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President Harry Truman signs the National Security Act of 1947, reorganizing the military and overhauling the government’s foreign policy-making bureaucracy. The act gives birth to three major organizations: the Department of Defense (DOD), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Council (NSC). The DOD unifies the three branches of the military—the Army, Navy and Air Force—into a single department overseen by a secretary of defense. The act establishes a separate agency, the CIA, to oversee all overt and covert intelligence operations. The act forms the NSC to directly advise the President on all matters of defense and foreign policy. In addition, the act establishes the National Security Resources Board (NSRB) to advise the President “concerning the coordination of military, industrial, and civilian mobilization” in times of war. Should the nation come under attack, the NSRB will be in charge of allocating essential resources and overseeing “the strategic relocation of industries, services, government, and economic activities, the continuous operation of which is essential to the Nation’s security.” (US Congress. House. Senate. 7/26/1947; Trager 11/1977)
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, determined to prove to President Nixon that news stories about the secret Cambodian bombings are not being leaked to the press by liberals in the National Security Council offices, urges FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap several of Nixon’s top aides, as well as a selection of reporters. Kissinger will later deny making the request. (Werth 2006, pp. 169) In March 1973, W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s famous “Deep Throat” background source, will confirm the wiretappings, saying: “In 1969, the first targets of aggressive wiretapping were the reporters and those in the administration who were suspected of disloyalty. Then the emphasis was shifted to the radical political opposition during the [Vietnam] antiwar protests. When it got near election time , it was only natural to tap the Democrats (see Late June-July 1971 and May 27-28, 1972). The arrests in the Watergate (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) sent everybody off the edge because the break-in could uncover the whole program.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 271) Felt will tell Woodward that two of the reporters placed under electronic surveillance are Neil Sheehan and Hedrick Smith. Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg will leak the Defense Department documents to Sheehan (see March 1971). Eventually, future FBI director William Ruckelshaus will reveal that at least 17 wiretaps are ordered between 1969 and 1971. The logs of those wiretaps are stored in a safe in White House aide John Ehrlichman’s office. In all, 13 government officials and four reporters are monitored. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 313) The FBI will send Kissinger 37 letters reporting on the results of the surveillance between May 16, 1969 and May 11, 1970. When the surveillance is revealed to the Senate Watergate Committee, it will be shown that among those monitored are Nixon speechwriter and later New York Times columnist William Safire; Anthony Lake, a top Kissinger aide who will later resign over the secret bombings of Cambodia; and the military assistant to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, whom Kissinger regards as a political enemy. (Woodward 2005, pp. 21-22)
The press reports an upcoming announcement of US troop withdrawals from Vietnam. President Nixon, convinced that the media leaks (see May 1969) are coming from the National Security Council, decides to stop holding NSC meetings entirely. Instead, he and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger will decide national security matters between themselves, in secret. (Reeves 2001, pp. 86)
On April 24, President Nixon orders US and South Vietnamese troops to secretly invade the “Parrot’s Beak” region of Cambodia, thought to be a Viet Cong stronghold. The decision is controversial. Nixon knows that many senior military officials, as well as his Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird, will oppose the operation, so he carefully keeps Laird ignorant of the invasion plans. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger privately alerts Laird to some of the less controversial elements of the operation (but not the use of US forces in the invasion), and Laird recommends advising Congress of the imminent military action. Kissinger says Nixon will handle that himself. (Nixon only tells one Congressman, Senator John Stennis (D-MS), the hawkish chairman of the Armed Services Committee.) As the evening wears on, Nixon repeatedly calls Kissinger’s office, barking out contradictory orders and hanging up, as he flip-flops on whether to actually go through with the plan. “Our peerless leader has flipped out,” Kissinger tells his staff. Nixon calls Kissinger with further orders and tells him, in a slurred, perhaps inebriated voice, “Wait a minute, Bebe has something to say to you.” Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, Nixon’s longtime friend and millionaire political and personal financier (who has been thoroughly informed of the operation when many senior government and officials have not), takes the phone and says, “The president wants you to know that if this doesn’t work, Henry, it’s your ass.”
Staffers Resign - Kissinger, who has himself kept his staff ignorant of the invasion, tells one staffer, William Watts, to coordinate the National Security Council’s work on the invasion. But Watts, outraged at the secret invasion of a neutral nation, refuses. “Your views represent the cowardice of the Eastern establishment,” Kissinger snaps. Watts comes towards Kissinger as if to strike him, then turns and walks out of the office. Watts resigns his position minutes later. Kissinger’s military aide, Alexander Haig: tells Watts: “You can’t resign.… You’ve just had an order from your commander in chief.” Watts retorts, “F_ck you, Al, I just did.” Two other Kissinger staffers, Anthony Lake and Roger Morris, also resign over the invasion.
Others Informed - The plans are finalized by Nixon and Kissinger, with Rebozo sitting in on the discussion. Only on the evening of April 26 do Laird, Secretary of State William Rogers, and other Cabinet officials learn of the plans to invade Cambodia. Rogers is horrified; Laird is ambivalent, but furious that he was left out of the decision-making process. The invasion takes place on April 28. Congress and the press learn of the invasion on April 30. (Reeves 2001, pp. 199-206)
President Ford discusses media reports of a feared coup attempt or unauthorized nuclear strike in the final days of the Nixon presidency (see August 22, 1974) with his ad hoc chief of staff, Alexander Haig, and Defense Secretary James Schlesinger (see August 25, 1974). Ford believes the leak that formed the basis of the story came from the “highest level of the Pentagon,” but he is unaware that Schlesinger is most likely the leaker. He is also unaware of the hornet’s nest of bureaucratic rivalries involved in the situation. Ford knows nothing of the strained relations between the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff going back to the Moorer-Radford spy affair (see December 1971), nor of Haig’s blurred loyalties and his network of connections between the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and the White House. Ford is distressed by the stories, and furious when Haig assures him that the story is false—no such measures had been taken.
Implications of a Secret Deal - Ford worries most that the story will escalate into a whirlwind of media speculation about the nation being “at the brink” during Nixon’s final days, and more to the point, the media and the citizenry may begin speculating about the possibility that he took over the White House as part of some sort of secret deal. Ford also knows that such an extraordinary leak three weeks into his presidency is a direct insult to his own position. Ford orders Schlesinger to straighten out the entire mess right away.
Haig Also Involved? - Although Schlesinger denies his involvement in the stories, his credibility in this matter is wanting. And, if the stories are indeed true, then Haig must have been involved as well. Indeed, former Nixon aide Charles Colson will later write that Haig himself initiated the reported military watch, asking the Pentagon to disregard any order from Nixon. Like Schlesinger, Haig denies any part in the Pentagon watch, and calls the idea of a military coup of any stripe “an insult to the armed forces.” Haig will later accuse the so-called “countergovernment”—Congress, the courts, and the press—of successfully engaging in their own coup of sorts, in combining to drive both Nixon and former Vice President Spiro Agnew (see October 10, 1973) from office. But Haig has also dropped dark hints of his own to reporters about “dangers to the country deeper than Watergate,” and has spoken about the threat of “extra-constitutional” steps during Nixon’s last days.
Presidential Denial - Publicly, Ford, through press secretary Jerald terHorst, tells the press that “no measures of this nature were actually undertaken.” Questions about whether any requests for a military watch, or other such preparations, were ever made to forestall a military coup are referred to the Pentagon. (Werth 2006, pp. 191-193)
Norman Bailey, a member of the National Security Council (NSC) whose specialty is monitoring terrorism by tracking finances, will later reveal that in the early 1980s the NSC learns that BCCI is not just a bank but is engaged in widespread criminal activity. “We were aware that BCCI was involved in drug-money transactions,” he will later say. “We were also aware that BCCI was involved with terrorists, technology transfers—including the unapproved transfer of US technology to the Soviet bloc—weapons dealing, the manipulation of financial markets, and other activities.” The main source for the NSC about this are reports from the CIA. From 1981 on, the NSC learns of BCCI’s role in illegal technology deals for Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Iran, and other countries. A clear picture has emerged by the start of 1984. But neither the CIA nor the NSC take any action against the bank. (Beaty and Gwynne 1993, pp. 291, 315)
Vice President George H. W. Bush asks CIA agent and National Security Council official Donald Gregg to serve as his national security and foreign policy adviser. Gregg agrees, and retires from the CIA. Gregg will work closely with Bush and former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez to help put together a covert operation to supply the Nicaraguan Contras with arms, cash, and supplies. (Spartacus Schoolnet 12/28/2007)
President Reagan announces the creation of the Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board (EMPB) “to improve mobilization capabilities and interagency cooperation within the federal government to respond to major peacetime or war-related emergencies.” The board will study emergency preparedness responsibilities and make policy suggestions to the president, the National Security Council (NSC), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to the White House, the new board consists of “representatives from 22 federal agencies at the deputy secretary or under secretary level, and is chaired by the assistant to the president for national security affairs.” A full-time secretariat, chaired by a senior official from FEMA, is to oversee the EMPB and the implementation of its recommendations. The board will consist of 11 separate working groups: industrial mobilization, military mobilization, food and agriculture, government operations, emergency communications, civil defense, social services, human resources, health, law enforcement and public safety, and economic stabilization and public finance. The EMPB will later be criticized for becoming overly powerful and militarizing the nation’s emergency management programs. National security affairs expert Diana Reynolds will later comment: “By forming the EMPB, Ronald Reagan made it possible for a small group of people, under the authority of the NSC, to wield enormous power. They, in turn, used this executive authority to change civil defense planning into a military/police version of civil security.” (White House 12/29/1981; Reynolds 1990)
The PROMIS database application is used for a program called “Follow the Money” to track loans made by Western banks to the Soviet Union and its allies. The top-secret program is run for the National Security Council (NSC) by Norman Bailey, who uses NSA signals intelligence to track the loans. Bailey will later say that the PROMIS application is “the principal software element” used by the NSA and the Treasury Department in their electronic surveillance programs that track financial flows to the Soviet bloc, organized crime, and terrorist groups. According to Bailey, this program marks a significant shift in resources from human spying to electronic surveillance, as a way to track money flows to suspected criminals and American enemies. (Shorrock 7/23/2008)
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to develop plans for implementing martial law in the event of a national emergency. The plans are developed under the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is designed to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of disaster. As a member of the National Security Council (NSC), North is assigned to the Emergency Mobilization Preparedness Board (EMPB), formed by President Reagan to coordinate civil defense planning among the NSC, FEMA, and White House (see December 29. 1981). According to the Miami Herald, the martial law plans would “suspend the Constitution in the event of a national crisis, such as nuclear war, violent and widespread internal dissent, or national opposition to a US military invasion abroad.” Sources will claim North is involved in a major domestic surveillance operation as part of the COG program (see 1980s and 1980s or Before). During investigations into the Iran-Contra affair, Representative Jack Brooks (D-TX) will be barred from asking North about his involvement with the plans and the secret program (see 1987). (Chardy 7/5/1987; Reynolds 1990; Ketcham 5/2008)
Douglas Feith, a neoconservative (see Early 1970s) serving as a Middle East analyst for the National Security Council, is fired after becoming the focus of an FBI inquiry into his giving classified NSC information to an Israeli embassy official in Washington. (Green 2/28/2004) (Feith has always been a hardline advocate for Israel; his father, Dalck Feith, was a hardline Republican who, in his youth, was active in the militant Zionist youth movement Betar, the predecessor of Israel’s Likud Party. Both Feith and his father will be honored by the hard-right, Likud-aligned Zionist Organization of America.) (Lobe 11/7/2003) In 1992, Feith will write of his belief that the US and Israel should freely share technology; author Stephen Green will write regarding Feith’s leak of classified information to Israel that “what [Feith] had neglected to say… was that he thought that individuals could decide on their own whether the sharing of classified information was ‘technical cooperation,’ an unauthorized disclosure, or a violation of US Code 794c, the ‘Espionage Act.’” Feith is almost immediately rehired by fellow neoconservative Richard Perle to serve as Perle’s “special counsel” (see Mid-1982); Feith will work for Perle until 1986, when he forms what Green will call “a small but influential law firm… based in Israel.” (Green 2/28/2004)
John Brinkeroff, deputy for national preparedness programs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), outlines plans for implementing martial law in the event of a national emergency. In a memorandum later obtained by the Miami Herald, Brinkeroff describes how FEMA and the military would take over the country in the event of a crisis. According to the Herald, the plans include “suspension of the Constitution, turning control of the United States over to FEMA, appointment of military commanders to run state and local governments, and declaration of martial law during a national crisis.” Although the term “national crisis” is not defined, the Herald will later report that it is understood to mean anything from nuclear war to “violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition against a military invasion abroad.” A source will tell the Herald the contingency plan is authorized by an “executive order or legislative package that [President] Reagan would sign and hold within the NSC [National Security Council] until a severe crisis arose.” This may refer to emergency legislation drafted by the Reagan administration to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act (see September 25, 1984) and proposed updates to Executive Order 11490 (see August 2, 1984). The Brinkeroff memo resembles a paper written in 1970 by the current head of FEMA, Louis O. Giuffrida, in which he advocated the roundup and transfer of at least 21 million “American Negroes” to “assembly centers or relocation camps” in the event of an emergency (see 1970). (Chardy 7/5/1987)
Secretary of Commerce Howard Baldridge and Secretary of State George Shultz successfully lobby the National Security Council (NSC) adviser to approve the sale of 10 Bell helicopters to Iraq in spite of objections from other NSC members. It is claimed that the helicopters will be used for crop spraying. These same helicopters are later used in 1988 to deploy poison gas against Iranians and possibly Iraqi Kurds (see March 1988). (Auerbach 3/11/1991; Phythian 1997, pp. 37-38)
Vice President George Bush hosts a secret meeting with his foreign policy adviser, Donald Gregg (see 1982), and former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez. The meeting is the first impetus of the National Security Council (NSC)‘s initiative to secretly, and illegally, fund the Nicaraguan Contras in an attempt to overthrow that country’s socialist government. Rodriguez agrees to run a central supply depot at Ilopango Air Base in El Salvador. In a memo to NSC chief Robert McFarlane, Gregg will note that the plan is rooted in the experience of running “anti-Vietcong operations in Vietnam from 1970-1972.” Gregg will also note that “Felix Rodriguez, who wrote the attached plan, both worked for me in Vietnam and carried out the actual operations outlined above.” (Spartacus Schoolnet 12/28/2007) Rodriguez and Gregg, along with others such as Watergate burglar Frank Sturgis (see April-June 1972), were part of the CIA’s “Operation 40,” an assassination squad that operated in Cuba and the Caribbean during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Rodriguez tried at least once, in 1961, to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. In 1967, Rodriguez interrogated and executed South American revolutionary Che Guevara. He was part of the infamous and shadowy Operation Phoenix during the Vietnam War. (Spartacus Schoolnet 1/17/2008)
Though President Reagan has long vowed to reduce the number of nuclear weapons between the US and Soviet Union (see April 1981 and After and March-April 1982), because of a variety of factors—his recalcitrant anti-communism (see May 27, 1981, June 8, 1982, and March 8, 1983), his belief that escalating the arms race between the two countries would force the Soviets to give up their attempt to stay abreast of the Americans (see Early 1981 and After, Early 1981 and After, and Spring 1982), and his aides’ success at sabotaging the US-Soviet arms negotiations (see January 1981 and After, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and April 1983-December 1983)—recent events (see November 2-11, 1983 and November 20, 1983) have convinced him that he must fundamentally change the way he approaches the US’s dealings with the Soviets. He tells reporters that he will no longer refer to the USSR as “the focus of evil.” He drops what is known as “the standard threat speech” and begins speaking more frequently and openly of nuclear disarmament, to the dismay of many of his hardline advisers. In one speech, he says: “The fact that neither of us likes the other system is no reason to refuse to talk. Living in this nuclear age makes it imperative that we do talk.” Speechwriter Jack Matlock, a pragmatist recently put in charge of the National Security Council’s Soviet affairs desk, wins Reagan’s approval to insert a quote from a speech by President Kennedy: “So let us not be blind to our differences, but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved.” He stops using terms like “conflict” in favor of terms such as “misunderstandings.” The rhetoric of “good vs evil,” of “us vs them,” is set aside in favor of discussions of mutual interests and problem solving. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 138-139)
President Reagan’s new tone of reconciliation with the Soviet Union (see December 1983 and After) wins a positive response from Soviet Premier Konstantin Chernenko, a pragmatist who has just replaced the far more ideologically hardline Yuri Andropov. Chernonko writes that he sees an “opportunity to put our relations on a more positive track.” The National Security Council and State Department both begin moving to renew serious dialogue with the Soviets. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 139)
