PART 6: Sept. 16-17
Combating Terrorism: 'It Starts Today'
Friday, February 1, 2002
Sixth in a series of eight articles.
At 9:35 a.m., President Bush and his war cabinet reconvened at the White House. Some of those gathered around the conference table in the Cabinet Room did not know what to expect -- perhaps more review and discussion, even more questions or analysis.
When their meeting broke up Saturday afternoon at Camp David, Bush had not made up his mind about the options presented to him that day. But after returning to the White House Sunday, he had told national security adviser Condoleezza Rice what he wanted to do. Now he shared his decision with the other advisers.
"The purpose of this meeting is to assign tasks for the first wave of the war against terrorism," the president said, sitting at the traditional center seat on the window-side. "It starts today."
At Camp David, Bush had expressed his enthusiasm for the expansive role that CIA Director George J. Tenet proposed for his agency. Bush said he was approving all of Tenet's requests.
"I want to sign a finding today," the president said, referring to a top secret presidential intelligence order -- called a Memorandum of Notification (MON) -- that would authorize the CIA to undertake a far-reaching and unprecedented worldwide covert war against terrorism. He also approved Tenet's proposal for CIA paramilitary teams to go into Afghanistan.
"I want the CIA to be first on the ground," Bush said. The agency's six- to eight-man teams would be assigned to linking up first with the anti-Taliban opposition forces of the Northern Alliance, and then with U.S. ground troops.
On domestic security, he reiterated the change in priorities that had been outlined by Attorney General John D. Ashcroft. "The attorney general, the CIA and the FBI will assist in protecting America from further attacks," the president ordered. The new policy would stress protection of the United States -- preemption of future attacks -- instead of the traditional emphasis on investigations, gathering of evidence and prosecution.
He directed that Ashcroft complete a legislative package to submit to Congress requesting new legal authority for the FBI to track, wiretap and stop terrorists -- a project already well underway.
The Pentagon also would have a role in security. To Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, he said, "We need plans for protection of U.S. forces and installations abroad."
On the diplomatic front, Bush had resolved in his mind the debate over how to deal with the Taliban. "The secretary of state should issue an ultimatum against the Taliban today," the president said, virtually barking out orders. He added he wanted something "warning them to turn over [Osama] bin laden and his al Qaeda or they will suffer the consequences."
"If they don't comply, we'll attack them," Bush said. "Our goal is not to destroy the Taliban, but that may be the effect."