PART 5: Sept. 15
At Camp David, Advise and Dissent
Thursday, January 31, 2002
Fifth in a series of eight articles.
CIA Director George J. Tenet arrived at Camp David with a briefcase stuffed with top-secret documents and plans, in many respects the culmination of more than four years of work on Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda network and worldwide terrorism.
The briefing packet he handed to President Bush and other members of the war cabinet carried a cover sheet entitled "Going to War." In the upper left corner was a picture of bin Laden inside a red circle. A red slash was superimposed over his face in the CIA's adaptation of the universal symbol of warning and prohibition.
Bush had assembled his advisers in Laurel Lodge at the 125-acre presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland for a day of intensive discussions about how to respond to the attacks of Sept. 11. They had been conferring regularly but mostly in short meetings. This session would give them a chance to talk at length without interruption and to revisit some of the questions they had been wrestling with the past four days.
Tenet was just one of several advisers called on to offer ideas and options on a day designed more for deliberation and recommendations than presidential decision. But Tenet's 30-minute presentation, an expanded version of what he had told Bush and the war cabinet on Sept. 13, sketched the architecture of what the president was looking for: a worldwide campaign on terrorism with an opening phase focused on bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Tenet brought with him a detailed master plan for covert war in Afghanistan and a top-secret "Worldwide Attack Matrix" outlining a clandestine anti-terror campaign in 80 countries around the world. What he was ready to propose represented a striking and risky departure for U.S. policy and would give the CIA the broadest and most lethal authority in its history.
Another option discussed by Bush's advisers during the week -- a military campaign against Iraq -- also would be considered at Camp David. But at a key moment, when asked by Bush, four of his five top advisers would recommend that Iraq not be included in an initial round of military strikes.
Seated around a large table in the wood-paneled conference room, Bush and his advisers were informally dressed, many wearing jackets because of the chilly temperatures that morning. Bush was flanked on his right by Vice President Cheney and his left by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld next to Powell.
Bush had recorded his weekly radio address from the same cabin earlier in the day, and conferred with Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. At 9:19 a.m. he invited reporters into the conference room for a few questions. He was pointing toward war but deliberately circumspect about what he intended to do -- and when.
"This is an administration that will not talk about how we gather intelligence, how we know what we're going to do, nor what our plans are," he said. "When we move, we will communicate with you in an appropriate manner. We're at war."
The morning agenda called for a series of presentations, with each followed by a period of freewheeling discussion -- sometimes brief, sometimes lengthy, other times focused, in many cases quite unfocused. By the end of the morning, the unstructured format sometimes seemed to leave the president's team even farther from consensus.
The session began with a prayer, followed by the first presentations -- from Powell and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill. Powell talked about the international coalition, with special emphasis on Pakistan. O'Neill reviewed Treasury's efforts to develop a plan to attack al Qaeda's financial assets.