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The One Percent DoctrineDeep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 PREFACE
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
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 whichserious 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
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,
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Excerpted from The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Suskind Copyright © 2007 by Ron Suskind. Excerpted by permission.
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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
Copyright © 2006 by Ron Suskind