Duane Clarridge, a CIA officer who has cultivated contacts with Nicaraguan rebels, introduces National Security Council staffer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North to the leaders of the Nicaraguan “Contras,” currently operating out of Honduras. The Contras are dedicated to the overthrow of the Socialist, democratically elected Sandinista government. Because the US government views the Sandinistas as aligned with the Communist government of Cuba, it too opposes the Sandinistas, and views the Contras as a band of “freedom fighters” worthy of support. Clarridge tells the Contra leaders that if Congress cuts off aid to the Contras in light of recent revelations that the CIA mined Nicaraguan harbors, North will continue working with them on a covert basis. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
In a letter to National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Attorney General William French Smith strongly objects to martial law plans developed by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Smith learns the full extent of the plans upon reviewing a proposal by the Reagan administration to change Executive Order 11490 (see October 28, 1969). The Reagan administration is holding the drafted changes, along with standby legislation to amend the 1950 Defense Resources Act (see September 25, 1984), in preparation for any emergency that may require a military-style takeover of the nation’s resources and population. The plans cover a range of crisis situations, including a nuclear attack, natural disasters, and civil unrest. Smith writes: “I believe that the draft executive order raises serious substantive and public policy issues that should be further addressed before this proposal is submitted to the president. In short I believe that the role assigned to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the revised executive order exceeds its proper function as a coordinating agency for emergency preparedness.” Smith continues: “This department and others have repeatedly raised serious policy and legal objections to the creation of an ‘emergency czar’ role for FEMA. Specific policy concerns regarding recent FEMA initiatives include the abandonment of the principle of ‘several’ agency responsibility and the expansion of the definition of severe emergencies to encompass ‘routine’ domestic law enforcement emergencies. Legal objections relate to the absence of presidential or Congressional authorization for unilateral FEMA directives which seek to establish new federal government management structures or otherwise task cabinet departments and other federal agencies.” Despite the objections of the Justice Department, FEMA and the Reagan administration will not abandon the emergency doctrine. Before leaving office, Reagan will dramatically expand the government’s emergency powers and officially override Executive Order 11490 with Executive Order 12656 (see November 18, 1988). (Chardy 7/5/1987; Reynolds 1990)
Congress passes the second Boland Amendment, which outlaws the use of “third-party nations” to support the Contras. The bill also bars the use of funds by the CIA, the Defense Department, or any intelligence agency for “supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group, organization or individual.” (PBS 2000) The amendment is largely in response to the efforts of the Reagan administration to get around the restrictions of the first amendment (see December 1982), and the CIA’s mining of three Nicaraguan harbors. This amendment is far more restrictive than the first, saying flatly, “During fiscal year 1985, no funds available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, or any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose or which would have the effect of supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group, organization, movement, or individual.” (New York Times 7/10/1987; House Intelligence Committee 2005; Savage 2007, pp. 53) “There are no exceptions to the prohibition,” says Edward Boland (D-MA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the primary sponsor of the amemdment. Contra supporters in Congress denounce the bill, with Dick Cheney (R-WY) calling it a “killer amendment” that will force the Contras “to lay down their arms.” After President Reagan signs it into law, Cheney launches a lengthy, determined effort to persuade his colleagues to rescind the amendment. Inside the White House, particularly in the National Security Council, a number of Reagan officials, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter and his aide Colonel Oliver North, begin conspiring to circumvent the amendment with a complex scheme involving selling arms to Iran at inflated prices in exchange for American hostages held by Lebanese militants, and using the profits to fund the Contras. (Savage 2007, pp. 53)
Neoconservative academic Michael Ledeen, who left the Defense Department under suspicion of engaging in espionage on behalf of Israel (see 1983), gains a position at the National Security Council. His boss is Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North (see July 7-10, 1987 and May-June, 1989). According to Iran-Contra investigators, it is Ledeen who suggests to North “that Israeli contacts might be useful in obtaining release of the US hostages in Lebanon” (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). Ledeen is granted high-level security clearance. (Green 2/28/2004)
Donald Gregg, Vice President Bush’s national security and foreign policy adviser and one of the architects of the secret plan to fund the Nicaraguan Contras (see March 17, 1983), introduces his partner Felix Rodriguez to Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council (NSC). North will head the NSC’s Contra resupply and funding operations. (Spartacus Schoolnet 12/28/2007)
NSC Middle East analyst Donald Fortier writes to his boss, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, of his concerns that NSC consultant Michael Ledeen (see Late 1984) might be a risk for passing classified information to Israel (see 1983). According to Fortier, NSC staffers agree that Ledeen’s role in the secret hostage negotiations with Iran should be limited to ferrying messages to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres regarding Israel’s role in the negotiations, and Ledeen should specifically not be entrusted to ask Peres for detailed operational information. (Green 2/28/2004)
Michael Ledeen, a neoconservative author who consults for the National Security Council (see Late 1984), meets informally with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Ledeen tells Peres that the Reagan administration will quietly support Israeli arms shipments to Iran. (New York Times 11/19/1987)
Tensions between the pro-Iran and pro-Iraq factions in the White House (see January 14, 1984) come to a head after Robert McFarlane’s National Security Council staff drafts a presidential directive advocating that the US help Iran obtain weapons. The opposing faction, led by Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, protest angrily, with Weinberger calling the proposal “almost too absurd to comment on….” But the arms-for-hostage deal will go forward over Shultz’s and Weinberger’s objections (see July 3, 1985). (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
National Security Council officials, led by NSC Director Robert McFarlane, Deputy Director John Poindexter, and senior NSC official Oliver North, develop a two-part strategy to topple the regime of Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. The plan is dubbed “Operation Flower,” with its two components called “Operation Tulip” and “Operation Rose,” respectively. Operation Tulip would be a covert CIA strategy using Libyan exiles to move into Tripoli and overthrow al-Qadhafi in a coup d’etat. Operation Rose proposes a joint US-Egyptian military campaign against the Libyan government. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger considers the entire idea “ludicrous,” as do his deputy Richard Armitage and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, CIA Director William Casey orders his deputy, Robert Gates, to study the idea. When the CIA produces Gates’s report favoring the idea, the Pentagon develops a military plan deliberately designed to scuttle the idea. The proposed US-Egyptian deployment, the Pentagon strategy says, would require six divisions and 90,000 US troops. Gates says the strategy looks “a lot like the [World War II] invasion of Normandy.” He registers his opposition to such a huge operation, warning that many American citizens as well as US allies would oppose any such overt military campaign. State Department officials concur with Gates’s analysis, and the US ambassador to Egypt, Nick Veliotes, says he believes Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would want nothing to do with the idea, in part because Mubarak has little confidence in the US military’s willingness to fight for an extended period of time, and so it would leave Egyptian forces to fight alone. Although Poindexter and other NSC officials continue to push the plan, even proposing it to an unimpressed Mubarak, no one else in the Reagan administration supports it, and it is never implemented. (Wills 2003, pp. 172-175; Zenko 10/22/2010)
Neoconservative author and likely Israeli spy Michael Ledeen (see April 9, 1985), a consultant for the National Security Council (see Late 1984), has his security clearance downgraded by the Department of Defense. Ledeen formerly held “Top Secret-SCI” clearance; he now holds only “Secret” clearance. (Green 2/28/2004)
Newly ensconsced Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see April 19, 1985 and After) meets with Secretary of State George Shultz, Shultz’s executive assistant Charles Hill, and Shultz’s executive secretary Nicholas Platt. In this meeting, Abrams learns that National Security Council official Oliver North is conducting covert actions to support the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). According to Abrams’s notes from the meeting, Shultz tasks him to “monitor Ollie.” Abrams will later testify to the Iran-Contra investigative committee (see May 5, 1987) about this meeting, saying that he asks, “All these accusations about Colonel North, you want me to try to find out whether they are true and what he is up to, or do you want me to sort of leave?” Shultz replies, “No, you have got to know.” During the meeting, Abrams notes that Shultz does not want White House officials to know too much about North’s activities in funding the Contras. Abrams notes that Shultz says to him: “We don’t want to be in the dark. You [are] suppose[d] to be mgr [manager] of overall CA [Central America] picture. Contras are integral part of it. So y[ou] need to know how they [are] getting arms. So don’t just say go see the WH [White House]. It’s very risky for WH.” Platt, too, takes notes of the meeting. According to his notes, Shultz says: “What is happening on other support for Contras for lethal aid etc.—E. Abrams doesn’t have the answer. Stayed away let Ollie North do it. Fundraising continuing—weapons stocks are high. We have had nothing to do with private aid. Should we continue? Hate to be in position, [Shultz] says, of not knowing what’s going on. You are supposed to be managing overall Central American picture. Ollie can go on doing his thing, but you, [Abrams], should know what’s happening.” The notes from Abrams and Platt, and Abrams’s own testimony all confirm that Abrams is aware of North’s activities by September 1985, though he will subsequently lie to Congress about possessing such knowledge (see November 25-28, 1986). Abrams will later testifz that he has a very good idea about North’s activities from working with North in an interagency group (see Late 1985 and After). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
The National Security Council’s Oliver North persuades former CIA officer Felix Rodriguez to help him divert funds and weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). Rodriguez agrees to set up the servicing of CIA transport planes and other aircraft at the Ilopango Air Base in San Salvador, El Salvador. Rodriguez works out of Ilopango, helping the Salvadoran Air Force in its own counter-insurgency activities. Rodriguez was placed at Ilopango by Donald Gregg, a former CIA agent who now serves as the foreign policy adviser to Vice President Bush (see March 17, 1983). While in El Salvador, Rodriguez uses the alias “Max Gomez.” (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a mid-level National Security Council staff member, is put in charge of the upcoming shipment of US Hawk anti-aircraft missiles to Iran (see November 24-25, 1985). (PBS 2000)
Richard Perle successfully completes negotiations on the new Defense and Economic Cooperation Agreement with Turkey, making the country the third-largest recipient of US military aid after Israel and Egypt. He also proposes the establishment of a “high-level US-Turkish consultative group co-chaired by the Pentagon and the Turkish general staff.” These developments cause “consternation” in the State Department. But after an “intense struggle,” is able to push the programs through with the support of ambassador Robert Strausz-Hupe and members of the National Security Council. (Perle 9/1999; Vest 8/23/2002) Perle himself is the American co-chair of the high-level defense group. (Hilzenrath 7/24/2004) On one of Perle’s trips to Turkey he is accompanied by future counterterrorism director Richard Clarke. Clarke had been assigned by the State Department to be keep an eye on Perle’s activities, but finds that he is “charmed by his manner and persuaded by his logic about the strategic importance of Turkey.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 49)
Defense Department official Noel Koch arranges to discuss a matter of potential espionage with the FBI. Koch is worried that his former aide, neoconservative Michael Ledeen, has access to highly classified information in his role as a National Security Council consultant (see Late 1984 and May 3, 1985). Koch feels that Ledeen had possibly given classified information to Israel during his tenure at the Defense Department (see 1983). Koch is debriefed for two hours by FBI investigators, who tell him that they are only worried about possible Soviet espionage. Koch wonders at this, considering that Naval intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard had been arrested just months before and charged with espionage on behalf of Israel. A frustrated Koch writes up his knowledge of Ledeen’s actions at the Defense Department and sends the report to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Nothing concrete comes from Koch’s attempts to alert the FBI and Congress to potential espionage by Ledeen. (Green 2/28/2004)
Months before the National Security Council (NSC)‘s Oliver North sets up his network to illegally divert funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), the NSC uses the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI—see July 22, 1991) to channel money to the Contras. This money is sent from White House-controlled funds to Saudi Arabia to “launder” its origins, then deposited into a BCCI bank account controlled by Contra leader Adolfo Calero. (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991)
National Security Council officer Oliver North, running the secret and illegal network that diverts funds from US-Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), has a phone conversation with CIA official Alan Fiers (see Summer 1986). A diary entry by North documenting the conversation reads in part, “Felix talking too much about V.P. connection.” “Felix” is CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, a key member of North’s network (see May 27, 1987). It is not clear whether the “V.P.” notation refers to Vice President George H. W. Bush or to former CIA official Donald Gregg, now Bush’s foreign policy adviser and a liaison to Rodriguez. In later testimony before the Iran-Contra Congressional committee (see May 5, 1987), Gregg will deny that Bush’s office was involved in recruiting Rodriguez to work with North. (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991) Gregg has a long and clandestine relationship with Rodriguez, going back as far as 1959, when the two were involved in “Operation 40,” a CIA-led attempt to overthrow Cuba’s Fidel Castro. (Spartacus Schoolnet 2/3/2008) Gregg also worked with Rodriguez in covert operations during the Vietnam War. (Spartacus Schoolnet 12/28/2007)
National Security Council official Oliver North tells National Security Adviser John Poindexter that his consultant, neoconservative Michael Ledeen, is no longer trustworthy. Ledeen has long been suspected of operating as a spy for Israel (see April 9, 1985 and August 20, 1985). North tells Poindexter that “for [the] security of the Iran initiative,” Ledeen should be asked to take periodic polygraph examinations. (Green 2/28/2004)
During a morning intelligence briefing, President Ronald Reagan signs the authorization for the US to allow Israel to sell Iran 4,000 US-made antitank missiles (see January 7, 1986). As they have consistently done before, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz register their opposition to the arms deals with Iran. National Security Adviser John Poindexter notes in a February 1986 e-mail that Vice President George Bush supports the arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, writing that the “President and VP are solid in taking the position that we have to try.” The reasons the various administration officials have for agreeing to sell arms to Iran are complex. Reagan is motivated by his belief that supporting Iran thwarts Soviet plans for Middle East domination (see May 1985), and by his own personal sorrow over the plight of the hostages. Others have more overtly political motives primarily fueled by the upcoming midterm elections. If, as in 1980, the American hostages currently held by Islamist radicals can be freed before the elections, the Republicans would likely reap the political benefits. Iranian-born arms merchant Albert Hakim, who is involved in the arms deals, will later tell Congress’s Iran-Contra committee, “We had to meet a deadline in releasing hostages, because the elections were coming up.” Even National Security Council aide Oliver North, one of the chief facilitators of the deals with Iran, will admit to the committee, “There are political concerns.” The US insists that before it deliver any of the antitank missiles, all of the hostages must be released. Iran refuses, and a deadlock ensues that will last for months. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
National Security Council official Oliver North writes to National Security Adviser John Poindexter that his aide, consultant Michael Ledeen, may be illegally profiting from the sale of arms to Iran through Israel (see June 23-25, 1987). (Green 2/28/2004)
A delegation secretly sent to Iran by the White House to break the arms-for-hostages deadlock (see November 3, 1986) returns to Iran. The two countries have been at an impasse since January, when President Reagan authorized the sale of 4,000 antitank missiles to Iran but US officials insisted that all of the American hostages held by Hezbollah be freed before the missiles would be delivered, a condition the Iranians have refused (see January 17, 1986). The US delegation—actually the third such delegation to secretly visit Tehran—includes former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane; McFarlane’s longtime supporter and current National Security Council member Oliver North; CIA expert George Cave; and North’s NSC colleague, Howard Teicher. Israel, which will facilitate the arms transfer, sends Amiram Nir, a counterterrorism adviser to Prime Minister Shimon Peres. (Church 11/17/1986; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992) McFarlane and North bring with them more spare parts for Iran’s Hawk anti-aircraft missiles. They attempt, and fail, to persuade the Iranians to facilitate the release of all American hostages. (New York Times 11/19/1987) The delegation’s mission has borne no fruit, as the Iranians insisted on “sequencing,” or releasing the hostages two at a time as arms shipments were delivered. Part of the problem surrounds the Iranians’ belief that they are being charged outrageous prices for the missiles, a perception given credence by the fact that profits from the weapons sales are being used to fund Nicaragua’s Contra rebel movement. (Church 11/17/1986; Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
Unusual Negotiation Tactics - Part of the negotiations involves North, the NSC staffer who coordinates the administration’s dealings with the Contras, offering the Iranians a Bible signed by President Reagan and a chocolate cake. In response, the Iranians stall. Hezbollah will release a few US hostages and take others hostage, maintaining the status quo. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 65)
Explicit Briefing of President, Vice President - McFarlane later briefs both Reagan and Vice President Bush on the arms-for-hostage negotiations (see May 29, 1986).
