advantage.

In sleepier times, you could just go about your life and shrug, and say that there are mortgages to pay and children to school, sitcoms to watch, and that, from the start, two centuries ago, even some founding fathers felt the noisy rabble, beyond the ramparts, couldn't "handle the truth."

But these are not ordinary times. Knowledge, in fact, is power, enough to burn off fear. And you at least ought to know what the hell's been going on.

It's what Americans do.

Copyright © 2006 by Ron Suskind

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Table of Contents



ONE False Positives

TWO Beyond Suspicion

THREE Necessity's Offspring

FOUR Zawahiri's Head

FIVE Going Operational

SIX Cause for Alarm

SEVEN Conversations with Dictators

EIGHT Wages of Fear

NINE Hearts and Minds


Afterword to the Paperback Edition

Author's Note



Copyright © 2006 by Ron Suskind

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  • Posted April 7, 2009

    A First Rate Analysis!!!

    The "One Percent Doctrine" is an excellent read that exposes the intricacies and drama that led up to the current Iraq War, the doctrine used and its flaws, and alternative methods that could have dramatically reduced U.S. and Iraqi casualties, cost, and duration of occupation. Spanning from the beginning of the Bush administration to the quagmire the Iraq War was in during the 2005-2007 counter-insurgency campaign. The book had an air of unease about as the author probed the decisions made by Dick Cheney and his cohorts who essentially ran the administration in the first four years and trumped dissenting opinions about the nature and merits of the Iraq War. Being a conservative myself I have generally agreed with most of the policies in regard to the Iraq War, but this book caused me to shift my position considerably given the flawed logic of some of the top commanders calling the shots. For one the administration based its decisions on the one percent chance of Saddam Hussein possessing nuclear weapons an obviously ridiculous position given the gravity of the undertaking at hand. Secondly, the administration refused to commit the resources to the campaign military experts recommended, both in troops and equipment. The complete decimation of the Baathist regime and Sunni elite is an example of the lack of knowledge and ignorance the politicians in Washington had on the situation in Iraq, its demographics, and infrastructure, and led to terrible bloodshed on all sides. As the reader you are given a backstage pass to some of the most clandestine meetings and dialogue in the run up to the Iraq War in a manner that truly places you into the scene. Some of the iconic chapters within the book are now depicted in the recent film "W" and this book would greatly enhance ones viewing experience. The writing style and deep insight the author and his sources provide to the reader was my favorite aspect of the book and make what can be a quite dry subject entertaining. I disliked nothing within the book, but others for whom this is not as fascinating might find it a bit technical in its analysis. I would recommend this book to all future policy makers in regards to preemptive war in volatile regions as a learning tool and an ominous message as to the value of humility and foresight, both essential qualities as a leader. Students of political science and anyone for which politics, war, and economics, and their connections is a passion should pick this book up for an engrossing albeit frustrating book. I would also watch the film "W" as a companion to the novel, especially to those who just want the generalities of the decisions and some humor as well. Overall a fantastic page turner!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted May 31, 2009

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