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Context of '(8:50 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Learning of First Crash, Libby Doesn’t Want to be Disturbed, ‘Unless it’s Terrorism’'

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Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, had met briefly with Cheney earlier in the morning, but is now back in his own office in the Old Executive Office Building, located next door to the White House. According to journalist and author Stephen Hayes, Libby has just commenced a meeting with John Hannah, who serves on the vice president’s national security staff. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 328 and 330] However, Newsweek reports that he is with his top deputy, Eric Edelman. The meeting is reportedly to discuss the stalled peace process in the Middle East. [Newsweek, 12/31/2001] Before it started, Libby had given his assistant Jennifer Mayfield strict instructions not to interrupt. But as soon as she sees a plane has hit the World Trade Center, Mayfield goes in and tells Libby about it. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 330] Asked, “Do they think it’s terrorism?” she replies that no one is sure, and it appears that a small plane hit the building. [Newsweek, 12/31/2001] Libby tells her, “Unless it’s terrorism, don’t interrupt me again.” [Hayes, 2007, pp. 330] He turns on his television briefly, but then turns it off again as he does not want to be distracted from his conversation about the Middle East. [Newsweek, 12/31/2001] After the second tower is hit, Mayfield goes back in and tells Libby, “It’s terrorism.” [Hayes, 2007, pp. 331] She marches across the office and turns on the TV. Libby later comments, “That’s very unlike her, so I knew it was serious.” Edelman later recalls, “We looked at each other and said, ‘That’s no accident.’” [Newsweek, 12/31/2001] Libby receives a call from Dick Cheney, summoning him to the White House, and soon afterwards hurries across to rejoin the vice president. [Hayes, 2007, pp. 331]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Hannah, Jennifer Mayfield, Eric Edelman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

John Hannah.John Hannah. [Source: PBS]Dick Cheney’s Office of the Vice President (OVP) is so cloaked in secrecy, journalist Robert Dreyfuss reports, that it routinely refuses to provide a directory of staff members or even the numbers of staff and employees. Dreyfus writes, “Like disciplined Bolsheviks slicing through a fractious opposition, Cheney’s team operates with a single-minded, ideological focus on the exercise of American military power, a belief in the untrammeled power of the presidency, and a fierce penchant for secrecy.” The list of current and former staffers includes, as of April 2006: former chief of staff Lewis Libby; his replacement, David Addington; top national security advisers Eric Edelman and Victoria Nuland; neoconservative and hardline Middle East specialists such as John Hannah, William Luti, and David Wurmser; anti-Chinese Asia specialists such as Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich; a varying number of technocratic neoconservatives in other posts; and an array of communications specialists, including “Cheney’s Angels”: Mary Matalin, Juleanna Glover Weiss, Jennifer Millerwise, Jennifer Mayfield, Catherine Martin, and Lea Anne McBride. It is known that Cheney’s national security staff was assembled by Libby from various far-right think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), as well as carefully screened Cheney supporters from a variety of Washington law firms. [American Prospect, 4/16/2006] Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, will recall in early 2007: “A friend of mine counted noses [at the office] and came away with 88. That doesn’t count others seconded from other agencies.” [Washington Monthly, 1/7/2007]
'Cabal' of Zealots - Wilkerson calls Cheney’s inner group a “cabal” of arrogant, intensely zealous, highly focused loyalists. Recalling Cheney’s staff interacting in a variety of interagency meetings and committees, “The staff that the vice president sent out made sure that those [committees] didn’t key anything up that wasn’t what the vice president wanted,” says Wilkerson. “Their style was simply to sit and listen, and take notes. And if things looked like they were going to go speedily to a decision that they knew that the vice president wasn’t going to like, generally they would, at the end of the meeting, in great bureaucratic style, they’d say: ‘We totally disagree. Meeting’s over.’” The committee agendas were generally scuttled. And if something did get written up as a “decision memo” bound for the Oval Office, Cheney himself would ensure that it died before ever reaching fruition.”
Sidestepping the NSC - The National Security Council (NSC) is designated as the ultimate arbiter for foreign policy options and recommendations for the president. But, according to Wilkerson, Cheney’s office and the NSC were often at loggerheads, and Cheney’s “shadow NSC” had the upper bureaucratic hand. Cheney “set up a staff that knew what the statutory NSC was doing, but the NSC statutory staff didn’t know what his staff was doing,” says Wilkerson.
China Threat - Cheney’s Asia advisers, Yates and Ravich, were most often encountered by Wilkerson. They helped drive Cheney’s agenda for China, which was obsessive to the point of paranoia. China was a grave, if long-term, threat to the US, they believed. The US must begin strongly cultivating Taiwan as a counterbalance to China, whom they asserted was preparing for military action against the US. Former US ambassador to China Charles Freeman compares Yates to the Defense Department’s Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith; all three believed, Freeman says, that China was “the solution to ‘enemy deprivation syndrome.’”
Iraq Policy - Cheney’s current and former staffers played an even larger role in shaping the administration’s Iraq policy than is generally known, and Cheney “seeded” staffers in other departments to promote his war agenda. Luti left the OVP in 2001 to join the Department of Defense, where he organized the Office of Special Plans (OSP). Wurmser, an AEI neoconservative, joined the Pentagon and created the forerunner of the OSP, the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which helped manufacture the evidence of connections between Hussein and al-Qaeda. Wurmser worked closely with Hannah, Libby, Luti, and another Pentagon official, Harold Rhode. Ravich worked with neoconservative Middle East analyst Zalmay Khalilzad to build up Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, their designated supplanter of Hussein.
US or Israel Interests? - Many of Cheney’s most influential staffers are pro-Israeli to the point where many observers wonder where their ultimate loyalties lie. David Wurmser is a standout of this group. Wurmser worked at WINEP with Hannah, then joined the AEI, where he directed that group’s Middle East affairs, then joined Feith’s OSP before moving on to Bolton’s inner circle at the State Department, all before joining Cheney in the OVP. Most outsiders consider Wurmser’s ideas wildly unrealistic. A former ambassador says of Wurmser, “I’ve known him for years, and I consider him to be a naive simpleton.” [American Prospect, 4/16/2006]