Former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane briefs President Reagan and Vice President Bush on the recent trip to Iran to trade arms for hostages (see Late May, 1986). According to National Security Council member Howard Teicher, who was part of the delegation to Iran, McFarlane “explicitly described the differences they had with the Iranian officials, explaining that it was an arms-for-hostages deal. He said that the Iranians were jerking us around and would continue to. Bush didn’t say anything, but, after McFarlane said the initiative should temporarily be shut down, Reagan agreed not to proceed any longer.” For the moment, the arms-for-hostages deal is stalled. (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North has become far more outspoken among government officials about his illegal funding of the Nicaraguan Contras (see May 16, 1986). During a meeting of his Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After), CIA official Alan Fiers, a member of the group, is discomfited at North’s straightforward listing of the many activities that he is causing to be conducted on behalf of the Contras, everything from supplying aircraft to paying salaries. Fiers is even less sanguine about North’s frank revelations about using illegally solicited private funding for the Contras (see May 16, 1986). North goes down the list, asking if each activity should be continued or terminated, and, according to Fiers, making it very clear that he can cause his Contra support program (which he now calls PRODEM, or “Project Democracy”) to respond as he directs. North also begins arranging, through Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, for $2 million in stopgap funding for the project. North will confirm the $2 million in an e-mail to NSC Director John Poindexter. North will conduct similar meetings in August and September 1986, at least one of which will include Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Armitage (see July 22, 1987) and other Defense Department officials (see November 13, 1990). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) It is not until Fiers testifies in 1991 about North’s behaviors that verification of North’s discussion of such specifics about Contra activities and funding will be made public (see July 17, 1991).
CIA Director William Casey introduces a plan to break the stalled arms-for-hostages deal with Iran that has been moribund for over a month (see Late May, 1986). Like his boss President Ronald Reagan, Casey has a powerful Cold War mentality and a love of covert operations; like Reagan, Casey believes that building relations with Iran is a way to counter Soviet expansionism. Casey’s plan appears on the agenda of a meeting of the Contingency Pre-Planning Group (CPPG), an inter-agency committee consisting of mid-level representatives of the National Security Council, the Departments of State and Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the CIA. The meeting focuses on Iraq’s failures in its long, dismal war against Iran. Casey believes that if Iraq escalates its air attacks on Iran, Iran will need more and more arms from the US, and that will force it to conclude the stalled arms-for-hostages deal on favorable terms. And Casey, ever the espionage aficionado, is playing the two opposing factions—one pro-Iran, one pro-Iraq—within the administration (see January 14, 1984) against one another, according to two CIA aides who work closely with him. Those aides, who speak to reporters in 1992 after leaving the agency, will say he even keeps some White House officials ignorant of the “double nature of his plan.” In furthering his own murky strategies, Casey is also enlisting the support of State and Defense Department officials who fear an imminent Iranian victory. Casey believes that the war will continue as a stalemate for several years, but he deliberately slants his intelligence assessments to paint a graver picture of Iraq’s imminent defeat (Iraq’s fortunes in the war are grim enough to require little embellishment).
CPPG Unable To Find Solutions for Iraq - The CPPG is tasked with shoring up the US’s commercial and financial relationships with Iraq, a chore for which the group cannot find an immediate solution. The CPPG has also considered using Jordan as a conduit for arms to Iraq, similar to the way Israel has served as a conduit for US arms to Iran (see 1981), but the group rejects that idea because, according to a memo from the meeting, “any such transfer has to be notified to the Congress and thus made public.”
Iraq's Antiquated War Strategies - The group finally discusses a matter that plays into Casey’s plan, Iraq’s failure to fight the war in a modern fashion. Iraq uses its powerful air force extremely poorly, at times seemingly afraid to commit planes on missions that might put a single aircraft at risk. Former ambassador Richard Murphy will say of Iraq, “The Iraqis were fighting the way Germans might have in the First World War. They were good at holding a defense line, which is useful in holding back the human waves of Iranians. But when it came to their air force they were inept. On bombing missions, in particular, the Iraqis were so afraid to lose planes that they often didn’t undertake missions, and when they did they did only things that were safe.” Reagan has already issued secret authorizations for Saudi Arabia to transfer US-origin bombs to Iraq, to induce it to use its air force more effectively (see February 1986), to little avail. Now the CPPG says that Vice President George Bush might help out; Bush is making a trip to the Middle East as Reagan’s “peace envoy” (see July 23, 1986). The CPPG decides that Bush might suggest to Jordan’s King Hussein and Egypt’s President Mubarak that the two “sustain their efforts to convey our shared views to Saddam regarding Iraq’s use of its air resources.” The CPPG is not sanguine about the likelihood of Bush’s success, considering the distrust Saddam Hussein maintains for the US. The CPPG recommends that the White House send “a senior US emissary” to confer directly with Hussein; the CPPG is apparently unaware that Casey has already spoken privately with Bush and asked him to meet in secret with Hussein (see July 23, 1986). (Waas and Unger 11/2/1992)
Former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, the liaison between the Nicaraguan Contras and the National Security Council (see Mid-September 1985), comes to Washington to argue that retired General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985 and February 2, 1987) is providing shoddy airplanes and goods to the Contras at exorbitant prices. Rodriguez meets with his patron, Donald Gregg, the foreign affairs adviser to Vice President Bush (see March 17, 1983 and October 10, 1986). Gregg then meets with other administration officials to discuss Rodriguez’s concerns. Officials discuss Rodriguez’s claim that his “working w/VP [Bush] [is a] blessing for CIA,” indicating that despite later denials (see December 1986 and August 6, 1987), Bush is well aware of Rodriguez’s activities on behalf of the Contras and may be facilitating them. According to Gregg’s notes, he is particularly concerned that Rodriguez is “go[ing] around to bars saying he is buddy of Bush… we want to get rid of him from his [involvement] w[ith] private ops. Nothing was done so he still is there shooting his mouth off.” (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
A meeting of Oliver North’s Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After) takes place in the office of Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Armitage. As in previous RIG meetings, North details the specific activities of the Contras, and asks for approval for each activity (see July 1986 and After). But in this meeting, North makes an extraordinary proposal. Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega has offered to conduct sabotage inside Nicaragua on behalf of the Contras for $1 million in cash. According to later testimony from RIG member Alan Fiers, a senior CIA official (see July 17, 1991), it is clear that the $1 million will not come from duly appropriated US funds, but from North’s so-called “Project Democracy,” which collects private funds from US citizens and other governments to fund the Contras. The sabotage would be conducted by mercenaries. Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams meets with two aides to Secretary of State George Shultz, M. Charles Hill and Nicholas Platt, to discuss the Noriega proposal. Hill’s notes of the meeting read in part: “Noriega offers to do some sabotage (electric pylons) that we training contras to do but which they can’t do for 18 mos. Wd [would] get us on the map fast—by Oct. . Do it via mercenaries who may not know who employers are. Brits. Wd do it for cash (not from USG [US government]). Wants our go-ahead. Ollie will meet him w/approval of Pdx. [John Poindexter, the head of the National Security Council].” Ultimately, the idea is rejected. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams is interviewed by conservative columnist Robert Novak and Novak’s partner, Rowland Evans. Novak, who is openly sympathetic to the Nicaraguan Contras, asks Abrams about his knowledge of the connections between the US government and the Contras as revealed by the downing of a CIA transport plane over Nicaragua (see October 5, 1986). Abrams, who provides false testimony to Congress today and in the following days, tells a similar story to Novak. Abrams goes further with Novak than he does with Congress, denying that any such person as “Max Gomez,” the CIA liaison to the Contras, even exists (Gomez is actually former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez—see October 10-15, 1986). “Whoever that gentleman is, he certainly isn’t named Max Gomez,” Abrams notes. Abrams also denies that “Gomez” has any connection to Vice President Bush (see October 11-14, 1986). Abrams adds that whoever this “Gomez” is, “he is not on the US government payroll in any way.” Novak asks if Rodriguez has any connection to the National Security Council or any other government agency, and Abrams says: “I am not playing games.… No government agencies, none.” In June 1987, Abrams will admit that he lied to Novak. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North, the prime coordinator of the illegal funding of the Nicaraguan Contras in the Reagan administration, leads a coordinated effort to alter, remove, and destroy critical documents that could prove criminal intent in the burgeoning Iran-Contra investigation (see November 21-25, 1986). The enormity of the destruction of government records earns the incident the sobriquet “Ollie’s shredding party.” A key figure in the document shredding is North’s secretary, Fawn Hall. Hall, whose mother Wilma was the secretary for North’s former NSC boss, Robert McFarlane, will reluctantly become one of the first, and most damning, witnesses for Lawrence Walsh’s independent investigation of the Iran-Contra affair (see December 19, 1986). Hall has been, in the words of Walsh’s prosecutors, “generally aware” of North’s involvement in both providing illegal funds to the Contras and in illegally selling arms to Iran, maintaining his records and typing his memoranda and letters. Though she knows of the illegal activities, because she did not participate in meetings or telephone conversations with other key figures in the affair, she will later be able to testify, “I did not know many of the details relevant to the Iran and Contra initiatives.” Hall’s participation in North’s “shredding party” is her first direct participation in any criminal activities surrounding the Iran-Contra affair. After North learns that the Department of Justice is opening an inquiry into the sale of arms to Iran, North secures a number of documents from NSC files showing that he had violated the Boland Amendment (see October 10, 1984) by aiding the Contras. North marks the documents with handwritten revisions, changing the text to make it seem as if North had not violated the law. He then gives the documents to Hall, asking her to retype them to include his corrections and then replace them in the files. Hall does so, but does not finish the alterations before North calls her in to help him shred documents, including notes and phone records. Hall later estimates that she and North shredded documents in piles of 12-18 pages for close to an hour, shredding in all a stack of documents almost two feet high. The shredding and alterations continue through November 23. She will later testify that she had never shredded such a large quantity of documents. (Reeves 2005, pp. 367; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/13/2007)
Attorney General Edwin Meese announces the results of his internal “investigation” of US arms sales to Iran (see November 21-25, 1986). In the conference, Meese announces that President Reagan did not learn of the US shipments of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles (see 1985, November 24-25, 1985, and August 4, 1986) until February 1986. Investigators for Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh will later conclude that Meese lied; not only did Meese never ask Reagan about his knowledge of the Hawk shipments, he ignored evidence and testimony that proved Reagan did indeed know of the shipments, such as a statement from Secretary of State George Shultz that Reagan had told him that he had known of the Hawk shipments in advance. But Meese will also, reluctantly, admit that the US had illegally diverted between $10 million and $30 million in funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see April 4, 1986). National Security Adviser John Poindexter immediately resigns, and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North is fired from the National Security Council staff. (New York Times 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 8/4/1993; PBS 2000)
Two days after sneaking classified documents out of the National Security Council (see November 25, 1986), Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, downplays the significance of the “shredding party” she and North engaged in days before, when they had worked to destroy evidence of North’s criminal activities surrounding the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986). When asked by Jay Stephens of the White House counsel’s office about reports of her and North shredding documents in North’s office, Hall replies as she has been coached to respond by North’s lawyer, Thomas Green. Hall later testifies, “I told him that we shred every day, and I led him to believe that there was nothing unusual about what had occurred.” (United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/13/2007)
Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, learns that she is to be interviewed by the FBI over her knowledge of North’s illegal activities surrounding Iran-Contra (see November 21-25, 1986). She and two of North’s colleagues at the National Security Council (NSC), Lieutenant Colonel Robert Earl and Commander Craig Coy, discuss the upcoming interview. The three agree that they will not tell the FBI about Hall’s illegal removal of classified documents from NSC offices (see November 25, 1986). (United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/13/2007)
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says that before the Iran-Contra revelations of October 1986 (see October 5, 1986, October 10-15, 1986, and October 11-14, 1986) he had never even heard of CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, the liaison between the Nicaraguan Contras and the National Security Council (see Mid-September 1985). As he has done so many times before, Abrams is lying. When he took his position in July 1985 (see April 19, 1985 and After), Rodriguez was already working out of the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador. Notes taken by the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, indicate that Abrams knew of Rodriguez by September 1985 at the latest (see September 4, 1985). During that month, Abrams and Corr discussed Rodriguez in at least one meeting. (Corr will later say he cannot recall any such meeting.) Rodriguez was also a frequent topic of discussion in meetings held in late 1985 by the Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After) chaired by Abrams. And Abrams was aware of concerns within the government about Rodriguez’s involvement in disbursing humanitarian funds allocated by the US Congress to the Contras (see October 1985). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
The Tower Commission issues its final report about the Iran-Contra affair. Among its conclusions, it finds that President Reagan’s top advisers were responsible for creating the “chaos” that led to the affair. It also finds that Reagan was largely out of touch and unaware of the operations conducted by his National Security Council (NSC) staff, and allowed himself to be misled by his closest advisers (see February 20, 1987). Reagan had failed to “insist upon accountability and performance review,” thus allowing the NSC process to collapse. (New York Times 11/19/1987; PBS 2000)
Fawn Hall, who was NSC official Oliver North’s secretary and who helped North destroy critical documents pertaining to the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986), admits lying to the FBI about the removal and destruction of documents. In January, Hall told FBI investigators that she had indeed secretly removed documents from the NSC offices by hiding them in her clothes (see November 25, 1986), but had only taken out computer printouts of North’s notes. Now she admits that she secretly removed some of the original documents that North had ordered her to alter to conceal his criminal activities. (United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/13/2007)
