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At Camp David, Advise and Dissent
Bush, Aides Grapple With War Plan

By Bob Woodward and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 31, 2002; A01

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.

Then came Tenet with his professionally packaged briefing papers. He flipped past the cover to the first page, which read, "Initial Hook: Destroying al Qaeda, Closing the safe haven." The haven was Afghanistan. Then he went methodically, page by page, through the briefing material, providing for the president and the others the basic covert-action foundation for an unconventional war on terrorism.

It would start with a half-dozen small CIA paramilitary teams on the ground in Afghanistan. They could eventually link up with military Special Forces units, who would bring firepower and technology to aid the opposition fighters in Afghanistan. The plan called for intelligence-sharing with other nations and a full-scale attack on the financial underpinnings of the terrorist network, plus covert operations across the globe.

At the heart of the proposal was a recommendation that the president give the CIA what Tenet labeled "exceptional authorities" to attack and destroy al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the rest of the world. Tenet wanted a broad, general intelligence order that would allow the CIA to conduct the necessary covert operations without having to come back for formal approval for each specific operation. Tenet said he needed the new authority to allow the agency to operate without restraint -- and he wanted encouragement from the president to take risks.

Tenet had with him a draft of a presidential intelligence order that would give the CIA power to use the full range of covert instruments, including deadly force.

For more than two decades, the CIA had simply modified previous presidential findings to obtain formally its authority for counterterrorism. Tenet's new proposal, technically called a Memorandum of Notification, was presented as a modification to the worldwide counterterrorism intelligence finding signed on May 12, 1986, by President Ronald Reagan. As if symbolically erasing the more recent past, it superseded five such memoranda signed by President Bill Clinton.

Another proposal was that the CIA increase liaison work with key foreign intelligence services. Tenet hoped to obtain the assistance of these agencies with some of the hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding he was seeking. Using such intelligence services as surrogates could triple or quadruple the CIA's effectiveness.

Like much of the world of covert activity, these kinds of arrangements carried risks: It would put the United States in league with questionable agencies, some with dreadful human rights records. Some of these intelligence services had a reputation for ruthlessness and they used torture to obtain confessions. Tenet acknowledged that these were not people you were likely to be sitting next to in church on Sunday.

Tenet also said the United States already had a "large asset base," given the work the CIA had been doing in countries near Afghanistan.

The unmanned Predator surveillance aircraft that was now armed with Hellfire missiles had been operating for more than a year out of Uzbekistan to provide real-time video of Afghanistan. It could be used to kill bin Laden and his key lieutenants from the air -- a major focus of what Tenet now proposed.

In addition, he said, the United States should seek to work closely with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Pakistan to stop the travel of al Qaeda leaders and "close all border crossings" to them. Tenet called for initiating intelligence contact with some rogue states that he said might be helpful in trying to destroy al Qaeda.

A key portion of Tenet's briefing covered operations inside Afghanistan, and here he presented in more detail how the Northern Alliance, the loose amalgam of forces that had been fighting the Taliban for years, could be used. The CIA believed the alliance was potentially a powerful force but was desperate for money, weapons and intelligence. Tenet advocated substantially stepping up "direct support of the Northern Alliance," a proposal the president had said he would approve. U.S. ground forces could then link up with the Northern Alliance fighters.

Operationally, Tenet envisioned a strategy to create "a northern front, closing the safe haven." His idea was that Afghan opposition forces, aided by the United States, would move first against the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, try to break the Taliban's grip on that city and open up the border with Uzbekistan. From there the campaign could move to other cities in the north, he said.

The CIA director also described a role for the opposition tribes in the southern part of Afghanistan, groups hostile to the northern opposition forces but crucial to a campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban. Tenet said the CIA had begun working with a number of tribal leaders in the south the previous year. Some would try to play on both sides, he said, but once the war began, they could be enticed by money, food, ammunition and supplies to join the U.S.-led campaign.

On the financial front, Tenet called for clandestine computer surveillance and electronic eavesdropping to locate the assets of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, with a particular focus on the charitable groups that were a critical element in bin Laden's funding.

