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March 3 2002 2:55 PM

Ten Years in September

This season's must-Skip series!

(Continued from Page 5)

"Tenet said ... information collected before Sept. 11 but only now being processed indicated that operatives had expected something big. But none of it specified the day, time or place of the attacks in a way that would have allowed the CIA or FBI to preempt them."

Suspiciously Bush-serving (but not necessarily untrue!) account:

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Joint Chiefs chairman Shelton initially worries that Bush might "be heading down the same path that the Clinton administration had followed: Strike quickly, but with no follow through." He's "relieved as he rather quickly realized Bush was not looking for an easy or obvious response."

Examples of Bush being in charge: 1) He rejects as "way too vague" a draft text that says he would punish those who "permitted or tolerated or encouraged" terrorists. 2) He hands Hughes notes with the themes he wants her to sound on 9/12 ("No kind of enemy that we are used to—but America will adapt"). 3) He comes up with the phrase to broadens the NSC mission statement beyond U.S borders ("eliminate terrorism as a threat to … all nations that love freedom").

Bush sounding a bit like Bill Maher:

"The antiseptic notion of launching a cruise missile into some guy's, you know, tent, really is a joke. … I mean, people viewed that as the impotent America ... of a flaccid, you know, kind of technologically competent but not very tough country that was willing to launch a cruise missile out of a submarine and that'd be it. …

"You've got to put lives at risk. We've got to have people on the ground."

Non-micromanagement: 1) "It's a day of national tragedy, and we'll clean up the mess, and then the ball will be in your court and [incoming Joint Chiefs chairman] Dick Myers's court to respond."—Bush to Rumsfeld, afternoon of 9/11. 2) "Do what you have to do."—Bush to Powell, who realizes he has a "blank check" to make up a list of demands to give Pakistan without interagency haggling. Later, at an NSC meeting, other officials have to ask for a copy of the list.

Possibly-alarming instances where Bush appears to have been 'winging it': 1) Why did Bush say that terrorism "will not stand"? He tells W & B that "maybe it was an echo from the past. I don't know why … I'll tell you this, we didn't sit around massaging the words. I got up there and just spoke." 2) The decision to announce the "Bush Doctrine' ("We will make no distinction between the terrorists … and those who harbor them") was made on the night of 9/11 by Bush with Rice's advice but "without consulting most of his national security team, including Cheney and Powell."

 And you thought it would be the other way around? President Bush makes a "comforting call" to his father on the afternoon of 9/11.

Actual internecine conflict: Not much. 1) Ashcroft interrupts FBI Director Mueller's presentation to say he shouldn't focus on convicting terrorists any more, but rather on disrupting them and stopping them. 2) Rumsfeld has a Queeg moment when he gets "furious" that someone on his staff has called the White House, without his knowledge, to see if the president wants a fighter escort. "I will not have that!," he says, seeing a violation of the chain of command. 3) Powell rolling his eyes at Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz's Iraq talk and lobbying Shelton to "get these guys back in the box."