Testimony in the Iran-Contra investigations turns to the possibility that NSC aide Michael Ledeen may have profited from the US sales of arms to Iran through Israel (see January 24, 1986). Ledeen’s former supervisor at the Department of Defense, Noel Koch, who has long suspected Ledeen of spying for Israel (see 1983 and 1986), says that he first became suspicious of Ledeen when he learned that the price Ledeen had negotiated for the sale to the Israeli government of basic TOW missiles was $2,500 each. Koch found that no TOW missile had ever been sold to any foreign government for less than $6,800 per unit. Under orders from his superiors in the department, Koch renegotiated the deal with an Israeli official, eventually raising the price to $4,500 per missile, almost twice what Ledeen had “negotiated” in Israel. Author Stephen Green, who will write two books on US-Israeli relations, will comment, “There are two possibilities here—one would be a kickback, as suspected by his NSC colleagues, and the other would be that Michael Ledeen was effectively negotiating for Israel, not the US.” (Green 2/28/2004)
President Ronald Reagan signs Executive Order 12656, assigning a wide range of emergency responsibilities to a number of executive departments. The order calls for establishing emergency procedures that go far beyond the nation’s standard disaster relief plans. It offers a rare glimpse of the government’s plans for maintaining “continuity of government” in times of extreme national emergency. The order declares the national security of the country to be “dependent upon our ability to assure continuity of government, at every level, in any national security emergency situation,” which is defined as “any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological emergency, or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States.” The order instructs department leaders to establish various protocols for crisis situations, including rules for delegating authorities to emergency officials, establishing emergency operating facilities, protecting and allocating the nation’s essential resources, and managing terrorist attacks and civil disturbances. The plans are to be coordinated and managed by the National Security Council and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The presidential order suggests certain laws may have to be altered or expanded to carry out the plans. Although it encourages federal agencies to base the emergency protocols on “existing authorities, organizations, resources, and systems,” it also calls on government leaders to identify “areas where additional legal authorities may be needed to assist management and, consistent with applicable executive orders, take appropriate measures toward acquiring those authorities.” According to the executive order, the plans “will be designed and developed to provide maximum flexibility to the president.” Executive Order 12656 gives specific instructions to numerous federal departments:
The Department of Justice is ordered to coordinate emergency “domestic law enforcement activities” and plan for situations “beyond the capabilities of state and local agencies.” The Justice Department is to establish plans for responding to “civil disturbances” and “terrorism incidents” within the US that “may result in a national security emergency or that occur during such an emergency.” The attorney general is to establish emergency “plans and procedures for the custody and protection of prisoners and the use of Federal penal and correctional institutions and resources.” The Department of Justice is also instructed to develop “national security emergency plans for regulation of immigration, regulation of nationals of enemy countries, and plans to implement laws for the control of persons entering or leaving the United States.” The attorney general is additionally instructed to assist the “heads of federal departments and agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector in the development of plans to physically protect essential resources and facilities.”
The Department of Defense, acting through the Army, is to develop “overall plans for the management, control, and allocation of all usable waters from all sources within the jurisdiction of the United States.” The secretary of defense is to arrange, “through agreements with the heads of other federal departments and agencies, for the transfer of certain federal resources to the jurisdiction and/or operational control of the Department of Defense in national security emergencies.” The secretary of defense is also instructed to work with industry, government, and the private sector, to ensure “reliable capabilities for the rapid increase of defense production.”
The Department of Commerce is ordered to develop “control systems for priorities, allocation, production, and distribution of materials and other resources that will be available to support both national defense and essential civilian programs.” The secretary of commerce is instructed to cooperate with the secretary of defense to “perform industry analyses to assess capabilities of the commercial industrial base to support the national defense, and develop policy alternatives to improve the international competitiveness of specific domestic industries and their abilities to meet defense program needs.” The Commerce Department is also instructed to develop plans to “regulate and control exports and imports in national security emergencies.”
The Department of Agriculture is ordered to create plans to “provide for the continuation of agricultural production, food processing, storage, and distribution through the wholesale level in national security emergencies, and to provide for the domestic distribution of seed, feed, fertilizer, and farm equipment to agricultural producers.” The secretary of agriculture is also instructed to “assist the secretary of defense in formulating and carrying out plans for stockpiling strategic and critical agricultural materials.”
The Department of Labor is ordered to develop plans to “ensure effective use of civilian workforce resources during national security emergencies.” The Labor Department is to support “planning by the secretary of defense and the private sector for the provision of human resources to critical defense industries.” The Selective Service System is ordered to develop plans to “provide by induction, as authorized by law, personnel that would be required by the armed forces during national security emergencies.” The agency is also vaguely instructed to establish plans for “implementing an alternative service program.”
The Transportation Department is to create emergency plans to manage and control “civil transportation resources and systems, including privately owned automobiles, urban mass transit, intermodal transportation systems, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, and the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.” The Transportation Department is also to establish plans for a “smooth transition” of the Coast Guard to the Navy during a national security emergency. The Transportation Department is additionally instructed to establish plans for “emergency management and control of the National Airspace System, including provision of war risk insurance and for transfer of the Federal Aviation Administration, in the event of war, to the Department of Defense.”
The Department of the Treasury is ordered to develop plans to “maintain stable economic conditions and a market economy during national security emergencies.” The Treasury Department is to provide for the “preservation of, and facilitate emergency operations of, public and private financial institution systems, and provide for their restoration during or after national security emergencies.”
The Department of Energy is to identify “energy facilities essential to the mobilization, deployment, and sustainment of resources to support the national security and national welfare, and develop energy supply and demand strategies to ensure continued provision of minimum essential services in national security emergencies.”
The Department of Health and Human Services is instructed to develop programs to “reduce or eliminate adverse health and mental health effects produced by hazardous agents (biological, chemical, or radiological), and, in coordination with appropriate federal agencies, develop programs to minimize property and environmental damage associated with national security emergencies.” The health secretary is also to assist state and local governments in the “provision of emergency human services, including lodging, feeding, clothing, registration and inquiry, social services, family reunification, and mortuary services and interment.” (US President 11/18/1988)
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the former National Security Council member who had been a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal (see July 7-10, 1987), is tried for crimes related to the operation (see March 16, 1988). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 82)
Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson is in charge of the US Embassy in Baghdad after US Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie departed for her twice-delayed annual vacation to the US (see July 31, 1990). At 2:30 a.m., local time, Wilson is awakened by a phone call from Washington. The operator tells him, “Mr. Wilson, I have the White House on the line.” Wilson, assuming he is going to speak directly to the president, finds himself standing at attention, stark naked in the middle of his bedroom. Instead, the line goes dead. (Phone service in Iraq is unreliable at best, and the Iraqis often cut service to the embassy phones.) Wilson calls Sandra Charles, a National Security Council specialist on the Middle East, and Charles tells him that she is receiving reports that the US Embassy in Kuwait City, Kuwait, is being surrounded by hostile Iraqi troops (see August 2, 1990). At 7:30 a.m., Wilson, having gotten dressed, pounds on the door of Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz. The two have what Wilson will later recall as a forceful exchange, and Aziz agrees to restore phone service to the embassy. More pertinently, Wilson tells Aziz that the US is flatly opposed to any military moves against Kuwait. “It seems to me that with your army in Kuwait City and my navy in the Gulf we have an obligation to avoid any escalation of this crisis if we can,” Wilson tells Aziz. A member of the embassy staff later recalls being impressed with Wilson’s political dexterity. “I always knew Joe was bright,” the former staffer recalls, “but he really showed here he could be quick on his feet. That was a pretty smart way to handle the situation.” The meeting with Aziz is the first of many diplomatic efforts Wilson will make over the next few weeks to defuse the situation (see August 2-4, 1990) and protect the Americans in Iraq and Kuwait, whom Wilson fears will be taken hostage by Iraqi forces. (Ward 1/2004)
According to investigators working with Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh (see December 19, 1986), the Iran-Contra affair is closely linked to the burgeoning scandal surrounding the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI—see 1976, 1978-1982, 1981-1991, 1981-1983, 1984-1986, January 1985, December 12, 1985, February 1988-December 1992, March 1991-December 1992, and July 5, 1991.) Former government officials add that the CIA kept secret funds hidden in BCCI accounts, and used the monies to fund covert operations in Nicaragua and elsewhere. Investigators confirm that a US defense intelligence organization used BCCI to maintain a secret “slush fund” for financing covert operations. And, months before National Security Council (NSC) official Oliver North set up his network for diverting funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), the NSC used BCCI to divert funds to the Contras (see Early 1986). (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991)
In 1995, investigators raid two groups in Tampa, Florida, associated with Sami al-Arian, a university professor who some claim has been a supporter of terrorist groups. These raids alert investigators to a group of Muslim charities in Herndon, Virginia, known as the SAAR network (see July 29, 1983). An investigation into that network’s alleged terrorism financing begins. In 1998, National Security Council aides in the Clinton White House push the FBI to intensify the SAAR investigation. However, the FBI declines, claiming that an aggressive probe would be seen as ethnic profiling. The SAAR network will not be raided until early 2002 (see March 20, 2002). (Farah and Mintz 10/7/2002) Al-Arian will not be arrested until 2003, largely on the basis of activities from 1995 and before. He will eventually be sentenced to almost five years in prison and will admit to aiding the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (see December 6, 2005), which the US has officially designated as a terrorist group.
Enron’s $3 billion Dabhol, India power plant runs into trouble in 1995 when the Indian government temporarily cancels an agreement. The plant is projected to get its energy from the proposed Afghan pipeline and deliver it to the Indian government. Enron leader Ken Lay travels to India with Commerce Secretary Ron Brown the same year, and heavy lobbying by US officials continue in subsequent years. By summer 2001, the National Security Council leads a “Dabhol Working Group” with officials from various cabinet agencies to get the plant completed and functioning. US pressure on India intensifies until shortly before Enron files for bankruptcy in December 2001. US officials later claim their lobbying merely supported the $640 million of US government investment in the plant. But critics say the plant received unusually strong support under both the Clinton and Bush administrations. (Burger 1/18/2002; Milbank and Blustein 1/19/2002)
UN observers and others report that frequent flights entering Bosnia are supplying weapons to the Bosnian Muslims in violation of the UN arms embargo. The flights clearly have the support of the US. (Wiebes 2003, pp. 177- 198) A UN official who witnesses the flights is physically threatened by three American officers and warned to keep silent. (Wiebes 2003, pp. 192) Journalists are also pressured and threatened by the US embassy, which is later said to have been acting on instructions from the State Department. (Wiebes 2003, pp. 192) A subsequent investigation conducted with the support of the Netherlands government will conclude that the operation was conducted by a third party, probably Turkey, with “the assent of parts of the US government.” (Wiebes 2003, pp. 195-198) Tim Ripley, who covers the military conflicts in Yugoslavia for Jane’s Intelligence Review, blames the Tuzla flights and similar operations on “‘covert warriors’ of the NSC [National Security Council] and State Department.” (Ripley 1999, pp. 93) Prof. Cees Wiebes, who conducts the Netherlands investigation, agrees saying that “the State Department and National Security Council (NSC) were involved, but not the CIA or the DIA.” According to a confidential source, “the operation was… paid for from a Pentagon Special Operations budget, with the complete assent of the White House. Probably the most important members of Congress were informed in the deepest of secrecy, and they were therefore ‘in the loop’ concerning the events.” (Wiebes 2003, pp. 193) Ripley says that US NATO officers were not involved, but points out that NATO Commander Admiral Leighton Smith was careful to only deny “uniformed” US military involvement. Ripley suggests that American “freelance operatives” were brought in by “senior members of the Clinton Administration.” (Ripley 1999, pp. 62-63) According to Ripley, “Senior US military commanders and CIA officials were just staggered by the ‘duplicity’ and ‘deceit’ at the heart of the Clinton Administration’s policies.” (Ripley 1999, pp. 91)
President Clinton signs a classified presidential order “directing the Departments of Justice, State and Treasury, the National Security Council, the CIA, and other intelligence agencies to increase and integrate their efforts against international money laundering by terrorists and criminals.” The New York Times will later call this the first serious effort by the US government to track bin Laden’s businesses. However, according to the Times, “They failed.” William Wechsler, a National Security Council staff member during the Clinton administration, will say that the government agencies given the task suffered from “a lack of institutional knowledge, a lack of expertise… We could have been doing much more earlier. It didn’t happen.” (Weiner and Johnston 9/20/2001)
The CIA creates a report for the State Department detailing support for terrorism from prominent Islamic charities. The report, completed just as the Bosnian war is winding down, focuses on charity fronts that have helped the mujaheddin in Bosnia. It concludes that of more than 50 Islamic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in existence, “available information indicates that approximately one-third… support terrorist groups or employ individuals who are suspected of having terrorist connections.” The report notes that most of the offices of NGOs active in Bosnia are located in Zagreb, Sarajevo, Zenica, and Tuzla. There are coordination councils there organizing the work of the charity fronts. The report notes that some charities may be “backed by powerful interest groups,” including governments. “We continue to have evidence that even high ranking members of the collecting or monitoring agencies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Pakistan - such as the Saudi High Commission - are involved in illicit activities, including support for terrorists.” The Wall Street Journal will later comment, “Disclosure of the report may raise new questions about whether enough was done to cut off support for terrorism before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001… and about possible involvement in terrorism by Saudi Arabian officials.” (Central Intelligence Agency 1/1996; Simpson 5/9/2003) The below list of organizations paraphrases or quotes the report, except for informational asides in parentheses.