Tenet then turned to another top secret document, called the "Worldwide Attack Matrix," which described covert operations in 80 countries that were either underway or that he was now recommending. The actions ranged from routine propaganda to lethal covert action in preparation for military attacks. Included were efforts to disrupt terrorist plots or attacks in countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. In some countries, CIA teams would break into facilities to obtain information.

Because the CIA had been working aggressively against terrorism for years, Tenet said, the agency had done extensive target development and network analysis. What it needed was money and flexibility -- so the CIA could move quickly, even instantly, if it discovered terrorist targets -- and broad authority.

Rumsfeld was enthusiastic about what Tenet laid out that morning, despite potential friction between the CIA and the Pentagon over roles and responsibilities in any military campaign. "I was convinced we had to get people on the ground," Rumsfeld said in an interview. "And to the extent the CIA had relationships or could develop relationships that would facilitate that, [then] that would be critically important."

"Rumsfeld understood the utility of having the CIA involved," the president said in an interview last month. "I think he quickly grasped what I grasped. . . . It was near unanimity on the immediate plan for Afghanistan, which was to mate up our assets with the Northern Alliance troops."

When the CIA director finished his presentation, Bush left no doubt what he thought of it, virtually shouting with enthusiasm: "Great job."

After a break, Bush turned to Robert S. Mueller III, who had taken over as FBI director the week before the attacks.

Mueller, a former federal prosecutor, had spent years working on the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. He knew that the worst thing that could happen to an FBI director was to have a major domestic terrorist incident on his watch. The second thing he knew was that he had not prepared a presentation. He had been shocked that he had been invited to the Camp David war-planning session and expected to be called on somewhat later, if at all.

Not used to the company and slightly intimidated by the presence of the nation's top leadership, Mueller soon found himself giving a routine summary of the investigation into the four Sept. 11 hijackings. He told other FBI officials afterward that he was so unhappy with his own performance that he brought his remarks to an early close. At least one of the president's advisers concluded that the FBI was still too focused on prosecuting terrorists and not on preventing them from acting.

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft provided an update to the group on his efforts to develop a legislative package to expand the powers of law enforcement to fight terrorism. He outlined a two-phase strategy, aimed first at "immediate disruption and prevention of terrorism" and followed by longer-term efforts to put terrorists "off keel." Ashcroft warned that it was "important to disrupt" the terrorists now, but added, "We need to remember these are patient people," noting that eight years passed between the two attacks on the World Trade Center. The administration needed a new long-term strategy, he said, "because that's the kind of strategy they have in place."

The final presentation of the morning came from Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had also brought a big briefcase to Camp David. Bush had ordered the Pentagon to come to the meeting with plenty of options, and Shelton was prepared to talk about military action against both Afghanistan and, if pressed, Iraq, although he opposed that step then. But as the day developed, he discussed only three options, all aimed at Afghanistan.

The first called for a strike with cruise missiles, a plan the military could execute quickly if speed was the president's overriding priority. The missiles could be launched by Navy ships or Air Force planes from hundreds of miles away. The targets included al Qaeda's training camps.

The problem, Shelton said, was that the camps were virtually empty and therefore the missile attacks would not be that effective. Clearly, Shelton was not enamored of this idea, nor were the others. Bush had brushed off the possibility from Day One that his response would be an antiseptic "pinprick" attack.

Option Two combined cruise missiles with manned bomber attacks. Shelton said Bush could initially choose a strike lasting three or four days or something longer, maybe up to 10 days. The targets included al Qaeda training camps and some Taliban targets, depending on whether the president wanted to go after the Taliban militarily at the start. But this too had limits. As Cheney had said the first night of the crisis, there were few high-value targets in Afghanistan, a country devastated by two decades of war. Another disadvantage was that it could reinforce perceptions that the United States wanted a largely risk-free war on terrorism.

Shelton described the third and most robust option as cruise missiles, bombers and what the planners like to call "boots on the ground." This option included all the elements of the second option along with U.S. Special Forces, the elite commandos, and possibly the Army and Marines being deployed inside Afghanistan. But he said it would take a minimum of 10 to 12 days just to get initial forces on the ground -- in reality it took far longer -- because bases and overflight rights would be needed for search-and-rescue teams to bring out any downed pilots.

