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The One Percent Doctrine

July 4, 2006 at 1:30 PM EST

TRANSCRIPT

MARGARET WARNER: In the days after 9/11, as smoke still lingered over Lower Manhattan and the Pentagon, the Bush administration began drawing up plans for an all-out war against the terrorists — at the heart of this planning was how to collect, interpret and respond to intelligence in a sharply altered landscape.

The conflict over that question would end up pitting professionals at the CIA against Vice President Cheney and some of the president’s top political appointees.

That struggle and its outcome is detailed in a new book: “The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11.” The author is Ron Suskind, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former Wall Street Journal reporter. His previous book, “The Price of Loyalty,” was co-authored with former Bush Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill. It also detailed fierce battles within the administration.

I spoke with Ron Suskind at his home in Washington.

Why did you write this book? What was it about the post-9/11 period that — that puzzled you, that you thought hadn’t been explored?

RON SUSKIND, Author/Journalist: You know, I live in Washington, my kids, my wife. And I realized I didn’t know almost anything really about the so-called war on terror.

I — I knew the official speak from the White House, but it really wasn’t very much. And, so, I said, I need to understand this central struggle of these times that we’re in, just as a citizen.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, and let me ask you about the title of the book, “The One Percent Doctrine.” Now, this comes out of a meeting that CIA Director Tenet, the vice president and Condoleezza Rice, who was then NSC adviser, had in November of ’01, where Tenet briefed them about another meeting around a campfire in Afghanistan.

RON SUSKIND: Right.

It’s a — it’s a harrowing moment. It’s in the Situation Room. There are folks from CIA and NSC there. And Tenet and others deliver the intelligence to the vice president. In Kandahar, a few weeks before 9/11, bin Laden and Zarqawi, the two key players, met with Pakistani nuclear scientists to talk about what’s possible on that front.

It’s — of course, it’s our worst shared nightmare. Cheney listens to the briefing. And, you know, he’s — he’s quite alarmed by it. Everybody is in the government at this point. It’s just two months after 9/11. We’re worried about a second-wave attack. And — and that’s where the 1 percent moment, the 1 percent doctrine, emerges, right there in the room.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, it’s pretty riveting, the way you describe the 1 percent moment. I wonder if you could just read a little of that for us.

RON SUSKIND: OK.

MARGARET WARNER: Page 62.

RON SUSKIND: OK. Never ask an author to read. They will say yes.

RON SUSKIND: OK. Here we go.

“Cheney listened intently, hard-eyed, clamped down tight. When the briefing finished, he said nothing for a moment. And then he was ready with his different way, a different way of thinking: ‘If there’s a 1 percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaida build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty, in terms of our response,’ Cheney said. He paused to assess his declaration. ‘It’s not about our analysis or finding a preponderance of evidence,’ he added. ‘It’s about our response.’

“So, now spoken, it stood, a standard of action that would frame events and responses from the administration for years to come, the Cheney doctrine. Even if there’s just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming true, act as if it’s a certainty. It’s not about our analysis, as Cheney said. It’s about our response. The doctrine, the 1 percent solution, divided what has largely been indivisible in the conduct of American foreign policy, analysis and action.”

"Action is inherently good"

MARGARET WARNER: And that became the guiding principle.

RON SUSKIND: Absolutely. It was shaped in many ways. It was heard under various terms, the 1 percent rule, the Cheney doctrine.

And what it does is, it frees the U.S. government from some of the traditional dictates of evidence. It says, look, evidence, well, we're not going to get evidence here, not the way we might want it. We must act. Action itself is an inherent good, even if it's based on almost nothing but the thinnest suspicion.

MARGARET WARNER: So, the application of that principle, then, you found, really made the Iraq war inevitable?

RON SUSKIND: It wasn't about believing, in an underlying and clear way, that evidence really mattered when it came to Saddam. The mere suspicion, the supposition that he may have weapons of mass destruction was plenty of justification for the president and others to move forward.

MARGARET WARNER: And, so, this whole debate that we had about how did they get the intelligence wrong, who got the intelligence wrong, is really beside the point.

