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Ron Suskind discusses his new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," which examines the Bush administration's decision-making following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
OK. Never ask an author to read. They will say yes.
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."
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