The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). “The IIRO is affiliated with the Muslim World League, a major international organization largely financed by the government of Saudi Arabia.” The IIRO has funded Hamas, Algerian radicals, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (a.k.a. the Islamic Group, an Egyptian radical militant group led by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman), Ramzi Yousef, and six militant training camps in Afghanistan. “The former head of the IIRO office in the Philippines, Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, has been linked to Manila-based plots to target the Pope and US airlines; his brother-in-law is Osama bin Laden.”
Al Haramain Islamic Foundation. It has connections to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and helps support the mujaheddin battalion in Zenica. Their offices have been connected to smuggling, drug running, and prostitution.
Human Concern International, headquartered in Canada. Its Swedish branch is said to be smuggling weapons to Bosnia. It is claimed “the entire Peshawar office is made up of [Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya] members.” The head of its Pakistan office (Ahmed Said Khadr) was arrested recently for a role in the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan (see November 19, 1995). (It will later be discovered that Khadr is a founder and major leader of al-Qaeda (see Summer 2001 and January 1996-September 10, 2001).)
Third World Relief Agency (TWRA). Headquartered in Sudan, it has ties to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya. “The regional director of the organization, Elfatih Hassanein, is the most influential [charity] official in Bosnia. He is a major arms supplier to the government, according to clandestine and press reporting, and was forced to relocate his office from Zagreb in 1994 after his weapons smuggling operations were exposed. According to a foreign government service, Hassanein supports US Muslim extremists in Bosnia.” One TWRA employee alleged to also be a member of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya carried out a suicide car bombing in Rijeka, Croatia (see October 20, 1995).
The Islamic African Relief Agency (IARA). Based in Sudan, it has offices in 30 countries. It is said to be controlled by Sudan’s ruling party and gives weapons to the Bosnian military in concert with the TWRA. (The US government will give the IARA $4 million in aid in 1998 (see February 19, 2000).)
Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) (the report refers to it by an alternate name, Lajnat al-Birr al-Islamiyya (LBI)). It supports mujaheddin in Bosnia. It mentions “one Zagreb employee, identified as Syrian-born US citizen Abu Mahmud,” as involved in a kidnapping in Pakistan (see July 4, 1995). (Central Intelligence Agency 1/1996) (This is a known alias (Abu Mahmoud al Suri) for Enaam Arnaout, the head of BIF’s US office.) (USA v. Enaam M. Arnaout 10/6/2003, pp. 37 ) This person “matches the description… of a man who was allegedly involved in the kidnapping of six Westerners in Kashmir in July 1995, and who left Pakistan in early October for Bosnia via the United States.”
Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), a.k.a. Al-Kifah. This group has ties to Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, and possibly Hezbollah. Both the former director of its Zagreb office [Kamer Eddine Kherbane] and his deputy [Hassan Hakim] were senior members of Algerian extremist groups. Its main office in Peshawar, Pakistan, funds at least nine training camps in Afghanistan. “The press has reported that some employees of MAK’s New York branch were involved in the World Trade Center bombing [in 1993].” (Indeed, the New York branch, known as the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, is closely linked to the WTC bombing and the CIA used it as a conduit to send money to Afghanistan (see January 24, 1994).
Muwafaq Foundation. Registered in Britain but based in Sudan, it has many offices in Bosnia. It has ties to Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and “helps fund the Egyptian Mujahedin Battalion in Bosnia” and “at least one training camp in Afghanistan” (see 1991-1995).
Qatar Charitable Society, based in Qatar. It has possible ties to Hamas and Algerian militants. A staff member in Qatar is known to be a Hamas operative who has been monitored discussing militant operations. (An al-Qaeda defector will later reveal that in 1993 he was told this was one of al-Qaeda’s three most important charity fronts (see 1993)).
Red Crescent (Iran branch). Linked to the Iranian government, it is “Often used by the Iranian [intelligence agency] as cover for intelligence officers, agents, and arms shipments.”
Saudi High Commission. “The official Saudi government organization for collecting and disbursing humanitarian aid.” Some members possibly have ties to Hamas and Algerian militants (see 1996 and After).
Other organizations mentioned are the Foundation for Human Rights, Liberties, and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) (a.k.a. the International Humanitarian Relief Organization), Kuwait Joint Relief Committee (KJRC), the Islamic World Committee, and Human Appeal International. (Central Intelligence Agency 1/1996)
After 9/11, former National Security Council official Daniel Benjamin will say that the NSC repeatedly questioned the CIA with inquiries about charity fronts. “We knew there was a big problem between [charities] and militants. The CIA report “suggests they were on the job, and, frankly, they were on the job.” (Simpson 5/9/2003) However, very little action is taken on the information before 9/11. None of the groups mentioned will be shut down or have their assets seized.
In 1993, the US put Sudan on its list of nations sponsoring terrorism, which automatically leads to economic sanctions. Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi espoused radical militant views, and allowed bin Laden to live in Sudan. But, as the 9/11 Commission later will note, “The Sudanese regime began to change. Though al-Turabi had been its inspirational leader, General Omar al-Bashir, president since 1989, had never been entirely under his thumb. Thus as outside pressures mounted, al-Bashir’s supporters began to displace those of al-Turabi.” In 1995, the US begins putting serious pressure on Sudan to deal with bin Laden, who is still living there. (Rose 9/30/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 61) On March 8, 1996, the US sends Sudan a memorandum listing the measures Sudan can take to get the sanctions revoked. The second of six points listed is, “Provide us with names, dates of arrival, departure and destination and passport data on mujaheddin that Osama Bin Laden has brought into Sudan.” (Weiner and Risen 9/21/1998; Gellman 10/3/2001) Sudanese intelligence had been monitoring bin Laden since he’d moved there in 1991, collecting a “vast intelligence database on Osama bin Laden and more than 200 leading members of his al-Qaeda terrorist network.” The files include information on their backgrounds, families, and contacts, plus photographs. There also is extensive information on bin Laden’s world-wide financial network. “One US source who has seen the files on bin Laden’s men in Khartoum said some were ‘an inch and a half thick.’” (Rose 9/30/2001) An Egyptian intelligence officer with extensive Sudanese intelligence contacts says, “They knew all about them: who they were, where they came from. They had copies of their passports, their tickets; they knew where they went. Of course that information could have helped enormously. It is the history of those people.” To the surprise of US officials making the demands, the Sudanese seem receptive to sharing the file. This leads to a battle within the US government between top FBI officials, who want to engage the Sudanese and get their files, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Susan Rice, her assistant secretary for Africa, who want to isolate them politically and economically. The National Security Council is also opposed. The US decides to increase its demands, and tells Sudan to turn over not just files on bin Laden, but bin Laden himself (see March-May 1996). Ultimately, the US will get Sudan to evict bin Laden in May 1996 (see May 18, 1996), but they will not press for the files and will not get them. (Gellman 10/3/2001; Rose 1/2002) An American involved in the secret negotiations later will says, “I’ve never seen a brick wall like that before. Somebody let this slip up.… We could have dismantled his operations and put a cage on top. It was not a matter of arresting bin Laden but of access to information. That’s the story, and that’s what could have prevented September 11. I knew it would come back to haunt us.” (Gould 10/31/2001) Vanity Fair magazine later will opine, “How could this have happened? The simple answer is that the Clinton administration had accused Sudan of sponsoring terrorism, and refused to believe that anything it did to prove its bona fides could be genuine.” (Rose 1/2002) The US will continue to refuse Sudan’s offers to take the files (see April 5, 1997; February 5, 1998; May 2000).
The National Security Council (NSC) completes a review of Iraq and terrorism. In an interview with journalist Robert Dreyfuss four years later, Daniel Benjamin, then-director of counterterrorism at the NSC, summarizes the report’s conclusions: “[W]e went through every piece of intelligence we could find to see if there was a link [between] al-Qaeda and Iraq. We came to the conclusion that our intelligence agencies had it right: There was no noteworthy relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq. I know that for a fact. No other issue has been as closely scrutinized as this one.” (Dreyfuss 12/16/2002)
Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, later will claim that in a one-year period starting in May 1998, the CIA gives the US government “about ten chances to capture bin Laden or kill him with military means. In all instances, the decision was made that the ‘intelligence was not good enough.’ This assertion cannot be debated publicly without compromising sources and methods. What can be said, however, is that in all these cases there was more concern expressed by senior bureaucrats and policymakers about how international opinion would react to a US action than there was concern about what might happen to Americans if they failed to act. Indeed, on one occasion these senior leaders decided it was more important to avoid hitting a structure near bin Laden’s location with shrapnel, than it was to protect Americans.” He will later list six of the attempts in a book:
May 1998: a plan to capture bin Laden at his compound south of Kandahar, canceled at the last minute (see 1997-May 29, 1998).
September 1998: a capture opportunity north of Kandahar, presumably by Afghan tribals working for the CIA (see September-October 1998).
December 1998: canceled US missile strike on the governor’s palace in Kandahar (see December 18-20, 1998).
February 1999: Military attack opportunity on governor’s residence in Herat (see February 1999).
February 1999: Multiple military attack opportunities at a hunting camp near Kandahar attended by United Arab Emirates royals (see February 11, 1999).
May 1999: Military attack opportunities on five consecutive nights in Kandahar (see May 1999).
