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Afghan Campaign's Blueprint Emerges
"Well," said Karen P. Hughes, his counselor who had joined them in the Oval Office, "you might as well have cheese."
But the mood quickly turned serious. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice had joined the group and they all agreed that, even if the president wasn't prepared to leave, they had an obligation to the rest of the employees in the White House. Many on the staff, particularly some of the younger, lower-level aides, were still suffering from anxiety after the trauma of Sept. 11, when the White House had been evacuated.
Bush and his advisers decided they should allow all nonessential employees to go home that afternoon. Card relayed the information at a senior staff meeting and announced that the Secret Service would implement additional measures to protect the building, such as expanding the secure perimeter around the White House complex.
Card said the vice president would be moved to an undisclosed location as a precaution against having the president and vice president together in the event of another attack. Continuity in government -- ensuring the survival of someone in the constitutional line of succession to the presidency -- remained an essential priority.
The decision to move Cheney was the starkest example of how seriously the federal government has taken the threat of additional attacks. Although the decision led to questions about the vice president's whereabouts and well-being, Cheney himself has insisted on staying away from the White House on a regular basis.
The stepped-up threats added a sense of urgency to the deliberations underway among the president and his war cabinet. They knew they were under pressure to strengthen defenses at home and develop a plan to go after the terrorists.
Earlier that morning, after his intelligence briefing from the CIA, Bush had met with the war cabinet in the White House Situation Room, one floor below the chief of staff's office in the southwest corner of the West Wing. Forty-eight hours after the attacks, Bush and his advisers began to focus more intently on how to go after Osama bin Laden, his al Qaeda terrorist network and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
CIA Director George J. Tenet and several other agency officials described in more detail the ideas Tenet had outlined the previous day. This was the second presentation in what became an increasingly detailed set of CIA proposals for expanding its war on terrorism.
Tenet's concept called for bringing together expanded intelligence-gathering resources, covert action, sophisticated technology, agency paramilitary teams and opposition forces in Afghanistan. They would then be combined with U.S. military power and Special Forces into an elaborate and lethal package designed to destroy the shadowy terrorist networks.
The CIA director was a holdover from the Clinton administration, but he had emerged as a key member of Bush's team. A former congressional staffer, Tenet was unexpectedly tapped first as deputy director in 1995 and then as director of central intelligence in 1997 after the nomination of Anthony Lake, President Clinton's national security adviser, was held up by the Senate and Lake requested that his name be withdrawn.
Tenet and Clinton had never really bonded; the former president preferred his daily briefing in writing. With Bush, who liked oral briefings and the CIA director in attendance, a strong relationship had developed. Tenet could be direct, even irreverent and earthy.
In his presentation, Tenet said the United States could begin to go after bin Laden and the Taliban by invigorating the Northern Alliance, the primary opposition force in Afghanistan, where bin Laden was hiding and operating. The alliance's roughly 20,000 fighters were decidedly a mixed bag dominated by five factions, but in reality probably 25 sub-factions.