The defense for accused perjurer Lewis “Scooter” Libby questions Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser, John Hannah, who says he worked very closely with Libby while Libby served as Cheney’s chief of staff. Hannah testifies that Libby has a poor memory (see January 31, 2006), telling defense lawyer John Cline, “On certain things Scooter had an awful memory.” Hannah also says that part of Libby’s job as chief of staff to Cheney was to “push back” on any criticism of the vice president such as that leveled by war critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). [New York Times, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007; MSNBC, 2/21/2007; BBC, 7/3/2007] Hannah says of Libby’s memory, “It would often be the case where he was quite good at remembering ideas and concepts and very bad at figuring out how those ideas came to him.” Hannah portrays Libby’s typical workday as, in the words of the Associated Press, “breakneck,” with CIA briefings beginning a long and often hectic workday peppered with top-level meetings. “He was the key person talking about and helping advise the vice president on issues of homeland security,” Hannah testifies. Hannah’s testimony is key to the defense strategy, helping paint Libby as a man consumed with the duties of an intensely stressful job and therefore prone to make mistakes in recollection, especially about issues such as the identity of a CIA official whose husband is publicly criticizing the government. Hannah is also able to introduce some specifics about the national threats Libby worked to prevent, including terrorism and the problems posed by Iran and Pakistan, without subjecting Libby to cross-examination (see February 12, 2007). When Libby tried to remember things during his hectic workday, Hannah testifies, he often was unable to do so completely. [Associated Press, 2/13/2007; New York Times, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007] Hannah’s attempt to paint Libby as overworked and mnemonically challenged is short-lived, as prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald pins Hannah down in cross-examination. Fitzgerald asks Hannah if it would be accurate to say that because of Libby’s crushing work schedule during the week of July 6, 2003, the former chief of staff would have only spent time on things he considered important. “If he gave something an hour or two that week,” Fitzgerald asks, “it would be something Mr. Libby thought was important, right?” Hannah agrees. The jury is well aware that Libby spent two hours with New York Times reporter Judith Miller on July 8 of that week (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Both outed CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson and FireDogLake blogger Jane Hamsher will observe, “It was a Perry Mason moment.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 290-291; Associated Press, 2/13/2007; New York Times, 2/13/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 2/13/2007; Jane Hamsher, 2/13/2007] Former Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal, the author of a recent book critical of the Bush administration, calls Hannah “Cheney’s stand-in, but without Cheney’s enormous potential liabilities that might be explored through cross-examination. Hannah’s role was to be the first-person witness to buttress Libby’s memory defense.” [Salon, 2/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, John Cline, John Hannah, Valerie Plame Wilson, Sidney Blumenthal, Jane Hamsher, Reggie B. Walton, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Judith Miller, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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