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

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

by Ron Suskind


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743271103
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 05/15/2007
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.44(h) x 1.00(d)

About 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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The One Percent Doctrine

Deep 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

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


"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

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


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

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


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

Author's Note



Copyright © 2006 by Ron Suskind

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