Also in late August 1998, there is one failed attempt to kill bin Laden.(see August 20, 1998) (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004; Scheuer 2008, pp. 284)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later will strongly disagree with Scheuer’s assessment, claiming that the intelligence needed for such an attack on bin Laden was never very good. But he will also point out that the National Security Council and White House never killed any of the operations Scheuer wanted. It was always CIA Director George Tenet and other top CIA leaders who rejected the proposals. Scheuer will agree that it was always Tenet who turned down the operations. (Zeman et al. 11/2004)
The US tries to get direct access to al-Qaeda financial chief Tayyib al-Madani, who is being held by the Saudi government, but the Saudis will not allow it. Tayyib turned himself in to the Saudi government in May 1997 (see May 1997). In August 1998, shortly after the US embassy bombings in East Africa, Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, said that the US learned “a lot of intelligence” from the Saudi information about Tayyib regarding how Osama bin Laden “keeps his money, how he transfers it from one bank to another, what are the front companies [he uses].” (Katz 8/21/1998) However, FBI agent Ali Soufan will later say the Saudis never give any information from Tayyib to the FBI, although Soufan acknowledges there are claims that they later do give some information to the CIA. (Soufan 2011, pp. 50) The US presses the Saudi government for direct access to Tayyib to learn more, but the Saudis do not allow it. In September 1998, Vice President Al Gore raises the issue with Crown Prince Abdullah. In November 1998, a National Security Council working group on terrorist finances asks the CIA to push again to get access to Tayyib, and to see “if it is possible to elaborate further on the ties between Osama bin Laden and prominent individuals in Saudi Arabia, including especially the bin Laden family.” But the US does not gain direct access to Tayyib. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 14, 121; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 39 ; Risen 2006, pp. 181)
In 1999, State Department official Witney Schneidman is collecting information on the many civil wars and conflicts raging in Africa. He notices that the name of Victor Bout, a Russian arms dealer, keeps popping up in many conflicts. Sometimes Bout is even supplying both sides of a civil war. In early summer 1999, an NSA official gives Schneidman a “drop dead” briefing about Bout, based mostly on communications intercepts the NSA has on him. Photos show dozens of airplanes parked in an airport in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, all of them owned by Bout. Schneidman begins mobilizing other officials. By early 2000, he and National Security Council adviser Lee Wolosky create a team to apprehend Bout. While Bout remains little known to the general public, for many US officials he becomes the most wanted criminal in the world, aside from Osama bin Laden and his top aides. National Security Council official Gayle Smith will later comment, “You want to talk about transnational threats? We had [al-Qaeda’s bombing in] East Africa, global warming, and Victor Bout.” No other arms dealer has an operation anywhere near the size of Bout’s, and his links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda are a special concern (see 1998). But Bout is not doing any business in the US and is breaking no US laws, so the team cannot gather enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant for him. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke considers targeting Bout for rendition, which is a very rare practice before 9/11. But when the Bush administration takes power in early 2001, Bout is deemed a less important priority, and ultimately no effective action is taken against him prior to 9/11 (see Early 2001-September 11, 2001). (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 1-7)
In early July 1999, it is reported that a high-powered US delegation from the National Security Council, State Department, and other agencies is visiting the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain to investigate reports that $50 million has been given to Osama bin Laden. Apparently the money mostly comes from rich Saudis and is sent through the Dubai Islamic Bank in a single bank transfer. Journalist Jonathan Randal meets an unnamed US diplomat in Dubai several months later and the diplomat confirms that the transfer took place. Randal asks him why the money is sent in such an easily traceable procedure instead of dividing the sum up into a series of smaller transfers, or even using the nearly untraceable hawala system instead of a formal bank at all. The diplomat merely replies that this was the same question the Maktoum family that rules the UAE asked the US delegation. (Randal 2005, pp. 211-212) On July 8, 1999, the New York Times reports on this bank transfer, asserting, “The Central Intelligence Agency has obtained evidence that Mr. bin Laden has been allowed to funnel money through the Dubai Islamic Bank in Dubai, which the United Arab Emirates Government effectively controls.” The Times adds, “United States intelligence officials said they had evidence that Mr. bin Laden had a relationship with the bank, which they believed had been arranged with the approval of the officials who control the bank.” (Risen and Weiser 7/8/1999)
A presentation by the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center to the National Security Council’s Small Group emphasizes the importance of rendition operations in the CIA’s fight against al-Qaeda. The briefing says: “We will continue with disruptions of operations and renditions… but with an increased emphasis on recruiting sources; at this time, we have no penetrations inside [Osama bin Laden]‘s leadership.” (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 388 ) The Small Group was formed by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and includes members of Clinton’s cabinet cleared to know about the most sensitive counterterrorism issues. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 120)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, hearing about Ahmed Ressam’s arrest earlier in the day (see December 14, 1999), hires a team of private terrorism analysts to complete a report on militant Islamic cells in North America. The Investigative Project on Terrorism, led by Steven Emerson, finishes the report just prior to the end of the year, hoping to help stop any millennium plots. (Wallace-Wells 5/29/2006) Investigator Rita Katz discovers that a man named Khalil Deek who has just been arrested in Jordan for a role in a millennium plot is a US citizen (see December 11, 1999). Using only public records, she begins looking into Deek’s activities in the US. She believes that she discovers a sleeper cell consisting of: (Katz 2003, pp. 161-162)
Khalil Deek. He is an al-Qaeda operative who has lived in Anaheim, California, for most of the 1990s. A former senior CIA official will later claim that Deek’s extremist connections were already “well established in the classified intelligence” by this time, and in fact, it will later be reported that Deek’s connections with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida had been investigated since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). Katz learns from intelligence reports that Deek has connections to a militant cell based in Montreal, Canada that includes Ressam. She suspects that Deek is coordinating al-Qaeda groups in North America. (Anderson 9/15/2005; Khatchadourian 1/22/2007) Deek regularly wires tens of thousands of dollars to overseas destinations. Business records show Deek was still in Anaheim as late as August 1998. The research team discovers Deek may have been visiting the US as late as September 1999. (US Congress 1/25/2000; Schou 6/15/2006)
Hisham Diab. Katz learns that Diab is Deek’s next door neighbor in Anaheim and she suspects the two of them have been operating a sleeper cell there (in fact, Diab’s wife had already repeatedly tried to warn the FBI about her husband, to no avail (see March 1993-1996). (Anderson 9/15/2005)
She discovers that Deek and Diab have formed a charity front called Charity Without Borders (this group received a $75,000 state grant in 1997 to distribute fliers encouraging the recycling of used motor oil). (Anderson 9/15/2005; Schou 6/15/2006)
Tawfiq Deek, Khalil Deek’s brother. Katz discovers that Tawfiq has presented himself as the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) spokesman in California. Katz calls the IAP the “Hamas front in America.” (Katz 2003, pp. 167) Khalid Ashour, a Palestinian. He had lived in the same apartment building as the Deek brothers and Diab, and also worked with the IAP. But what most interests Katz is that he had been heavily involved in the Islamic Center of Tuscon in the early 1990s. The Islamic Center is important for the IAP but is also believed to be the focal point for al-Qaeda’s first base in the US (see 1994). Katz discovers that he had been arrested in 1991 trying to enter the US with a fake ID and border guards found handbooks of explosives and bombs in his car. In 1999, he had moved nearly half a million dollars out of the US despite holding a job that only paid $600 a week. (Katz 2003, pp. 167-168)
Although Katz does not discover it at the time, another associate of the Deeks and Diab in Anaheim named Adam Gadahn will later emerge as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman in Afghanistan (see Spring 2004).
Katz, Emerson, and other members of the Investigative Project on Terrorism will brief members of the National Security Council about what they learned on December 25, 1999, but no action will be taken against the suspects they have uncovered (see December 25, 1999).
US intelligence learns about a likely al-Qaeda cell in California but fails to act on it. In early December 1999, US intelligence learned that a participant in an attempted al-Qaeda linked millennium plot in Jordan was a US citizen by the name of Khalil Deek. President Clinton was immediately notified because of the implication that al-Qaeda had a presence inside the US (see December 9, 1999). The FBI began interviewing Deek’s neighbors in Anaheim, California, but apparently learned little. However Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke tasked the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a private research team, to look into Deek’s US ties. On this day, the team goes to the White House and gives a report on their findings to Clarke and an assistant of his known only as Peter, and others on the National Security Council (NSC). Rita Katz has been leading the research effort and gives a presentation outlining the sleeper cell they believe they have discovered in Anaheim consisting of Deek, his brother Tawfiq Deek, Khalid Ashour, Hisham Diab, and a charity front known as Charity Without Borders (see December 14-25, 1999). According to a later account by Katz, Clarke, Peter, and the others are impressed at how much the team was able to learn looking only through public records. They express surprise that the FBI was not able to learn as much. The NSC gives the information to the FBI but apparently they do nothing with it. Katz will report in 2003 that Ashour is still living in California even though his request for asylum could have been easily denied. (Katz 2003, pp. 156-174)
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger will later say that in early 2000 the National Security Council (NSC), the US military, and the CIA develops a “new technique for detecting Bin Laden.” Berger calls it “very promising as a way of determining where he would be if we had one strand of human intelligence.” The Los Angeles Times will comment, “But whether the new technique was some sort of high-tech homing device or silent surveillance craft is a question left to future generations.” The next two and a half pages of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report discussing this technique are completely censored. (Miller 7/27/2003) Despite Berger’s implication that the US does not have human intelligence on bin Laden’s movements at this time, other accounts indicate that it does (see March-April 2001 and April 2001).
CIA Director George Tenet makes a secret trip to Pakistan to complain about funds being moved through Islamic charities to al-Qaeda. This is part of an effort coordinated by the National Security Council to cut off the vast sums of money that intelligence officials believe flow to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist network through Islamic charities and wealthy donors from across the Middle East. The US campaign prompts the Pakistani government in early 2001 to make some efforts to ban raising funds explicitly designated for holy war. Former US officials will later claim the trip is part of a larger effort to disrupt bin Laden’s financial network following the 1998 US embassy bombings. (Trofimov et al. 10/1/2001)
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger asks CIA Director how he would go after al-Qaeda if he were unconstrained by resources and policies. He assigns Cofer Black and the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to develops a plan for the incoming Bush administration. It is dubbed the “Blue Sky Memo.” The CIA presents it to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke on December 29, 2000. It recommends increased support to anti-Taliban groups and especially a major effort to back Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance, to tie down al-Qaeda personnel before they leave Afghanistan. No action is taken on it in the last few weeks of the Clinton administration; and the new Bush administration does not appear interested in it either. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Tenet 2007, pp. 130-131) The National Security Council counterterrorism staff also prepares a strategy paper, incorporating ideas from the Blue Sky Memo. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Clinton and Bush staff overlap for several months while new Bush appointees are appointed and confirmed. Clinton holdovers seem more concerned about al-Qaeda than the new Bush staffers. For instance, according to a colleague, Sandy Berger, Clinton’s National Security Adviser, had become “totally preoccupied” with fears of a domestic terror attack. (Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) Brian Sheridan, Clinton’s outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, is astonished when his offers during the transition to bring the new military leadership up to speed on terrorism are brushed aside. “I offered to brief anyone, any time on any topic. Never took it up.” (Benjamin 3/30/2004) Army Lieutenant General Donald Kerrick, Deputy National Security Adviser and manager of Clinton’s NSC (National Security Council) staff, still remains at the NSC nearly four months after Bush takes office. He later notes that while Clinton’s advisers met “nearly weekly” on terrorism by the end of his term, he does not detect the same kind of focus with the new Bush advisers: “That’s not being derogatory. It’s just a fact. I didn’t detect any activity but what [Clinton holdover Richard] Clarke and the CSG [Counterterrorism Security Group] were doing.” (Gellman 1/20/2002) Kerrick submits a memo to the new people at the NSC, warning, “We are going to be struck again.” He says, “They never responded. It was not high on their priority list. I was never invited to one meeting. They never asked me to do anything. They were not focusing. They didn’t see terrorism as the big megaissue that the Clinton administration saw it as.” Kerrick adds, “They were gambling nothing would happen.” (Benjamin 3/30/2004) Bush’s first Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Henry Shelton, later says terrorism was relegated “to the back burner” until 9/11. (Washington Post 10/2/2002)
By the end of the Clinton administration, an effort by some US officials to arrest international arms dealer Victor Bout is gathering steam (see Early Spring 1999-2000). National Security Council (NSC) adviser Lee Wolosky has been gathering evidence of Bout’s airplanes being used to smuggle weapons and possibly drugs for the Taliban. Shortly after the Bush administration takes office, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, Wolosky, and other NSC deputies hold a briefing about Bout’s activities for Condoleezza Rice, the new national security adviser. Rice appears interested, and authorizes the NSC team to continue to pursue an attempt to get an arrest warrant for Bout strong enough to secure a conviction. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 186-187) However, Rice focuses on diplomatic solutions and does not allow any actual covert action against Bout. The FBI also does not have an open investigation into Bout and does not appear particularly interested in him. “Look but don’t touch,” is how one White House official will later describe Rice’s approach. (Landesman 8/17/2003; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 193) In late spring 2001, Wolosky briefs Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about Bout and global organized crime. He receives a go-ahead to present a full briefing to President Bush on the topic, but no specific date is set. Wolosky is still trying to arrange a date when the 9/11 attacks occur. The Bush administration’s interest in Bout was already fading before 9/11, and after 9/11 the remaining interest in him is lost, despite Bout’s ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Wolosky soon quits. “We knew we were being phased out,” he will later say. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 193-194) Bout moves to Russia not long after 9/11, but Rice decides that Russia should not be pressured about arms trafficking in general and Bout in particular. One source who talks to Rice claims that she reasons the US has “bigger fish to fry.” (Landesman 8/17/2003)
In addition to briefings about Able Danger with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (see Early 2001) and other military leaders (see March 2001), Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims that there are other briefings about the project in the same early 2001 time frame. In one briefing, Shaffer says CIA Director George Tenet approves “our conduct of this special project—I did specifically mention the Able Danger effort to him regarding the use of its methodology to separate out US Person issues.” Shaffer also claims that the National Security Counsel (NSC) is briefed twice on Able Danger around this time. He says, “I cannot recall the specific dates of, or individuals present at, the briefing.” (US Congress 2/15/2006 )
President Bush’s first national security directive, NPSD-1, dramatically reorganizes the National Security Council. The directive redefines “security” as not only the defense of the US and its borders, but also explicitly defines it as “the advancement of United States interests around the globe. National security also depends on America’s opportunity to prosper in the world economy.” The directive removes many senior advisers and staff from the flow of information and centralizes almost all security information directly to Bush through National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see February 13, 2001). (US President 2/13/2001)
President Bush issues a little-noticed directive that dramatically changes the way information flows among top Bush administration officials. It states that attendees of National Security Council (NSC) meetings shall continue to include the president, vice president, secretary of state, treasury secretary, defense secretary, CIA director, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and assistant to the president for national security affairs. However, other officials, including the “heads of other executive departments and agencies, as well as other senior officials” are excluded from the automatic right to attend NSC meetings. Instead, they “shall be invited to attend meetings of the NSC when appropriate.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is given a pivotal position. In addition to attending all NSC meetings, she is responsible for determining the agenda of all the meetings. The directive also states, “The existing system of Interagency Working Groups is abolished.” Instead, Rice will coordinate a series of eleven new interagency coordination committees within the NSC. She is designated the executive secretary of all eleven committees, meaning that she will schedule the meetings and determine agendas. She is made chairperson of six of the committees, including “Counter-Terrorism and National Preparedness,” “Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence,” and “Records Access and Information Security.” Professor Margie Burns will later ask rhetorically, “How could the White House ever have thought that abolishing the interagency work groups was a good idea, if security was the objective? Why was so much responsibility placed on the shoulders of one person, Condoleezza Rice, whose [only] previous experience had been at Stanford University and Chevron?” (US President 2/13/2001; Burns 1/2004)
Taliban envoy Rahmatullah Hashimi meets with reporters, middle-ranking State Department bureaucrats, and private Afghanistan experts in Washington. He carries a gift carpet and a letter from Afghan leader Mullah Omar for President Bush. He discusses turning bin Laden over, but the US wants to be handed bin Laden and the Taliban want to turn him over to some third country. A CIA official later says, “We never heard what they were trying to say. We had no common language. Ours was, ‘Give up bin Laden.’ They were saying, ‘Do something to help us give him up.’… I have no doubts they wanted to get rid of him. He was a pain in the neck.” Others claim the Taliban were never sincere. About 20 more meetings on giving up bin Laden take place up until 9/11, all fruitless. (Washington Post 10/29/2001) Allegedly, Hashimi also proposes that the Taliban would hold bin Laden in one location long enough for the US to locate and kill him. However, this offer is refused. This report, however, comes from Laila Helms, daughter of former CIA director Richard Helms. While it’s interesting that this information came out before 9/11, one must be skeptical, since Helms’ job was public relations for the Taliban. (Fard and Ridgeway 6/6/2001) Hashimi will mention to a reporter in June 2001 that he was in the US for a total of six weeks. (de Borchgrave 6/14/2001) According to one article at the time, Hashimi meets with “several senior officials from the State Department, CIA and National Security Council but also from the non-governmental organization Council on Foreign Relations.” Secretary of State Colin Powell is reportedly irate at the meetings because he had not been informed that high level officials would be meeting with Hashimi in the US. He blames CIA Director George Tenet “having laid on a red carpet for [Mullah] Omar’s adviser.” (Intelligence Newsletter 4/19/2001) Hashimi reportedly directly meets with Tenet. (Marlow 11/19/2001)