If there was already a consensus to go to war, the discussions that followed many of the morning's presentations underscored to the participants the complexity and uncertainty of their undertaking.

Bush and his team faced a far different situation than Bush's father, George H.W. Bush, had 11 years earlier, after Iraq had invaded Kuwait in 1990. On Saturday, Aug. 4, 1990, again at Camp David and in the same lodge, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, then commander of the Central Command, had presented a detailed, off-the-shelf proposal for military action. It was called Operations Plan 90-1002, and it was the basic military plan that would be executed over the next seven months to oust Iraq from Kuwait.

In the case of Afghanistan, a military plan would have to be devised quickly, once the president made decisions about the shape of the war, the initial focus of the campaign and the relationship between the CIA and the Pentagon.

Based on the recollections of many of the participants and some notes taken at the meeting, the topics that morning included the politics of the region -- Afghanistan and the surrounding countries; the shaping of a coalition; the need to think unconventionally about fighting the war; and whether Iraq should be included in the war's first phase.

At one point, as they discussed the inherent risks of any operation in Afghanistan, someone said this was not likely to be like the Balkans, where ethnic hatreds had occupied the Clinton administration for most of its tenure. Rice said the problems of Afghanistan and the surrounding region were so complicated, "We're going to wish this was the Balkans."

The ideal result from this campaign, the president said, would be to kick terrorists out of some places like Afghanistan and through that action persuade other countries that had supported terrorism in the past, such as Iran, to change their behavior.

Powell noted that everyone in the international coalition was ready to go after al Qaeda, but that extending the war to other terrorist groups or countries could cause some of them to drop out.

The president said he didn't want other countries dictating terms or conditions for the war on terrorism. "At some point," the president said, "we may be the only ones left. That's okay with me. We are America."

Powell didn't reply, but going it alone was precisely what he wanted to avoid if possible. In Powell's view, the president's formulation was not realistic. The United States could not launch an effective war in Afghanistan or worldwide without a coalition. He believed the president made such statements knowing they might not withstand a second analysis. The tough talk might be necessary but it was not policy.

In contrast, Cheney took the president at his word, and was convinced the president was absolutely serious when he said they would go it alone if necessary.

Rumsfeld raised another problem. Although everyone agreed that destroying al Qaeda was the first priority, singling out bin Laden, particularly by the president, would elevate bin Laden the way Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had been elevated during the Gulf War.

Rumsfeld told the others the worst thing they could do in such a situation was to misstate their objective. It would not be effective to succeed in your objective of removing or killing bin Laden or Taliban leader Mohammad Omar without solving the basic problem of terrorism. Vilification of bin Laden could rob the United States of its ability to frame this as a larger war.

Another puzzle to the group was the Taliban itself. The Taliban clearly would be pressured in hopes that it would break with al Qaeda and perhaps give up bin Laden. Few thought this was likely, but they agreed they had to make the effort. Some of Bush's advisers believed the Taliban might fracture, that some faction might break off and help in rounding up bin Laden, but there was no reliable evidence or intelligence to support this notion.

Bush noted that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had suggested giving the Taliban not just an ultimatum but also a deadline.

Several others argued against a deadline; they did not want a deadline to dictate the timing of when to start military action. As Bush had said the previous day at Washington National Cathedral, the military campaign would begin at "an hour of our choosing." During this part of the discussion, Bush said, according to notes of one participant, "I want to give the Taliban a right to turn over al Qaeda; if they don't, there have to be consequences that show the United States is serious."

Afghanistan's history nagged at the president's advisers. Its geography was forbidding and its record of rebuffing outside forces was real. Despite attractive options presented earlier in the morning, several advisers seemed worried. Bush asked his advisers: What are the worst cases out there? What are the real downside risks?

