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Context of 'April 30, 2001: Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz in Deputy Secretary Meeting: Who Cares About [Bin Laden]?'

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After the Bush administration takes office in January 2001, it is slow to develop new approaches to Pakistan and Afghanistan. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice orders a new policy review for al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but sets no deadline for it to be completed. State Department officials will later say that Secretary of State Colin Powell shows little interest in the policy review. It takes four months for the Bush administration to even nominate a new assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs. President Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf exchange formal letters with each other shortly after Bush takes office, but the letters have little impact. In January, US ambassador to Pakistan William Milam prepares two cables to brief the new Bush administration about Pakistan, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda. There is no response from Washington and no request for further information, even though Milam is the point person for meetings with the Taliban. The US embassy is not consulted at all about the new policy review, indicating just how low a priority the review is. A senior US diplomat will later say: “Al-Qaeda was not on the radar screen in Washington. Nobody thought there was any urgency to the policy review. Papers were circulated, dates were made to meet, and were broken—it was the usual bureaucratic approach.” The first significant meeting related to the review takes place in April, but little is accomplished (see April 30, 2001). The first cabinet-level meeting relating to the policy review takes place on September 4, just one week before the 9/11 attacks. US policy towards Pakistan is discussed, but no firm decisions are reached (see September 4, 2001). After 9/11, Rice will say: “America’s al-Qaeda policy wasn’t working because our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working. And our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working because our Pakistan policy wasn’t working. We recognized that America’s counterterrorism policy had to be connected to our regional strategies and our overall foreign policy.… Al-Qaeda was both a client of and patron to the Taliban, which in turn was supported by Pakistan. Those relationships provided al-Qaeda with a powerful umbrella of protection, and we had to sever that.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 56-60]

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Taliban, William Milam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Bush administration finally has its first Deputy Secretary-level meeting on terrorism. [Time, 8/12/2002] According to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, he advocates that the Northern Alliance needs to be supported in the war against the Taliban, and the Predator drone flights need to resume over Afghanistan so bin Laden can be targeted. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 231] Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the focus on al-Qaeda is wrong. He states, “I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden,” and “Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?” Wolfowitz insists the focus should be Iraqi-sponsored terrorism instead. He claims the 1993 attack on the WTC must have been done with help from Iraq, and rejects the CIA’s assertion that there has been no Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993 (see April 30, 2001). (A spokesperson for Wolfowitz later calls Clarke’s account a “fabrication.”) [Clarke, 2004, pp. 30, 231; Newsweek, 3/22/2004] Wolfowitz repeats these sentiments immediately after 9/11 and tries to argue that the US should attack Iraq. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage agrees with Clarke that al-Qaeda is an important threat. Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, chairing the meeting, brokers a compromise between Wolfowitz and the others. The group agrees to hold additional meetings focusing on al-Qaeda first (in June and July), but then later look at other terrorism, including any Iraqi terrorism. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 30, 231-32] Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin also attend the hour-long meeting. [Time, 8/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Richard Armitage, Richard A. Clarke, Taliban, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, John E. McLaughlin, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Since the Bush administration came into office in January 2001, it has been slow to develop an approach on how to deal with Pakistan. In February 2001, President Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf exchanged formal letters, but to little impact. The Bush administration is working on a regional policy review, but will not complete it before 9/11 (see January-September 10, 2001). The first substantial diplomatic contact between the US and Pakistan takes place in June 2001, when Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar and ISI Maj. Gen. Faiz Jilani visit Washington, Canada, and Britain. Jilani is accompanying Sattar because it is well known that the ISI controls Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban. Sattar and Jilani meet with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in early June. Another Pakistani diplomat who attends the meeting will later recall: “She told us that the Taliban were dead in the water and we should drop them. It was a very rough meeting.” But Rice does not give any specific threats or incentives, presumably because the Bush administration has yet to make much progress with its policy review. Despite the harsh words, the Bush administration actually is more conciliatory than the Clinton administration had been. Later in June, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says in an interview: “I don’t want to see Pakistan only through the lens or the prism of Osama bin Laden. We want to look at Pakistan and see what Pakistan thinks about Pakistan’s future.” Bush writes another letter to Musharraf in August, but it simply repeats previous warnings (see August 4, 2001). Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, author of the 2000 book Taliban, will later comment: “There was now even less incentive for Musharraf to change his policies toward the Taliban and there was no extraordinary US pressure to go after al-Qaeda. Dealing with Bush was going to be much easier than dealing with Clinton. Whereas Clinton resisted the wool being pulled over his eyes, the Bush administration simply closed their eyes themselves.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 56-58]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Abdul Sattar, Bush administration (43), Faiz Jilani, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Richard Armitage, Condoleezza Rice, Pervez Musharraf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz gives a commencement address at the United States Military Academy graduation at West Point, New York, where he focuses on the danger of surprise attacks. To an audience of about 15,000 people, he points out that 2001 marks the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor—“a military disaster whose name has become synonymous with surprise”—and notes that, “Interestingly, that ‘surprise attack’ was preceded by an astonishing number of unheeded warnings and missed signals.” He continues, “Yet military history is full of surprises… Very few of these surprises are the product of simple blindness or simple stupidity. Almost always there have been warnings and signals that have been missed.” He says one of the reasons these warnings have so often been missed is “a routine obsession with a few familiar dangers,” which “has gotten whole governments, sometimes whole societies, into trouble.” He stresses the need to “use the benefit of hindsight to replace a poverty of expectations with an anticipation of the unfamiliar and the unlikely,” thereby overcoming “the complacency that is the greatest threat to our hopes for a peaceful future.” [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001; US Department of Defense, 6/2/2001] Journalist James Mann will later reflect on this speech, saying that Wolfowitz “was more prescient than he could have imagined. America was about to be attacked. Once again the United States was unable to deal with the unfamiliar and the unlikely. Once again there were unheeded warnings and missed signals.” [Mann, 2004, pp. 29] In spite of his words of caution, around this time Wolfowitz himself appears to be ignoring the danger of a possible attack by al-Qaeda. In July, he will reportedly doubt whether the recent surge in al-Qaeda warnings is really of significance (see Mid-July 2001). And at a meeting on terrorism in April, he’d complained, “I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden” (see April 30, 2001).