Senior Bush administration officials begin to meet once a month to discuss Pakistan’s nuclear program. The officials are CIA Director George Tenet, his deputy John McLaughlin, Secretary of State Colin Powell, his deputy Richard Armitage, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and Robert Joseph, the National Security Council non-proliferation director. The participants at the meetings discuss what Pakistan is doing, including the fact that North Korea is a client of Pakistan, Pakistan is still doing nuclear business with Iran, it has offered to sell nuclear weapons to Iraq, and there are rumors of a deal between it and Libya. The meetings are arranged by Tenet and, according to Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation Robert Einhorn: “A very small number of people got involved. Any names added to the list had to be sanctioned personally by Tenet.” The group receives intelligence about Khan’s network derived from tracking flights and meetings, as well as intercepting letters and phone calls. “The CIA guys would grudgingly come over to share anything new with us policy types,” Einhorn will say. “State was always making the case to roll up the network now, to stop it doing more damage. The CIA would make a plausible case to keep watching, let the network run so eventually we could pick it up by the roots, not just lop off the tentacles. We’d debate and always decide to continue following. The policy people were nervous about leaving it too long.” Some of Einhorn’s colleagues accuse the CIA of being “addicted” to collecting information, although senior CIA analysts think they have a better understanding of the issues and should be allowed to decide. Einhorn will add that he goes to Armitage for get support for rolling up the network, but Armitage simply refers him to Joseph and nothing is done before Einhorn leaves the administration in September 2001. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment: “The Bush administration was not interested in acting on Pakistan, or had no idea of how to act. They were far more interested in eliminating Pakistan’s clients: Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 303-304)
The Bush administration conducts what it calls a policy review of US relations with North Korea (see October 2000, Mid-January 2001, and March 7, 2001). The review is led by neoconservative Robert Joseph, the National Security Council’s nonproliferation director and a harsh opponent of any negotiations with North Korea. The session concludes with an impossible hybrid of new policies: a “resolve” to continue negotiations along with a set of non-negotiable demands for North Korea that Joseph and other Bush officials know that nation will refuse to accept. One example is the demand that North Korea adopt “a less threatening conventional military posture,” even though US commanders in South Korea describe the military balance between North and South as stable. The new policy also demands “improved implementation” of the 1994 Agreed Framework accord (see October 21, 1994), in essence a list of further concessions from North Korea without any concessions in return. Another demand is for “100 percent verification” of any missile deal, a practical impossibility. The policy also seems to imply that the US will no longer honor the Framework’s agreement that the US will not military threaten North Korea. President Bush does promise unspecified “reward[s]” if the North Koreans agree to his demands, but, unsurprisingly, the demands are roundly rejected. (Scoblic 2008, pp. 237)
In a brief statement, President Bush announces that Vice President Dick Cheney will oversee a “coordinated national effort” aimed at integrating the government’s plans for responding to the use of a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapon within the United States. Bush declares, “Should our efforts to reduce the threat to our country from weapons of mass destruction be less than fully successful, prudence dictates that the United States be fully prepared to deal effectively with the consequences of such a weapon being used here on our soil.” Bush says a new agency within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), known as the Office of National Preparedness, will be “responsible for implementing the results of those parts of the national effort overseen by Vice President Cheney that deal with consequence management.” The Office of National Preparedness appears to be a reincarnation of FEMA’s old National Preparedness Directorate (NPD), which was disbanded by the Clinton administration in 1993 (see January 1993-October 1994). During the 1980s and early 1990s, the NPD secretly spent billions of dollars preparing for nuclear war and other national emergencies as part of the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program (see February 1993, 1982-1991, and April 1, 1979-Present). (Cox News Service 2/22/1993) Under the Bush administration, the Office of National Preparedness (ONP) will apparently take over where the National Preparedness Directorate left off. According to Bush, the ONP “will coordinate all Federal programs dealing with weapons of mass destruction consequence management within the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies.” Cheney, who played a central role in the COG program during the Reagan administration (see 1981-1992 and 1980s), informs CNN, “[O]ne of our biggest threats as a nation” could be “domestic terrorism, but it may also be a terrorist organization overseas or even another state using weapons of mass destruction against the US.… [W]e need to look at this whole area, oftentimes referred to as homeland defense.” According to FEMA, the ONP will be up and running as early as the summer of 2001. President Bush says he “will periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts.” (CNN 5/8/2001; White House 5/8/2001; Rich 7/8/2002) Cheney is meant to head a group that will draft a national terrorism response plan by October 1. (Chicago Sun-Times 5/5/2001; Waller 6/18/2001) But, according to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, “Neither Cheney’s review nor Bush’s took place.” (Gellman 1/20/2002) Former Senator Gary Hart (D-CO) later implies that Bush assigned this specific role to Cheney in order to prevent Congress from enacting counterterrorism legislation proposed by a bipartisan commission he had co-chaired in January (see January 31, 2001). (Talbot 4/2/2004; Hart 4/6/2004) In July, two senators will send draft counterterrorism legislation to Cheney’s office, but a day before 9/11, they are told it might be another six months before he gets to it (see September 10, 2001). (Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) Cheney’s “National Preparedness Review” is just beginning to hire staff a few days before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). (Rood 4/15/2004)
Zalmay Khalilzad is appointed Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Gulf, Southwest Asia and Other Regional Issues on the National Security Council. Khalilzad was an official in the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations. During the Clinton years, he worked for Unocal. (US Department of State 2001; Sengupta and Gumbel 1/10/2002) He previously worked under Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and helped him write a controversial 1992 plan for US world domination.(see March 8, 1992) (Weisman 3/23/2003) He was a member of the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century. The Asia Times notes, “It was Khalilzad—when he was a huge Taliban fan—who conducted the risk analysis for Unocal (Union Oil Company of California) for the infamous proposed $2 billion, 1,500 kilometer-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan [TAP] gas pipeline.” (Escobar 12/25/2003) After 9/11, he will be appointed as special envoy to Afghanistan (see January 1, 2002) and then US ambassador to Afghanistan (see November 2003).
Hardline neoconservative Elliott Abrams (see June 2, 1987) joins the National Security Council as senior director of Near East and North African affairs. A State Department official will later recall: “Elliott embodied the hubris of the neocon perspective. His attitude was, ‘All the rest of you are pygmies. You don’t have the scope and the vision we have. We are going to remake the world.’ His appointment meant that good sense had been overcome by ideology.”
Rush of Neoconservatives into Administration - Abrams’s entry into the White House heralds a rush of former Project for the New American Century members (PNAC—see January 26, 1998 and September 2000) into the Bush administration, almost all of whom are staunch advocates of regime change in Iraq. “I don’t think that most people in State understood what was going on,” the State Department official will say later. “I understood what this was about, that PNAC was moving from outside the government to inside. In my mind, it was an unfriendly takeover.” (Unger 2007, pp. 205)
Neoconservatives Well-Organized, Contemptuous of Congress - In June 2004, former intelligence official Patrick Lang will write: “It should have been a dire warning to the US Congress when the man who had been convicted of lying to Congress during the Iran-contra affair [Abrams] was put in charge of the Middle East section of the NSC staff. One underestimated talent of the neocon group in the run-up to this war was its ability to manipulate Congress. They were masters of the game, having made the team in Washington in the 1970s on the staffs of two of the most powerful senators in recent decades, New York’s Patrick Moynihan and Washington’s Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson (see Early 1970s). The old boy’s club—Abe Shulsky at OSP [the Office of Special Plans—see September 2002], Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Middle East Desk Officer at the NSC Abrams, Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle—had not only worked together in their early government years in these two Senate offices, but they had stayed together as a network through the ensuing decades, floating around a small number of businesses and think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute and the openly neoimperialist Project for a New American Century. The neocons were openly contemptuous of Congress, as they were of the UN Security Council.” (Lang 6/2004)
An armed version of the Predator drone successfully passes a test showing it is ready for use in Afghanistan. The Predator had been used successfully in 2000 to spot bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000), but it was not used in early 2001 while an armed version was prepared (see January 10-25, 2001). A Hellfire missile was successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. (CBS News 6/25/2003) In early June 2001, a duplicate of the brick house where bin Laden is believed to be living in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is built in Nevada, and destroyed by a Predator missile. The test shows that the missile fired from miles away would have killed anyone in the building, and one participant calls this the long sought after “holy grail” that could kill bin Laden within minutes of finding him. (Gellman 1/20/2002) But National Security Adviser Rice reportedly wants to use the Predator only after an overall strategy for confronting al-Qaeda is worked out, and no such plan is close to being ready. (Bridis and Solomon 6/22/2003) She and her deputy Steve Hadley decide to delay reconnaissance flights until all the arrangements for using the armed version can be worked out. In July 2001, Hadley directs the military to have armed Predators ready to deploy no later than September 1. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The main hold up seems to be bureaucratic. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke repeatedly advocates using the Predator, armed or unarmed. However, infighting between the CIA and the Air Force over who would pay for it and take responsibility delays its use. Clarke later says, “Every time we were ready to use it, the CIA would change its mind.” (Mayer 7/28/2003) The issue comes to a head in early September 2001, but even then, a decision to use the Predator is delayed (see September 4, 2001). (Mayer 7/28/2003) The armed Predator will finally be used in Afghanistan just days after 9/11. (Bridis and Solomon 6/25/2003)
ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed visits Washington for the second time. On September 10, a Pakistani newspaper reports on his trip so far. It says his visit has “triggered speculation about the agenda of his mysterious meetings at the Pentagon and National Security Council” as well as meetings with CIA Director Tenet (see September 9, 2001), unspecified officials at the White House and the Pentagon, and his “most important meeting” with Marc Grossman, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. The article suggests, “[O]f course, Osama bin Laden” could be the focus of some discussions. Prophetically, the article adds, “What added interest to his visit is the history of such visits. Last time [his] predecessor was [in Washington], the domestic [Pakistani] politics turned topsy-turvy within days.” (Mateen 9/10/2001) This is a reference to the Musharraf coup just after an ISI Director’s visit on October 12, 1999 (see October 12, 1999).
Congressperson Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who has long experience in Afghanistan and even fought with the mujaheddin there, later will claim he immediately sees the assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud (see September 9, 2001) as a sign that “something terrible [is] about to happen.” He is only able to make an appointment to meet with top White House and National Security Council officials for 2:30 pm. on September 11. The events of that morning will render the meeting moot. (US Congress 9/17/2001)
By the 1980s, a high-tech global electronic surveillance network shared between the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand is gathering intelligence all over the world. The BBC describes Echelon’s power as “astounding,” and elaborates: “Every international telephone call, fax, e-mail, or radio transmission can be listened to by powerful computers capable of voice recognition. They home in on a long list of key words, or patterns of messages. They are looking for evidence of international crime, like terrorism.” (Bomford 11/3/1999) One major focus for Echelon before 9/11 is al-Qaeda. For instance, one account mentions Echelon intercepting al-Qaeda communications in Southeast Asia in 1996 (see Before September 11, 2001). A staff member of the National Security Council who regularly attends briefings on bin Laden states, “We are probably tapped into every hotel room in Pakistan. We can listen in to just about every phone call in Afghanistan.” However, he and other critics will claim one reason why US intelligence failed to stop terrorism before 9/11 was because there was too much of a focus on electronic intelligence gathering and not enough focus on human interpretation of that vast data collection. (Brzezinski 2/2/2002)
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tries to gather together the principals of the National Security Council (NSC), but is unable to get in touch with key officials. Rice realized the US was under terrorist attack during a staff meeting, when her assistant informed her of the second plane striking the World Trade Center (see (9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001). She had then headed to the White House Situation Room’s operations center. (Thomas 12/30/2001; Bumiller 2007, pp. xii) Here she intends to assemble the principals of the NSC for a crisis meeting. (O, the Oprah Magazine 2/1/2002) Along with the national security adviser, the principal members of the NSC are the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the secretary of the treasury, and the secretary of defense; additionally, the CIA director and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are statutory advisers to the NSC. (US President 2/13/2001; Felix 2002, pp. 226) However, Rice remembers that Secretary of State Colin Powell is currently away in Peru (see (8:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Rice 9/11/2002) Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill is away in Japan. (US Department of the Treasury 11/29/2001; US Department of the Treasury 1/23/2002) And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton is on his way to Europe for a NATO meeting there. (CNN 10/1/2001) Rice tries calling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is in his office at the Pentagon (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but cannot reach him. (Rice 7/12/2002; Clarke 2006, pp. 218-219; Cockburn 2007, pp. 1) She is also unable to get a call through to CIA Director George Tenet. (Bumiller 2007, pp. xii) (Tenet will later claim that, around this time, he is having trouble using his secure phone while being driven out to CIA headquarters (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 161-162) ) Also around this time, in the Secure Video Conferencing Center just off the main floor of the Situation Room, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is trying to convene a video teleconference with other top officials (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bumiller 2007, pp. xii)
At Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, President Bush convenes the first meeting of the National Security Council since the attacks occurred. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26) He begins the video conference call from a bunker beneath the base. He and Chief of Staff Andrew Card visually communicate directly with Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, CIA Director Tenet, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and others. (Langley 12/16/2001; ABC News 9/11/2002; Sammon 10/8/2002) According to Clarke, Bush begins the meeting by saying, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” But according to Condoleezza Rice, he begins with the words, “We’re at war.” Clarke leads a quick review of what has already occurred, and issues that need to be quickly addressed. Bush asks CIA Director Tenet who he thinks is responsible for the day’s attacks. Tenet later recalls, “I told him the same thing I had told the vice president several hours earlier: al-Qaeda. The whole operation looked, smelled, and tasted like bin Laden.” Tenet tells Bush that passenger manifests show that three known al-Qaeda operatives had been on Flight 77. According to Tenet, when he tells the president in particular about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers), Bush gives Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, “one of those ‘I thought I was supposed to be the first to know’ looks.” (Other evidence indicates the third al-Qaeda operative whose name is on the passenger manifest would be Salem Alhazmi (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).) Tenet tells the meeting that al-Qaeda is “the only terrorist organization capable of such spectacular, well-coordinated attacks,” and that “Intelligence monitoring had overheard a number of known bin Laden operatives congratulating each other after the attacks. Information collected days earlier but only now being translated indicated that various known operatives around the world anticipated a big event. None specified the day, time, place or method of attack.” Richard Clarke later corroborates that Tenet had at this time told the president he was certain that al-Qaeda was to blame. Yet only six weeks later, in an October 24, 2001 interview, Rice will claim differently. She will say, “In the first video conference, the assumption that everybody kind of shared was that it was global terrorists.… I don’t believe anybody said this is likely al-Qaeda. I don’t think so.” Tenet also relays a warning the CIA has received from French intelligence, saying another group of terrorists is within US borders and is preparing a second wave of attacks. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld briefs on the status of US forces, and states that about 120 fighters are now above US cities. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26-27; Clarke 2004, pp. 21-22; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326 and 554; Tenet 2007, pp. 169) The meeting reportedly ends around 4:00-4:15 p.m. (Langley 12/16/2001; Sammon 10/8/2002)
President Bush meets with his full National Security Council. According to journalist Bob Woodward, this meeting turns out to be “unwieldy.” So at 9:30 p.m., Bush follows it with a meeting with a smaller group of his most senior principal national security advisers in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) beneath the White House. Bush and his advisers have already decided bin Laden is behind the attacks. As the president later recalls, in these meetings, “That’s when we first got the indication… we’ve identified, we think it’s al-Qaeda.” He says the FBI now thinks that “it’s al-Qaeda, and we start to develop our plans to get them. I mean, there wasn’t any hesitation. We’re starting the process of coalition-building and how to get ‘em.” (According to other accounts, though, the CIA had informed Bush hours earlier that it was virtually certain al-Qaeda was to blame for the attacks (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001).) CIA Director George Tenet says that al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan are essentially one and the same. Tenet says, “Tell the Taliban we’re finished with them.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 133; Woodward 2002, pp. 31-33; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) The president says, “I want you all to understand that we are at war and we will stay at war until this is done. Nothing else matters. Everything is available for the pursuit of this war. Any barriers in your way, they’re gone. Any money you need, you have it. This is our only agenda.” When, later in the discussion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld points out that international law only allows force to prevent future attacks and not for retribution, Bush yells, “No. I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 23-24) Bush will subsequently announce a new US doctrine of preemptive attack the following June (see June 1, 2002). (Elliott 6/23/2002) During the meeting, the president refers to the present political situation as a “great opportunity” (see (Between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). By the time the meeting ends, it is after 10 p.m. (Sammon 2002, pp. 133)
Before 9/11, US intelligence had collected a list of potential bombing targets in Afghanistan (see Late August 1998-2001). The list is said to include 20 to 25 major drug labs and other drug-related facilities. But according to a CIA source, when the list is turned over to the US military after 9/11, the Pentagon and White House refuse to order the bombing of any of the drug-related targets. This CIA source complains, “On the day after 9/11, that target list was ready to go, and the military and the [National Security Council] threw it out the window. We had tracked these [targets] for years. The drug targets were big places, almost like small towns that did nothing but produce heroin. The British were screaming for us to bomb those targets, because most of the heroin in Britain comes from Afghanistan. But they refused.” This source believes that if the US had bombed those targets, “it would have slowed down drug production in Afghanistan for a year or more.” (Risen 2006, pp. 154) The US will continue to avoid taking action against drug operations in Afghanistan (see February 2002).
