Bob Woodward
Bob Woodward
Multimedia Gallery: 10 Days in September: Inside the War Cabinet
Video: Woodward on the 'NBC Nightly News' (Jan. 30, 2002)
Video: Woodward and The Post's Dan Balz on 'Meet the Press' (Jan. 27, 2002)
Part 5: At Camp David, Advise and Dissent (Post, Jan. 31, 2002)
Part 4: A Day to Speak of Anger and Grief (Post, Jan. 30, 2002)
Part 3: Afghan Campaign's Blueprint Emerges (Post, Jan. 29, 2002)
Part 2: 'We Will Rally the World' (Post, Jan. 28, 2002)
Part 1: America's Chaotic Road to War (Post, Jan. 27, 2002)
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10 Days in September:
Inside the War Cabinet

With Bob Woodward
Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor

Thursday, Jan. 31, 2002; Noon EST

On Sept. 11, President Bush and his advisers started America on the road to war, but they did it without a map. In the days afterward, they deliberated, debated and ultimately settled on a strategy that is still emerging, an unconventional and risky worldwide war against terrorism.

The Washington Post launched an eight-part series on Jan. 27, reconstructing the atmosphere inside the White House during the first few days after the attacks. Bob Woodward, an assistant managing editor and reporter on the series, was online to talk about it on Thursday, Jan. 31.

"10 Days in September: Inside the War Cabinet" is based on interviews with President Bush, Vice President Cheney and many other key officials inside the administration and out, as well as notes of National Security Council meetings made available to The Washington Post, and notes taken by several participants. The account is inevitably incomplete. The president, the White House staff and senior Cabinet officers responded in detail to questions. Some matters they refused to discuss, citing national security and a desire to protect the confidentiality of internal deliberations.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Phoenix, Ariz.: I am finding your series fascinating. Can you speak about the process of determining what material is not disclosed, due to national security issues? And, will you be allowed at some future time to disclose additional details, as the national security issues subside?

Bob Woodward: Good question. I am doing a book on Bush's first 18 months and will re-plow this ground, and hopefully there will be more detail. There were national security matters that we left out because we're at war. But the questioner is correct that as time goes on, it may be possible to present significantly more detail, particularly about CIA operations.

Silver Spring, Md.: In the days following the attacks President Bush and his administration took the right measures of caution and patience. After Tuesday's State of the Union, Bush pointed a finger at the governments of three nations, Iraq, Iran and North Korea rather than terrorist organizations within their borders. Do you think President Bush will send troops into these countries without the conclusive evidence he had in hand when American forces went after the Taliban and al Qaeda?

Bob Woodward: Evidence is critical, and as the account we published today of the Camp David meeting shows, there was not the intelligence information or proof that Iraq was involved in Sept. 11. It was one of the main reasons a military strike was not ordered. But the options are clearly being revisited, and the president's speech is a public notice to that effect.

Charlottesville, Va.: Your articles are fascinating and well done. My question is: Wouldn't it be generally more "beneficial" to the U.S. in the anti-terrorism effort if bin Laden is never found, but he is also never heard from again?

Bob Woodward: Bin Laden is the leader, not just in name, but has developed some of the theory of how to attack America. If he's out in a cave hiding and plotting more attacks, it most definitely is not to the advantage of the United States to have him alive.

California: Who's business of Woodward's is it to tell government secrets? It's one thing to do an article in a historical context after the war is over but this is NOW, you don't tell the world the president's secret strategy when it could hurt us. This forms the message to Iraq that we wont do anything to them. I am only 17 but who are you kidding? Even a 17-year-old can see how wrong that is. I am sorry if I have offended you but this is my opinion. Yours was it's OK to risk government security. What gives you the authority to broadcast secrets?

Bob Woodward: The focus of these articles is exclusively the first 10 days. The details of the operation and strategy that we report on have already now in January been carried out. No one has suggested that we have harmed national security, and we went over these matters in excruciating detail with the president himself, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, and dozens of others in the top levels and middle and low levels of the government. When military operations were launched against Afghanistan on Oct. 7, and no parallel strikes were made on Iraq, everyone knew, and it was well publicized, that Iraq was not in the first phase of military operations. Clearly, the president this week indicated Iraq is back on his plate, and we will see what the next step is.