One was triggering chaos in Afghanistan that would spill over into Pakistan. This was seen as a great danger by many, particularly Rice and Cheney. Afghanistan was already a mess, Cheney noted. If Pakistan went, then you have unleashed a whole other set of demons. He was worried that Pakistan's choice to support the United States could lead to internal unrest that might bring down the government -- and give Islamic fundamentalists access to Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

The discussion highlighted the critical importance of Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who, everyone now understood, was the most important barrier between stability and a worst-case scenario. Have the Pakistanis fully thought through the risks of supporting the United States, Bush asked.

Powell said he believed they had. First, Musharraf had seen how serious the administration was about terrorism. Second, he said, the general realizes he has gradually been losing control of his country, and he may see this as an opportunity to stop the slide into extremism. Musharraf did not want Pakistan to turn into a rogue state, Powell believed. He wanted a more secular, westernized country.

President Musharraf is taking a tremendous risk, the president said. We need to make it worth his while. We should help him with a number of things, including nuclear security. Put together a package of support for Pakistan, he directed.

Another risk they faced was getting bogged down in Afghanistan. Rice knew it had been the nemesis of the British in the 19th century and the Soviets in the 20th. She wondered whether it might be the same for the United States in the 21st.

These fears were shared by others, which led to a different discussion: Should they think about launching military action elsewhere as an insurance policy in case things in Afghanistan went bad? They would need successes early in any war to maintain domestic and international support. Rice asked whether they could envision a successful military campaign beyond Afghanistan.

In this context, the issue of Iraq once again was on the table. The full sequence is not clear from the recollections and notes of several key participants. But all agree that the Iraq strategy's principal advocate in the group was Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. He had been the department's third-ranking official under Cheney during the Gulf War and believed that the abrupt and incomplete end to the ground campaign, with Hussein still in power, had been a mistake.

The Bush administration had been seeking to undermine Hussein from the start, with Wolfowitz pushing efforts to aid opposition groups and Powell seeking support for a new set of sanctions. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had been examining military options in Iraq for months but nothing had emerged. The fear was that Hussein was still attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction, and without United Nations inspectors in the country, there was no way to know the exact nature of the threat they faced.

Wolfowitz argued that the real source of all the trouble and terrorism was probably Hussein. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 created an opportunity to strike. Hussein was a bad guy, a dangerous leader bent on obtaining and probably using weapons of mass destruction. He also likely was culpable in the attacks of the previous Tuesday, at least indirectly, and all of them ought to acknowledge it.

Rumsfeld had helped raise the Iraq issue in previous meetings, but not as vehemently as his deputy. Now, Rumsfeld asked again: Is this the time to attack Iraq? He noted that there would be a big buildup of forces, with not that many good targets in Afghanistan. At some point, if the United States was serious about terrorism, it would have to deal with Iraq. Is this the opportunity?

Powell objected. You're going to hear from your coalition partners, he told the president. They're all with you, every one, but they will go away if you hit Iraq. If you get something pinning Sept. 11 on Iraq, great -- let's put it out and kick them at the right time. But let's get Afghanistan now. If we do that, we will have increased our ability to go after Iraq -- if we can prove Iraq had a role.

Bush let the discussion continue but he had strong reservations about Iraq. He was concerned about two things, which he described in an interview last month. "My theory is you've got to do something and do it well and that . . . if we could prove that we could be successful in this theater, then the rest of the task would be easier," he said. "If we tried to do too many things -- two things, for example, or three things -- militarily, then . . . the lack of focus would have been a huge risk."

His other concern was one that he did not express to his war cabinet but that he said later was part of his own thinking. He knew that around the table were a number of advisers -- Powell, Cheney and Wolfowitz -- who had been with his father during the Gulf War deliberations. "And one of the things I wasn't going to allow to happen is, that we weren't going to let their previous experience in this theater dictate a rational course for the new war," the president said.

Bush also noted that, whatever his comments were about Iraq that morning, they seemed to bring the debate to a close. "There wasn't a lot of talk about Iraq in the second [afternoon] round," he said. "The second round of discussion was focused only on Afghanistan, let me put it to you that way."

Wolfowitz had persisted in making his arguments about Iraq and other issues, and had annoyed some of his colleagues by showing up at meetings that were called for principals only -- not for deputies. To Card, the president's chief of staff, it seemed as if Wolfowitz was just banging a drum, not providing additional information or new arguments.

