On September 16, 2001, Vice President Cheney appeared on NBC's Meet the Press and talked about what it will take to deal with the terrorism threat: "…We have to work the dark side, if you will. Spend time in the shadows of the intelligence world," Cheney said. "A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion …" Here, intelligence officials and others offer their thoughts on Cheney's use of that phrase, as well as the impact of 9/11 on the vice president.
- Excerpts from FRONTLINE's interviews with
- James Bamford
- Daniel Benjamin
- Vincent Cannistraro
- Richard Clarke
- Steve Coll
- Tyler Drumheller
- David Kay
- Richard Kerr
- James Mann
- John McLaughlin
National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism, National Security Council, 1998-2001
... What do you think he's talking about?
The problem that they were grappling with was, they thought the American people wanted to go to war because we'd been attacked. And you want, therefore, to see U.S. troops marching and taking things over -- something like a World War II response to Pearl Harbor. And yet the enemy is not a country; the enemy is a shadowy terrorist network.
The president starts saying things like: "This is a different kind of war. You're not going to see our victories. Our victories are going to occur in dark alleys as our intelligence forces and law enforcement forces go after this threat."
That's, I think, what Cheney is talking about in that interview, when he talks about the "dark side." What he's really saying is the dark corners of the world where terrorists hang out. That's where this war is going to be fought, because it's a different kind of war. ...
We talked about how the vice president is different after 9/11. You had said harder, harsher, whatever. Is there something specific to how he is? How is he changed afterward?
Well, immediately after 9/11, we began worrying about the decapitation of the American government, because if the airplane had hit the White House that day, and if the president had been in the White House that day, and the vice president was 20 feet away from him in his normal office, we could have had the decapitated government.
We began saying, "That must be their intention, and therefore we need to get the vice president out, put him somewhere else," and have advisers and a government ready to pick up if Al Qaeda comes back and succeeds. And the vice president, very willingly, said he would do that, so he was frequently at the "undisclosed location."
Now, frankly, sitting around in an "undisclosed location" sharpens your instincts and focuses your mind. It's not just another day at the office. You become aware that this is different; this is raw; that this is the extreme end of what could happen.
I think the vice president felt he kind of looked death in the eye on 9/11. Three thousand Americans died. A building that the vice president used to work in blew up, and people died there. A plane that crashed in Pennsylvania could have hit the White House, could have killed him and me and everybody else who was in the White House. This was a cold slap in the face: This is a different world you're living in, and the enemy's still out there, and the enemy could come after you. That does cause you to think [about] things differently. ...BACK TO TOP »
Iraq Weapons Inspector 1991-1992, Iraq Survey Group, 2003-2004
... U.S. counterterrorism policy had been bedeviled by the belief that the appropriate response to terrorism is a judicial law enforcement response. Whether it be the embassy bombings in East Africa, the USS Cole, or any earlier event, you tried to build a legal case and bring the people perpetrated the act into U.S. jurisdictional space so you can try them.
I thought there had been a failure to understand that terrorism, as it was evolving under al Qaeda -- radical Arab terrorism -- was really not susceptible to a legal jurisdictional law enforcement response because they were waging war. At some point you had to be able to use all the instruments of state power to defend yourself.
So I actually took [Cheney's statement] as a reasonable understanding of how the world had changed. I was, quite frankly, as I told other people, really sad that we had failed before 9/11 to adequately explain that to the American people and legislators. I testified often before them of this change that was coming about, and no one believed us. It took 3,000 Americans being killed before we realized these people were really out to do something that was ... not a criminal act in the narrow, usual sense of a drug gang or a Mafioso type of act. They were out to destroy our system. So I actually thought, "Well, maybe he gets it." ...BACK TO TOP »
... "[T]he dark side" -- what did he mean by that do you think?
Well, we now understand that in the first 10 days or so after Sept. 11, there was a very intensive discussion within the administration about which rules governing the covert operations of the CIA and the Pentagon needed to be rewritten. ... Cheney would have understood by the time he went on Meet the Press that a new architecture was being contemplated.
What specifically are we talking about? First of all, to carry out covert action in this country, you need the authority of the president, and the president must provide that authority in writing. When you provide written authority to the CIA to carry out covert action, you may provide a certain level of specificity, but you are mostly just giving umbrella authority to the agency to operate. Once the covert action begins, lawyers and policy-makers at the CIA, at the White House, begin to confront how much they're going to write down about the rules of engagement out there in the field.
I think Cheney was signaling that, already in the first 10 days after Sept. 11, there was a consensus building in the administration that practices that had been ruled out during the 1990s were going to be ruled in. This certainly would have included practices associated with detention, interrogation of prisoners and the use of force in targeted killings against individuals known to be planning imminent attacks against the United States or its interests.
Because of the revelations that followed Abu Ghraib in 2003-2004, there's a tendency to believe that these rules for interrogation and detention were invented in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. The truth is there was a long-running discussion and a set of precedents about extrajudicial detention, about capturing terrorist suspects in one country and shipping them clandestinely to another country, and even about targeted killings. There was a rich series of classified precedents -- Justice Department memoranda that predated the Bush administration -- that created the framework in which the Bush administration began to work on these issues.
Certainly, for instance, let's take renditions, capturing a terrorist suspect in, let's say Italy, and putting them on a private plane with a hood over his head, flying him to Egypt for interrogation. Now, the legality of that practice under American law was well established by Sept. 11. It had been sanctioned as far back as the Reagan administration, and the legal rationales for such activity had been very well developed in Justice Department memoranda produced during the Clinton administration. Indeed, there had been a series of court cases that had seemingly ratified the legality of a lot of this activity.
