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Context of 'October 17, 2001: Top Bush Administration Officials Look to Blame Anthrax Attacks on Al-Qaeda, Iraq, or Russia'

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Vice President Cheney chairs a National Security Council meeting because President Bush is overseas. According to journalist Bob Woodward, who later interviews many participants in the meeting, the topic of the recent anthrax attacks is discussed (see October 5-November 21, 2001). CIA Director George Tenet suggests that al-Qaeda is behind the attacks. He also adds, “I think there’s a state sponsor involved. It’s too well thought out, the powder’s too well refined. It might be Iraq, it might be Russia, it might be a renegade scientist,” perhaps from Iraq or Russia. Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby also suggests the anthrax attacks were state sponsored. “We’ve got to be careful on what we say. If we say it’s al-Qaeda, a state sponsor may feel safe and then hit us thinking they will have a bye because we’ll blame it on al-Qaeda.” Tenet replies, “I’m not going to talk about a state sponsor.” Vice President Cheney comments, “It’s good that we don’t, because we’re not ready to do anything about it.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 244] No strong evidence will emerge tying the attacks to al-Qaeda or any state sponsor. The anthrax attacks still remain completely unsolved.

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Bob Woodward, National Security Council, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

At 2:30 a.m., Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, gets a call from one of CIA Director George Tenet’s aides (see 2:30 a.m. February 5, 2003). Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff is insisting that the widely discredited claim (see October 21, 2002) that Mohamed Atta had met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001) be reinstated into Powell’s forthcoming speech to the UN Security Council. The pressure continues throughout the night. Just before 9 a.m., when Powell begins his speech, Wilkerson’s phone rings again and again. Caller ID shows it is Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, presumably to try one more time to argue for the inclusion of the material. Wilkerson refuses to take the call. “Scooter,” one State Department aide will later explain to reporter Craig Unger, “wasn’t happy.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232; Unger, 2007, pp. 283-284]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wilkerson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, phones senior CIA official Robert Grenier to ask about a recent trip to Niger by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby has just left a meeting with Cheney and Cheney’s press secretary, Cathie Martin. According to later testimony by Grenier (see January 24, 2007), Libby is “anxious” to learn about the trip, and obviously annoyed by Wilson’s claims that he was sent to Niger at the behest of Cheney. Grenier, the official in charge of the CIA’s actions as relating to Iraq, promises to look into the matter, but before he can speak again to Libby, the chief of staff pulls him out of a meeting with CIA Director George Tenet to ask him about Wilson. [Office of the Vice President, 6/11/2003 pdf file; New York Times, 2/4/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 6/6/2007]
Libby Discusses Feasibility of Leaking Wilson Info - Grenier will later testify that he had never been pulled out of a meeting with Tenet before. Libby had already asked about Wilson, who was, according to Libby, “going around town and speaking to people in the press” about a mission he’d been sent on by the agency to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Libby tells Grenier to check out Wilson’s story, and find out if Wilson’s claim that his mission was prompted by the Office of the Vice President is true (see (February 13, 2002)). “He sounded a little bit aggrieved,” Grenier will later testify. “There was a slightly accusatory tone in his voice.” This tone suggests to Grenier that Libby “would need this information sooner than later, so he could potentially get out in front of this story.” Later that day, Grenier receives a call from the CIA’s counterproliferation division—Valerie Plame Wilson’s bureau—confirming that Wilson had been sent to Niger by the agency (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Grenier calls Libby back and relays that information. The State Department and Pentagon were also interested in the results of Wilson’s investigation, Grenier tells Libby. Grenier also tells Libby that Wilson’s wife works in the same CIA unit as the one that sent Wilson to Niger. The information about Wilson and his wife seems to please Libby, Grenier will later recall. Libby speculates as to the feasibility of leaking that information to the press. Grenier contacts CIA public affairs official Bill Harlow and tells Libby, “We can work something out.” Libby then tells Grenier that Martin will coordinate the effort with Harlow and the CIA public affairs office (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; ABC News, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007]
Grenier Wonders if He Revealed Identity of Agency Official - After hanging up, Grenier will later testify, he feels somewhat guilty, “as if I had said too much.” In particular, he worries that he may have “revealed the identity of an agency officer.” He will testify that such information is something “we normally guard pretty closely. In the CIA our habit is that if we don’t need to say something, we generally don’t.” But, he later says he told himself, “look—this is a senior government official, he probably has every security clearance known to man.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Robert Grenier, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of the Vice President, Counterproliferation Division, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The CIA’s Deputy Director, John McLaughlin, sends a draft of a written statement by Director George Tenet about the Niger uranium affair to the White House. Tenet’s statement will acknowledge that he is responsible for the false claims by President Bush and other administration officials that Iraq had attempted to purchase enriched uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). McLaighlin sends the draft to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, but it is marked “Unacceptable” by Vice President Dick Cheney. The draft of Tenet’s statement will be entered into evidence in the 2007 trial of Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/11/2003; National Public Radio, 3/7/2007] It is unclear why Cheney rejects the draft.

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, John E. McLaughlin, Stephen J. Hadley, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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