At one point during the morning, Wolfowitz interrupted his boss, Rumsfeld, and repeated a point he had made earlier in the discussion. There was an awkward silence around the table. Rumsfeld seemed to ignore the interruption but his eyes narrowed. Some thought he might be annoyed; others thought he was just listening carefully.

Bush flashed a pointed look in Card's direction. During a break in the meeting, the chief of staff took Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz aside.

"The president will expect one person to speak for the Department of Defense," Card said.

Lunch was finally served, and Bush told his advisers that they should take some time to exercise or rest. He said: Then I want everybody back here at 4 o'clock, and I want to hear what you think we ought to do.

Rice was concerned about the apparent lack of focus during the last part of the morning. The National Security Council meetings usually were more structured, with the principals reporting on their departments or agencies, and then together they would work through the problem and come up with options. The morning meeting had started well, but then had become repetitious, unusually freewheeling. She didn't know where the morning discussion had left them.

How are we going to get a plan out of this? she wondered. Have we got anything here?

She had listened carefully to the president that morning and she could tell he was heading toward action. He had remarked, "After today, we'll have a plan of action now," and referred to the session as "an action meeting."

Rice convened the principals -- Powell, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Card -- without the president. She expressed her concerns to the others. We need to bring more discipline to the discussion in the afternoon, she said.

Powell went back to his cabin, where Alma, his wife, was reading a book. As he saw it, the big questions were still on the table: what to do, when to do it, and do you go after this one thing -- al Qaeda and Afghanistan -- that they knew was out there, or do you expand the war at this time? Back in the cabin, he sat down in a chair and closed his eyes for half an hour.

Rice went back to her cabin, returned some phone calls and went off to exercise. About 3:45 p.m., she ran into the president outside his cabin. He had worked out on the elliptical machine and lifted weights. Now he told his national security adviser he had a plan for the afternoon. "I'm going to go around the table and I'm going to ask people what they think," the president said. "What do you think about that?"

"That's fine," she replied. "Do you want me just to listen?"

"I want you to listen," Bush said.

That was consistent with their usual working arrangement. Rice would listen for him and then offer assessments in private. Her principal role was to help make the decision-making process orderly, to ensure that Bush had received all the information he needed. Every morning about 7:15, she, Powell and Rumsfeld were on the phone together to share information and ideas.

The entire team reconvened in Laurel Lodge. The president said he wanted to hear recommendations from the principals -- Powell, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Card and the vice president. Okay, who will start? He looked at Powell.

Powell expected more general discussion but plunged ahead. The focus ought to be on bin Laden and al Qaeda, he said, their camps and their infrastructure. Make them the target. All the states that supported terror, you can do at a time of your choosing. They are not going anywhere. The coalition and the energy that had been created were directed against Sept. 11.

It looked as if 6,000 people were dead from the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks (by January, the estimate was down to 3,100). To do anything that did not focus on al Qaeda would not be understood, either by the American people, the coalition or, he argued, international opinion.

If we weren't going after Iraq prior to Sept. 11, why would we be going after them now when the current outrage is not directed at Iraq, Powell asked. Nobody could look at Iraq and say it was responsible for Sept. 11. It was important not to lose focus.

Powell also felt that the Defense Department was overestimating its ability to do two things at the same time from the same command, with the same commander and staff. Military attacks on both Afghanistan and Iraq would be under the jurisdiction of the Central Command, which is responsible for the region that included the Middle East and South Asia.

He didn't make that point, but figured it was his ace in the hole. Powell also noticed that no military plan had been presented for Iraq. No one, neither Rumsfeld nor Wolfowitz, had told the president precisely what should be done in Iraq and how it might be done. Nobody had taken it to the next step and said, This is what we're talking about. The absence of a plan was a gaping hole.

Continuing, Powell said, tell the Taliban, "You're responsible." Be firm with the Taliban's leaders. If they don't act and throw bin Laden and his terrorists out of Afghanistan, then we tell them, "We're going to hold you accountable." The focus should be on military targets. Also, a public case should be made that bin Laden was the guilty one. That was important. Evidence mattered.