During a National Security Council meeting, FBI Director Robert Mueller begins to describe the investigation under way to identify the 9/11 hijackers. According to journalist Bob Woodward, “He said it was essential not to taint any evidence so that if accomplices were arrested, they could be convicted.” But Attorney General John Ashcroft interrupts. Woodward will paraphrase Ashcroft saying, “The chief mission of US law enforcement… is to stop another attack and apprehend any accomplices or terrorists before they hit us again. If we can’t bring them to trial, so be it.” Woodward will comment, “Now, Ashcroft was saying, the focus of the FBI and the Justice Department should change from prosecution to prevention, a radical shift in priorities.” President Bush is at the meeting and apparently does not challenge Ashcroft’s suggestion. (Woodward 2002, pp. 42-43)
CIA Director George Tenet and Cofer Black, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, meet at 9:30 a.m. in the White House Situation Room with President Bush and the National Security Council. Tenet presents a plan for tracking down Osama bin Laden, toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, and confronting terrorism worldwide. According to journalist Bob Woodward, the plan involves “bringing together expanded intelligence-gathering resources, sophisticated technology, agency paramilitary teams and opposition forces in Afghanistan in a classic covert action. They would then be combined with US military power and Special Forces into an elaborate and lethal package designed to destroy the shadowy terrorist networks.” A key concept is to utilize the Northern Alliance, which is the main opposition force in Afghanistan. Despite being “a strained coalition of sometimes common interests,” Tenet says that along with the CIA teams “and tons of money, the Alliance could be brought together into a cohesive fighting force.” Black gives a presentation describing the effectiveness of covert action. He says they will need to go after the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda, as the two are joined at the hip. He wants the mission to begin as soon as possible, and adds, “When we’re through with them, they will have flies walking across their eyeballs.” Black claims that once they are on the ground, victory could be achieved in weeks. According to Bob Woodward, “No one else in the room, including Tenet, believed that was possible.” Black also warns the president, “Americans are going to die.… How many, I don’t know. Could be a lot.” Bush responds, “That’s war. That’s what we’re here to win.” This is the second presentation laying out an increasingly detailed set of CIA proposals for expanding its fight against terrorism. (George Tenet had given the first when he met with the president the day before (see September 12, 2001).) Tenet will give a more detailed presentation of the CIA’s covert action plan two days later, at Camp David (see September 15, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 50-53; Balz, Woodward, and Himmelman 1/29/2002; Kessler 2003, pp. 233-234)
President Bush is briefed at the Pentagon on upcoming special operations in Afghanistan. National Security Council staffer Franklin Miller reviews a classified slide presentation that an unnamed two-star general is going to give Bush in a few minutes. One slide in the presentation is labeled, “Thinking Outside the Box—Poisoning Food Supply.” Miller shows this to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and points out that the US is legally prohibited from committing chemical or biological attacks. Rice talks to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the two of them agree to take the slide out of the presentation before Bush sees it. (Woodward 2002, pp. 86-87)
The issue of possible Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 attacks is debated in a National Security Council meeting. According to journalist Bob Woodward, President Bush ends the debate by saying, “I believe Iraq was involved, but I’m not going to strike them now. I don’t have the evidence at this point.” Bush says wants to keep working on plans for military action in Iraq but indicates there will be plenty of time to do that later. Right now his focus is mainly on Afghanistan. (Woodward 2002, pp. 99) At the time Bush says this, no evidence has emerged possibly linking Iraq to 9/11. One day later, an account of hijacker Mohamed Atta meeting an Iraqi agent in Prague will become known, but it will ultimately be discredited (see September 18, 2001).
The publicly funded Voice of America (VOA), which broadcasts its radio signal throughout much of Europe and the Middle East, pulls a 12-minute interview with Taliban leader Mullah Omar after Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and senior National Security Council officials object to the broadcast. (Guardian 9/26/2001) The VOA has been attempting to exert some editorial independence ever since it was removed from State Department oversight in 1999 and placed under the oversight of a board of governors. (Guardian 9/25/2001)
'Voice of America is Not ... the Voice of the Taliban' - The VOA’s plan was to run excerpts from the interview as part of a four-minute segment on Afghan reactions to a speech by President Bush. Instead, many in the White House and elsewhere object, arguing that running such a broadcast merely gives a voice to terrorists. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher tells reporters, “We told members of the board of broadcast governors that we didn’t think it was appropriate for the Voice of America to be broadcasting the voice of the Taliban into Afghanistan and we didn’t think it was consistent with their charter.” (Guardian 9/25/2001; National Public Radio 7/23/2004) “… Its charter says that they should explain US government policy and present responsible discussion about it. We don’t consider Mullah Omar to be responsible discussion.” Unless Omar is prepared to announce the turnover of Osama bin Laden, currently under the protection of the Taliban, such an interview would provide “no news or anything newsworthy,” Boucher says. “Carrying the interview would be confusing to the millions of listeners to what is essentially a US government broadcast, paid for by the US government.” (CNN 9/25/2001) Another State Department official says, “Voice of America is not the Voice of Mullah Omar and not the Voice of the Taliban.” One VOA staffer retorts, “If this is an indication of the gag order they’re going to impose on us, we can’t do our jobs.” (Guardian 9/25/2001; National Public Radio 7/23/2004)
'We Tell the Whole Story' - VOA’s deputy director for external affairs, Joe O’Connell, says in response, “We were never going to give him an open mike.” A member of VOA’s Board of Governors, Norman Pattiz, chairman of radio conglomerate Westwood One, tells CNN that the decision not to air the broadcast was made by VOA staffers and not by the governors. (CNN 9/25/2001; York 4/21/2003) (The New York Times reports that Pattiz indicated staffers had discussed the interview but had not decided whether to suppress it.) Pattiz goes on to say: “I happen to believe that any legitimate news organization in the world would do that interview. And if the United States is going to be a proponent of a free press, it has to walk the walk.” (Barringer 9/26/2001) “A lot of people in the United States are angry and think the Voice of America is not serving their country the way we should,” says VOA spokeswoman Tara King. “They are getting the wrong impression, but we feel we are providing reliable news. The people in Afghanistan are tuning into us because they trust us, and we tell the whole story.” (Reporters' Committee for a Free Press 9/28/2001)
Mass Resignations Threatened - In a letter to the board, over 100 VOA journalists describe themselves as “deeply distressed to learn of the suppression” of Mullah Omar’s interview. “These comments were legitimate news,” the letter states. “We believe the integrity of the VOA is at stake. This censorship sets a most unfortunate precedent and damages our credibility with our worldwide audience.” (CNN 9/25/2001; Committee to Protect Journalists 9/27/2001) Andre DeNesnera, the VOA news director, writes in an e-mail to staff: “The State Department’s decision is a totally unacceptable assault on our editorial independence, a frontal attack on our credibility. This certainly was a dark, dark day for those of us who have—for years—fought to uphold journalist ethics, balance, accuracy and fairness.” (Committee to Protect Journalists 9/27/2001) The VOA staff threatens a public mass resignation and eventually runs a drastically edited version of the interview—“like 22 seconds” of tape, then-director Myrna Whitworth will later recall. After VOA runs the edited interview, a government spokesperson warns that the station’s “defiance” would be looked into. Whitworth will be relieved of her duties shortly thereafter and replaced, she will recall, “by a gentleman who had strong ties to the National Security Council.” When she leaves, she leaves a memo telling reporters “not to fall under the spell of self-censorship.” She exhorts journalists to “[c]ontinue to interview, anyone, anywhere.” (Guardian 9/25/2001; Hurst 9/8/2002; National Public Radio 7/23/2004)
The Voice of America radio station (VOA) prints a transcript of the recently censored interview it did with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. It also airs a short excerpt from the interview. VOA did not air it on its slated broadcast date of September 21 due to objections from the US’s Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, and senior officials on the National Security Council (see September 21-26, 2001). Omar tells the interviewer that his organization is sheltering Osama bin Laden because the issue is not bin Laden, but “Islam’s prestige [and] Afghanistan’s tradition.… If we did, it means we are not Muslims… that Islam is finished.” He says that he sees the US’s war on terrorism as two conflicting promises: “One is the promise of God, the other is that of Bush. The promise of God is that my land is vast. If you start a journey on God’s path, you can reside anywhere on this earth and will be protected.… The promise of Bush is that there is no place on earth where you can hide that I cannot find you. We will see which one of these two promises is fulfilled.… We are confident that no one can harm us if God is with us.” When asked what he means in his repeated statements that “America has taken the Islamic world hostage,” Omar replies: “America controls the governments of the Islamic countries. The people ask to follow Islam, but the governments do not listen because they are in the grip of the United States. If someone follows the path of Islam, the government arrests him, tortures him or kills him. This is the doing of America. If it stops supporting those governments and lets the people deal with them, then such things won’t happen. America has created the evil that is attacking it. The evil will not disappear even if I die and Osama dies and others die. The US should step back and review its policy. It should stop trying to impose its empire on the rest of the world, especially on Islamic countries.” (Guardian 9/26/2001; Committee to Protect Journalists 9/27/2001)
During a National Security Council meeting attended by CIA Director Tenet, National Security Adviser Rice, Secretary of State Powell, Vice President Cheney and others, President Bush says of the 9/11 attacks, “Many believe Saddam [Hussein] is involved. That’s not an issue for now. If we catch him being involved, we’ll act. He probably was behind this in the end.” He also says, “What we do in Afghanistan is an important part of our effort. It’s important to be serious and that’ll be a signal to other countries about how serious we are on terror.” He mentions Syria and Iran as countries he wants to warn. This is according to journalist Bob Woodward, who interviews many top officials at the meeting. (Woodward 2002, pp. 167) One week earlier, the CIA advised Bush that there was no link between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government. CIA Director Tenet also told Bush that the one alleged connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attack “just doesn’t add up” (see September 21, 2001).
By late September 2001, the CIA covert plan to conquer Afghanistan is in place but it needs the US military to work. CIA official Gary Schroen will later recall, “We were there for just about a month by ourselves in the valley. We were the only Americans in the country for almost a month.” According to a PBS Frontline documentary, at some point around the middle of October, “there was a fiery NSC [National Security Council] meeting. The CIA had been complaining [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld was dragging his feet in Afghanistan. It was said Rumsfeld didn’t like taking orders from the CIA.” Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong will later say, “Rumsfeld went to the president and said, ‘The CIA has to work for me, or this isn’t going to work.’” President Bush finally agrees and places Rumsfeld in charge of the Afghanistan war. A short time later, on October 20, the first US Special Forces are put into action in Afghanistan, calling in precision air strikes. The Taliban fold in the face of the attack and the capital of Kabul will fall in mid-November. But according to Schroen, “I was absolutely convinced that that would happen and that the Taliban would break quickly. That could have happened in October, early October,” had the US military arrived to assist the CIA sooner. (Kirk 6/20/2006)
President Bush briefly considers sealing the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to prevent the escape of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders, but then decides against it. According to journalist Bob Woodward, a National Security Council (NSC) meeting held on this day is attended by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and others. Intelligence indicates that about 100 people per day are going from Pakistan to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban. Woodward will claim, “There was some talk of sealing the border.” But he adds the idea is immediately dismissed: “It seemed an impossible idea, not practical given the hundreds of miles of mountainous and rough terrain, some of the most formidable in the world. There were few roads. Getting from one point to another could only be done on foot, with mules, or on horseback.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 205) CIA official Michael Scheuer will later comment, “There is no denying that closing that border was a hard job, but if the NSC did not believe that the best military in the world could close the border and trap bin Laden, why did it decide that the task could be safely allotted to the poorly armed and trained and generally anti-US Pakistani forces?” (Scheuer 2008)
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