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Bin Laden Planning High-Profile Attacks.” It states that bin Laden operatives expect near-term attacks to have dramatic consequences of catastrophic proportions. Despite evidence of delays possibly caused by heightened US security, the planning for the attacks is continuing. The briefing also contains another report entitled, “Bin Laden Threats Are Real.” SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush is given this warning. Also on this day, Saudi Arabia declares its highest level of terror alert. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256-257, 534; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 3 pdf file]

Entity Tags: White House, Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells CIA Director George Tenet that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz questions the significance of the recent surge in al-Qaeda warnings. Wolfowitz apparently suggests that bin Laden may merely be trying to study US reactions to an attack threat. Tenet replies that he has already addressed these questions and that the reporting is convincing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259] Tenet is likely referring to a report delivered to the White House on June 30 entitled “Bin Laden Threats Are Real” (see June 30, 2001) that was prepared to deal with nearly identical doubts from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (see Summer 2001). In April 2001, Wolfowitz said in a meeting that the main terrorist threat to the US was from Iraq, not bin Laden (see April 30, 2001).

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Stephen J. Hadley, George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

President Bush sends a letter to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, warning him about supporting the Taliban. However, the tone is similar to past requests dating to the Clinton administration. There had been some discussion that US policy toward Pakistan should change. For instance, at the end of June, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke “urged that the United States [should] think about what it would do after the next attack, and then take that position with Pakistan now, before the attack.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage later acknowledges that a new approach to Pakistan is not yet implemented by 9/11 (see January-September 10, 2001 and Early June 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 Sources: Richard Armitage]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Clinton administration, Taliban, George W. Bush, Pervez Musharraf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

President Bush’s cabinet-rank advisers discuss terrorism for the second of only two times before 9/11. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002] National Security Adviser Rice chairs the meeting; neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney attends. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says that in this meeting, he and CIA Director Tenet speak passionately about the al-Qaeda threat. No one disagrees that the threat is serious. Secretary of State Powell outlines a plan to put pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting al-Qaeda. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appears to be more interested in Iraq. The only debate is over whether to fly the armed Predator drone over Afghanistan to attack al-Qaeda (see September 4, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 237-38] Clarke’s earlier plans to “roll back” al-Qaeda first submitted on January 25, 2001 (see January 25, 2001) have been discussed and honed in many meetings and are now presented as a formal National Security Presidential Directive. The directive is “apparently” approved, though the process of turning it into official policy is still not done. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] There is later disagreement over just how different the directive presented is from Clarke’s earlier plans. For instance, some claim the directive aims not just to “roll back” al-Qaeda, but also to “eliminate” it altogether. [Time, 8/12/2002] However, Clarke notes that even though he wanted to use the word “eliminate,” the approved directive merely aims to “significantly erode” al-Qaeda. The word “eliminate” is only added after 9/11. [Washington Post, 3/25/2004] Clarke will later say that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.” [ABC News, 4/8/2004] The Washington Post will similarly note that the directive approved on this day “did not differ substantially from Clinton’s policy.” [Washington Post, 3/27/2004] Time magazine later comments, “The fight against terrorism was one of the casualties of the transition, as Washington spent eight months going over and over a document whose outline had long been clear.” [Time, 8/12/2002] The primary change from Clarke’s original draft is that the approved plan calls for more direct financial and logistical support to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban groups. The plan also calls for drafting plans for possible US military involvement, “but those differences were largely theoretical; administration officials told the [9/11 Commission’s] investigators that the plan’s overall timeline was at least three years, and it did not include firm deadlines, military plans, or significant funding at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks.” [Washington Post, 3/27/2004; Reuters, 4/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Al-Qaeda, Northern Alliance, Donald Rumsfeld, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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