So these questions had antecedents by the time the Bush administration started wrestling with them in September of 2001. Rather than inventing a whole new set of rules in which they said, "Oh, let's go kill anyone on a list of terrorists," they were taking a debate that already existed, albeit in classified channels, and just moving the lines. Then they were creating new language to justify those changes. ...BACK TO TOP »
Author, Rise of the Vulcans
... When you heard him say [the "dark side"], based on what you know about this man, what is the meaning of that?
Cheney, throughout his career, has been someone who kept secrets in the fashion of someone who's actually in the intelligence community, but [he's] also a believer in covert operations and in gathering as much intelligence as possible. He's always had links to what I would call the "permanent military and intelligence apparatus" that continues with the U.S. government from administration to administration. And when he spoke about the "dark side," I think that's what he's referring to. ...
... What is the effect of 9/11 on this man?
Well, it's confirmatory in the sense that he's been saying for years, "There are real threats to American security out there. Here [we've] been attacked inside the continental United States in a way that we never have been before." In that sense, it's galvanizing and confirmatory.
What it changes is his view of where the threat's going to come from. I don't get any sense that Cheney was the kind of guy who saw terrorist groups as the main threat to American security. I don't want to say that he ignored terrorist threats; that's not true. But, this is someone who really was thinking that the threat to American security might come from North Korea going crazy, or take your pick.
So in that sense, 9/11 wasn't confirmatory, it was, "Ah-ha, now I see what it is I have to [get] America's military and intelligence resources to combat." ...BACK TO TOP »
... I think they wanted to show the American people that we're going to fight back. ... If you look at the European services and you talk to them about the reason they didn't get all spun up over this in the beginning, [it] was because they went through the Red Terror [communist terror attacks] [which] was never a 9/11 type of thing, but in fact was much more devastating. It changed the whole way society worked in Europe. In Italy, people stopped going out at night. The IRA [Irish Republican Army] changed the whole way British society worked.
The way they finally got this under control ... was by turning some of their tactics on them: surveilling them, being very aggressive in going after them. Some of that involves things that people may not want to know about or care about if it's a war situation, and that's what I think [they] were talking about at that time. ...BACK TO TOP »
... Well, 9/11 affected him tremendously; there's no question about that. He came to the conclusion that the world had changed significantly, and we had to change significantly in order to deal with the world. He had already thought of the CIA as kind of a soft, squishy instrument to use in a real war. And so I think that led him to really ride hard on the agency, particularly the agency's war on terrorism: how it implemented that war, what methodologies it would use, etc. ...BACK TO TOP »
... I don't know what [the "dark side"] means. There is no one in the CIA who looks like Darth Vader. I guess we are the dark side in the sense that we are the clandestine service of the United States. We are the agency charged with carrying out covert action. If you don't want someone to do those things, go to the State Department.
This is an intelligence service, and therefore he may have had us in mind. But I think more broadly, ... he was saying this is a very unconventional enemy. This is an enemy who doesn't fight by the rules. This is an enemy that we've never faced before, certainly not on our own territory.
This is the big difference here from Pearl Harbor. We were attacked within a major American city on the mainland -- not that Pearl Harbor was not an attack on America, but it was a different type of attack by a conventional enemy. I think that is what he had in mind. ...
Until Americans and the world had the clarifying event of 9/11, it was beyond everyone's capacity to envision that we would go on the offensive in a country [Afghanistan] like that.
I don't think the real dividing line here is between the Bush and Clinton administration or anything like that. I think it is 9/11 itself. It was a clarifying event in a way that something like the atomic bomb being dropped was a clarifying event, in that that is when the atomic age began, not when physicists theoretically figured out something about atomic energy. Everyone could not visualize the enemy. ...BACK TO TOP »
Author, The Puzzle Palace
... I think when he says the "dark side," he means first of all, that intelligence is going to become far more aggressive: assassinations, heavy use of commandos, doing things that are completely unseen by the public, the press, or even Congress, for that matter, and, to a large degree, pretty much tuning out the American public on what's going to be going on from then on in this war against terrorism.
I mean, there were people at the CIA that didn't know what the Pentagon was doing; the Pentagon didn't know what the CIA was doing. There was enormous secrecy about everything that was going on. The CIA was coming up with information, and then the secret little unit at the Pentagon was coming up with information. ...BACK TO TOP »
... [What does he mean by "the dark side," from your point of view?]
I would say that is [about] beginning to think about preemptive actions: How do you take an action before an event, not wait until it's happened and then go after the people and try to put them in jail. And I think terrorism by its very nature requires actions before the terrorist strike and requires you to do things in anticipation. And that's the dark side, because I think that means that you ... not only have to find individuals and kill them before they kill you, but you have to be aggressively going out to try to not only collect information, but to run operations aimed at disrupting it. So I think that's a different world than we had been in in the Cold War and most of CIA's existence. ...BACK TO TOP »
National Security Council, 1994-1999
... I interpreted it to mean that we were back in the business of covert, lethal operations. That was what it meant to me. And that, as Cofer Black would say, "The gloves are off." That meant, yes, we were going to be training operatives again to do a lot more than just collect intelligence. And from where I was sitting, it didn't seem like such a crazy remark.
Remember, I and my colleagues had been sitting through the frustrating period of 1998 and '99, and wondering what on earth were we going to have to do to get someone to go kidnap or kill bin Laden? And this remark fit into that pattern; it made sense. "OK, we're going to develop that capability." And I remember also writing a piece around that time, saying, ... "We're going to have to re-examine how we do business," because we'd gotten out of that line of work for all kinds of reasons.
Now we were dealing with a different enemy, and this would require a re-examination of our tools. I do not think it ever occurred to me at that time that working the "dark side" meant working the dark side in terms of interrogation and torture. I guess I didn't see the United States going there. But it did mean to me that yes, we would be re-examining the way that our intelligence operatives worked. ...BACK TO TOP »