RON SUSKIND: It's -- it's not the real debate. The real debate is about this 1 percent doctrine and what it means for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you call this the Cheney doctrine. And one of the themes in this book clearly is how powerful Dick Cheney was, how much he drove this.

But it was also pretty readily accepted by the president.

RON SUSKIND: Mmm-hmm.

Well, the president is quite active in this book. You know, folks will probably meet the president in a new way when they read it. You know, he's very operationally engaged. Cheney essentially creates an architecture, a platform, where George Bush can be George Bush and still be a forceful president. He can be a man of action. He can indulge his gut, his instinct. He can make things personal.

He's operationally engaged. But it's Dick Cheney, in large measure, who seems to be the global thinker of the pair. That's what the book shows in incident after incident.

America's standard of action

MARGARET WARNER: Now, some people would say, after 9/11, if you think of the horrific damage that a nuclear suitcase could inflict in the United States...

RON SUSKIND: Yes.

MARGARET WARNER: ... does a leader have any choice, other than to have a new standard of risk, a new standard of evidence that -- that needs to be met before action is taken?

RON SUSKIND: That's exactly the question we should be debating and probably should have been debating a few years ago. You know, what is the standard of action for the world's most powerful nation?

And that action-based foreign policy, some people say, you betcha. What choice do we have? And, obviously, folks are saying that now. Others on the other side are saying, just think of the excesses that's created and the backlash that has made our war on terror that much more difficult.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you also chronicle, very vividly, the tension that existed between the CIA professionals and other mid-level, lower-level people in government and the people -- and the senior people in the administration. You call the former category the invisibles. What new did you learn?

I mean, we have known about that tension? What more did you learn about that?

RON SUSKIND: Well, you know, some of the tension was born of competing agenda.

The invisibles, I mean, some of them are heroes. And you see that in the book. There are folks at FBI and CIA. They're in a day-to-day, fierce struggle with the opponent, violent, heavily armed terrorists, who are carrying forward a new idea of warfare.

On the other hand, the notables, people we see in public all the time and tell us how the war is going, how we're doing, to be afraid or not, well, you know, they have a slightly different agenda. And that created tension.

MARGARET WARNER: Give us an example.

RON SUSKIND: Well, you know, there's one in the book near the end where Jami Miscik, who is the -- the chief analyst, really, at the CIA, gets a -- a report from one of her briefers who just briefed the vice president.

The vice president wants to declassify a part of a report. It's a big report the CIA worked up as to the effect, the relationship between the war in Iraq and the broader war on terror. They're very different things, after all. And the briefer says, the vice president wants to declassify this little bit of it.

And Jami essentially says, well, actually, that would probably mislead people. That little bit would incline people to believe that the Iraq war has been helping the broader war on terror. And, in fact, the report says sort of the opposite.

She sends that message back to the vice president through the briefer. And, then, about two weeks later, she gets a call from Porter Goss' office. Now Goss is in charge as the head of central intelligence. And Goss' deputy essentially tells Miscik Goss' position. And it is simply this. He says, saying no to the vice president is the wrong answer.

This is kind of a thunderbolt for Jami Miscik. She's been battling the administration on these issues of evidence for a while now. But she says, you know, actually, saying no to the vice president is part of what we get paid for. She fires off a -- let's just say a heated memo to Goss. And, ultimately, Goss backs off and the vice president does, too. That's the kind of tension...

MARGARET WARNER: But she resigns.

RON SUSKIND: And she ends up leaving about two weeks later. That's right.

War on terror was led by the CIA

MARGARET WARNER: Now, this incredible effort that was undertaken, intelligence and law enforcement, did have some real successes.

RON SUSKIND: Yes. And it was mostly led by Tenet and the people at CIA. Make no mistake. You know, you have got this amazing situation, where the CIA gets blamed for everything, from pre-9/11 intelligence to the supposition of weapons of mass destruction, to mortgage interest rates at this point.

But the fact is, the real war on terror was mostly carried forward by CIA.

MARGARET WARNER: Give a couple of examples, because there are some great ones.

RON SUSKIND: Some of it -- well, some of it is really quite amazing.

We were able to infiltrate al-Qaida's bank, essentially. We got his main financier, bin Laden's main financier. We -- we kidnapped him, kidnapped his brother and some people from his operation, and replaced them with undercover agents.

