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Context of 'September 2002: Congressional ‘Top Secret’ Briefings Disclose Little New Information'

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Texas governor and possible presidential candidate George W. Bush’s “Iron Triangle” of (four, not three) political advisers—Karen Hughes, Karl Rove, Donald Evans, and Joe Allbaugh—are preparing for Bush’s entry into the 2000 presidential campaign. His biggest liability is foreign affairs: despite his conversations with Saudi Prince Bandar (see Fall 1997) and former security adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 1998), he is still a blank slate (see Early 1998). “Is he comfortable with foreign policy? I should say not,” observes George H. W. Bush’s former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who is not involved in teaching the younger Bush about geopolitics. Bush’s son’s only real experience, Scowcroft notes, “was being around when his father was in his many different jobs.” Rice is less acerbic in her judgment, saying: “I think his basic instincts about foreign policy and what need[…] to be done [are] there: rebuilding military strength, the importance of free trade, the big countries with uncertain futures. Our job [is] to help him fill in the details.” Bush himself acknowledges his lack of foreign policy expertise, saying: “Nobody needs to tell me what to believe. But I do need somebody to tell me where Kosovo is.” Rice and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney assemble a team of eight experienced foreign policy advisers to give the younger Bush what author Craig Unger calls “a crash course about the rest of the world.” They whimsically call themselves the “Vulcans,” [Carter, 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 117; Unger, 2007, pp. 161-163] which, as future Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “was based on the imposing statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and metalworking, that is a landmark in Rice’s hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 85] The eight are:
bullet Richard Armitage, a hardliner and Project for a New American Century (PNAC) member (see January 26, 1998) who served in a number of capacities in the first Bush presidency;
bullet Robert Blackwill, a hardliner and former Bush presidential assistant for European and Soviet Affairs;
bullet Stephen Hadley, a neoconservative and former assistant secretary of defense;
bullet Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative and another former assistant secretary of defense;
bullet Condoleezza Rice, a protege of Scowcroft, former oil company executive, and former security adviser to Bush’s father;
bullet Donald Rumsfeld, another former defense secretary;
bullet Paul Wolfowitz, a close associate of Perle and a prominent neoconservative academic, brought in to the circle by Cheney;
bullet Dov Zakheim, a hardline former assistant secretary of defense and a PNAC member;
bullet Robert Zoellick, an aide to former Secretary of State James Baker and a PNAC member.
McClellan will later note, “Rice’s and Bush’s views on foreign policy… were one and the same.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 85] Their first tutorial session in Austin, Texas is also attended by Cheney and former Secretary of State George Schulz. Even though three solid neoconservatives are helping Bush learn about foreign policy, many neoconservatives see the preponderance of his father’s circle of realpolitik foreign advisers surrounding the son and are dismayed. Prominent neoconservatives such as William Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and James Woolsey will back Bush’s primary Republican opponent, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). [Carter, 2004, pp. 269; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 117; Unger, 2007, pp. 161-163] Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, both former National Security Council members, write in the book America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, that under the tutelage of the Vulcans, Bush adopts a “hegemonist” view of the world that believes the US’s primacy in the world is paramount to securing US interests. As former White House counsel John Dean writes in 2003, this viewpoint asserts, “[S]ince we have unrivalled powers, we can have it our way, and kick ass when we don’t get it.” [FindLaw, 11/7/2003; Carter, 2004, pp. 269]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert B. Zoellick, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, Robert Blackwill, John McCain, Scott McClellan, Richard Perle, John Dean, James Lindsay, James Woolsey, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Brent Scowcroft, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Dov S. Zakheim, George W. Bush, George Schulz, Stephen J. Hadley, Ivo Daalder, William Kristol

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US International Relations, Neoconservative Influence

Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves his Lima, Peru hotel after hearing news of the attacks.Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves his Lima, Peru hotel after hearing news of the attacks. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Just prior to learning about the 9/11 attacks, top US leaders are scattered across the country and overseas:
bullet President Bush is in Sarasota, Florida. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Lima, Peru. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is flying across the Atlantic on the way to Europe. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 19-40]
bullet Attorney General John Ashcroft is flying to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh is at a conference in Montana. [ABC News, 9/14/2002] Others are in Washington:
bullet Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice are at their offices in the White House. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is at his office in the Pentagon, meeting with a delegation from Capitol Hill. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet CIA Director George Tenet is at breakfast with his old friend and mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel, three blocks from the White House. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet FBI Director Robert Mueller is in his office at FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
bullet Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta is at his office at the Department of Transportation. [US Congress, 9/20/2001]
bullet Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is at a conference in the Ronald Reagan Building, three blocks from the White House. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 1]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Joseph M. Allbaugh, Richard A. Clarke, Henry Hugh Shelton, Norman Mineta, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, David Boren, George J. Tenet, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld holds a “top secret” briefing on Iraq for selected Congressional members, including, among others, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). The briefing takes place in the most secure room in the Capitol, a small, windowless chamber that is ostentatiously swept for bugs before the briefing. At the outset, the lawmakers are sworn to deepest secrecy. But during the briefing, Rumsfeld tells the assembled members nothing they couldn’t learn by watching the nightly news. McCain abruptly leaves the meeting, and later says, “It was a joke.” Vice President Cheney has said that the administration doesn’t trust the 535 members of Congress not to leak classified information, and therefore they must make their decisions concerning war with Iraq without the benefit of complete intelligence briefings (see Before September 9, 2002 and After). McCain reflects the feelings of many members in expressing his aggravation with the administration. “It becomes almost insulting after a while,” he says. “Everyone that goes to them is frustrated.” Rather than give “pretend” briefings that convey little information, McCain says, President Bush should just suspend the briefings entirely. House member Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says many members are skipping the briefings entirely to avoid signing a secrecy pledge that restricts what they can and cannot talk about. Menendez, briefed earlier by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, says, “I heard nothing that was new, compelling, or that I have not heard before.” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says, “The White House will continue to as fully inform as possible members of Congress, while also preserving sensitive intelligence information so no inadvertent disclosure jeopardizes sources or methods or missions.” The White House has had some success with Democrats who might be resistant to its arguments for war by choosing to give more complete briefings to a few selected Democratic leaders, including House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO). As a result, Democratic leaders in Congress are more supportive of the push towards war than many of their rank-and-file colleagues. [Washington Post, 9/15/2002]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Ari Fleischer, Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Menendez, US Department of Defense, John McCain, George W. Bush, Richard Gephardt, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Vice President Cheney continues to argue his case for war with Iraq, this time during an appearance on PBS’s “News Hour with Jim Lehrer.” “We know based on primarily intelligence reporting [that Saddam Hussein] is continuing to expand and improve his biological weapons capability both in terms of production and delivery systems; we know he is working once again on a nuclear program.” Cheney goes on to say that Congress would have to make a decision on whether to authorize an attack on Iraq without being able to see the evidence that Cheney says exists. To brief Congress—535 lawmakers—about such “highly classified” matters would invite leaks that would potentially compromise national security. Instead, lawmakers who do not sit on the respective intelligence committees will have to make their decisions based on the limited amount of information the White House chooses to share with them. [Savage, 2007, pp. 157, 357]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Civil Liberties

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