Rumsfeld was next. We must not undercut our ability to act over the long term, he said, which meant they should keep thinking about what to do about terrorism in general. Patience was important. Rooting out bin Laden would take very different intelligence than they had. The doctrine of "hit, talk, hit," in which the United States would strike, pause to see the reaction, and then hit again, sounded too much like Vietnam. Rumsfeld said there was a need for unconventional approaches, especially the Special Forces information operations, in gathering intelligence on the ground.

But Rumsfeld, significantly, did not make a recommendation on Iraq.

Tenet attempted to summarize. The plan, he said, should include the elements of strike, strangle, surround and sustain. He mentioned his own plan for a global approach but basically supported the position that the initial military focus should be on Afghanistan.

Card was next. He did not have much foreign policy experience, so he began by speaking generally. "What is the definition of success?" he asked. He said it would first be proving that this was not just an effort to pound sand -- as the president had repeatedly made clear. They should demonstrate to the world that the effort was directed at terrorists beyond Afghanistan.

Consideration should be given to contemporaneous actions in other parts of the world -- that could be in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Yemen or Somalia, he said. This could be covert, not overt military action, though it was important to consider a plan that would demonstrate to the world relatively quickly the worldwide nature of the problem.

Card also said he didn't think the case had been made for Iraq to be a principal target.

Cheney was last and, according to notes from that day, talked the longest and most comprehensively. We need to do everything we can to stop the next attack, he said. Are we being aggressive enough? We need a group now that's going to look at lessons learned from where we've been. And in going after bin Laden we need to consider the broader context. A week ago, before Sept. 11, we were worried about the strength of our whole position in the Middle East -- where we stood with the Saudis, the Turks and others in the region. Now they all want to be part of our efforts, and that's an opportunity. We need to reach out for that opportunity.

Building a coalition to take advantage of the opportunities, he said, suggests that this may be a bad time to take on Saddam Hussein in Iraq. We would lose momentum.

Cheney thus joined Powell, Tenet and Card in opposing action on Iraq. Rumsfeld had not committed one way or the other. To anyone keeping a tally, it was 4 to 0 with Rumsfeld abstaining -- a heavy body of advice against Iraq.

Still, the vice president expressed deep concern about Hussein and said he was not going to rule out going after Iraq at some point -- just not now.

Earlier in the day he told the group, "We've indicted bin Laden, but now we must wage war against him." He said the CIA must push every button it could and said it was also crucial to deal with the charitable organizations that helped finance bin Laden. He recommended strengthening the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and hitting the Taliban -- but not necessarily in a massive way at first. We need to knock out their air defenses and their air power at the start, he said. We need to be ready to put boots on the ground. There are some places only special operations forces will get them, he added. And we need to ask: Do we have the right mix of forces?

Finally, he returned to the question of homeland defense. They must do everything possible to defend, prevent or disrupt the next attack on America, he said. The issue was very worrisome. He had reviewed the work of five government commissions that had recently studied terrorism. The president had assigned him the task of coming up with a homeland security plan back in May. It's not just borders and airline security, but biological and other threats that they had to think about, he said.

Cheney was the last to make any recommendations. There was some additional discussion, including the themes to strike on the Sunday morning talk shows where Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld and Ashcroft would be appearing. At the end of the meeting, Bush went around the table and thanked everyone. No one was quite certain where things stood.

"I'm going to go think about it and I'll let you know what I've decided," Bush said.

Powell and Rumsfeld left Camp David, but most of the others stayed over for dinner and the night. Bush had invited his advisers to bring their spouses, and after dinner that evening someone suggested to Ashcroft, who in the Senate had been a member of a group called the Singing Senators, that he sing some songs.

"I don't want to sing," he said, "but if you'll sing, I'll play."

He sat down at the piano and began playing a number of traditional American melodies, from "Old Man River" and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" to "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America." Rice, herself an accomplished pianist, was the principal vocalist. Bush was at a table nearby, joining in trying to assemble an elaborate wooden jigsaw puzzle.

Staff researcher Jeff Himmelman contributed to this report.

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