MARGARET WARNER: In Pakistan.

RON SUSKIND: In Pakistan. They were in a storefront, you know, impersonating lieutenants of this financier. Enormous intelligence was -- was yielded from that. That's one thing.

A second thing, which again heartens people, is that we did develop a source in al-Qaida management, someone hooked in, who knew the real playbook. I call him Ali in the book. He was very, very helpful from late 2002 to early 2005.

And he gave us that key piece of intelligence, that there was an operational WMD cell in the United States armed with this mubtakkar, this hydrogen cyanide device, that cased the New York City subways in the fall of 2002, and, by early 2003, they were 45 days away from zero hour. And this is the thing that really confused us.

But Zawahri, bin Laden's number two -- I call him bin Laden's Cheney -- he called them off. We don't know why. The thinking now is that that, in al-Qaida's view, is not a sufficient second-wave attack. The real playbook, as we understand it, for al-Qaida, is that the second attack will be bigger than 9/11, whenever they can manage that -- and it could be a while -- to create an upward arc of terror, in anticipation between that attack and whatever follows.

Terror is what they do. They want us to feel, you know, dread and futility about this battle.

MARGARET WARNER: A couple of other, though, big projects did not pan out.

RON SUSKIND: Right.

MARGARET WARNER: There's one involving surveillance which has been very much in the news lately.

RON SUSKIND: Right.

MARGARET WARNER: You uncovered a very early program in electronic and financial surveillance.

RON SUSKIND: Right.

Look, there are a lot of companies that have matched up with the U.S. government to essentially carry forward a patriotic urge. First Data and Western Union was one such company. They were a lead player, one of them, in terms of the financial data. I call it FININT, financial intelligence.

And they did countless credit card searches. They were papered legally. So, that was sound. They often amounted to almost nothing, you know, just one after another, you know, tracing Americans, tracing folks for all sorts of reasons, often driven by NSA information that was passed to them.

No one has doubted book's accuracy

MARGARET WARNER: Well, and, in fact, a lot of the 900 Arab men that were rounded up early on and didn't really pan out much...

RON SUSKIND: Well, exactly.

MARGARET WARNER: ... it came from that?

RON SUSKIND: Yes, exactly. And that's a perfect example of a kind of sweep that went on around the country, born of communications and financial data, where folks, based on pure suspicion. Again, the 1 percent doctrine, that was plenty for action.

MARGARET WARNER: But you write that, late in 2003, you say we started to go blind.

RON SUSKIND: That was by virtue of our successes. We caught a lot of people with the sort of financial net that we created here in this country.

Having said that, after a while, they adapted. You know, they're not idiots. They do adapt. And the real battle here is how they have adapted and how we will have to adapt in our strategies to the next stage, the second and third stages of this battle.

MARGARET WARNER: You are reporting on a very controversial subject. And you have direct quotes from the principals in meetings, as well as intelligence officials. How do you make sure you have gotten it right and that you're not being used by people in the administration, lower-level, who didn't like what the president and the vice president did, and are now trying to just get back at them?

RON SUSKIND: Hour after hour with sources, I mean, countless hours with 100-plus sources.

And the fact is, is that they're quotes that show, like all the scenes, what our real battle is about. And this book helps, I think, to -- to break open some of the -- the stuff that's been sealed and probably at this point doesn't need to be sealed anymore.

MARGARET WARNER: And what's been the administration's reaction to the book? Has anyone disputed the accuracy?

RON SUSKIND: No, no, no. They -- certainly, they know about all of this stuff. And I think, frankly, some folks in the administration are happy that a lot of this is out. It does show they're quite engaged. It shows what they have been doing with their taxpayer dollars for pay.

It shows the president was quite engaged, the vice president, too. Some parts, people will like. Some parts, they won't. And we can have a real productive dialogue. And I think that's the goal of this thing, that we can talk about the real issues in this very difficult area, a secret war, of how do we fight, how do we win, and how do we do it in a way that doesn't compromise what makes us distinctive as a democracy? That's the real battle.

MARGARET WARNER: Ron Suskind, thank you.

RON SUSKIND: Thanks.