Washington, D.C.: Mr. Woodward,

I am really enjoying the "10 Days in September" series. You and Dan should be very proud. Yesterday, during Robert Kaiser's online discussion about the State of the Union speech, a chatter posted the following:

"Mr. Kaiser, you admit that Balz and Woodward are merely regurgitating the administration's version of events, so why are you running this propaganda piece? Why is The Post allowing itself to be used this way?"

Can I get your thought on this post as well as your thought on W's State of the Union speech? Important to note Kaiser's response to that question:

Robert G. Kaiser: Whoa, I didn't say that. These are two of the best reporters in America, and they don't easily get used. The point is, if you set out to reconstruct events in which ONLY administration officials took part, who are your sources going to be? The pieces are what they are -- and they acknowledge this directly, particularly on the first day. They are not propaganda, they're good journalism.

Also, Kaiser made this comment earlier in the discussion:

Robert G. Kaiser: I hope all readers are following the remarkable series by Dan Balz and Bob Woodward about what happened in September. Admittedly, it is the administration's version of events, but it is compelling reading, and very convincing to this reader.

Bob Woodward: Reporters are always prisoners of their sources. In this case, Dan Balz and I had many official, on-the-record sources, including a lengthy interview with the president. But believe me, there are all kinds of back channel and unofficial sources that were used to confirm what had occurred, and add more detail. The United States is at war, and if you look at everything that has been said and written about the war, the country is in jeopardy. And the test Dan Balz and I put on ourselves was, can we confirm everything? Is it fair-minded? Are there contemporaneous notes and documents to support what we are writing? The answer was yes to all of the above. At the same time, we wanted to see if we could expand our understanding of what the war is all about. We found that we're able to describe the breadth and depth of the CIA activity in 80 countries. The president has publicly indicated [that] a lot of the war is invisible, but he has never said we're talking about 80 countries. This is a massive, risky war. And our editors asked us to present as much as we could find out.

Dan and I would be the first to acknowledge that there are parts that we don't know about. And those matters will be addressed by The Post or other news organizations as they are discovered.

San Juan Bautista, Calif.: I am wondering if you could rank Bush's advisers by the degree to which they get attention from the president. For example, does Vice President Cheney get more credence than Condi Rice? When the CIA director enters the room, does he control the president's ear, etc.? Who is at the top of that list and who is at the bottom?

Bob Woodward: According to the information and in accounts we obtained, Vice President Cheney is probably first among equals. Condi Rice is the behind-the-scenes coordinator of information and action. Powell, Rumsfeld and Tenet are in charge of their departments or agencies. I suspect you could argue that the president gets the best out of all of these people. That is, if it turns out we win the war. If there are big setbacks or future massive terrorist attacks, all of the decisions and process and debate that we describe could look very different. But as reporters, we don't make a judgment, and certainly have avoided projecting beyond the 10 days we've tried to describe.

Washington, D.C.: In your article today and earlier this week, there are many examples of DOD and CIA principals laying out resource increases that will be needed for the U.S. military and intelligence to defeat terrorism and related threats. I have seen very little about increased resources for other tools to wage such a war, e.g., more for U.S. diplomacy and foreign aid. Are such increases also being considered as part of the president's overall plan?

Bob Woodward: As I understand it, the thrust of the increased budget request is the military and CIA intelligence and homeland defense. I confess I don't know about what the requests might be for the State Department. But a lot of diplomacy has to do with personal contact and level of effort, and the channels of communication are already in place. So the main diplomatic issue is not more money, as best I can tell.

Washington, D.C.: In Part III of the story, you have mentioned that Secretary of State, Colin Powell drew up a list of non-negotiable demands to be given to President Musharraf in Pakistan. Considering it required a near-U turn in Pakistan's Afghanistan policy, could you comment on what were the carrots and sticks used to bring Musharraf around to comply? Specifically, is it true that Pakistan's "strategic assets" meaning nuclear weapons were threatened to be taken put by the U.S. government?

Bob Woodward: I don't know anything about the United States trying to "take out" Pakistani nuclear capability. It has now been public that the United States is going to give (I hope I'm correct on this) over $1 billion in aid to Pakistan. That clearly is a significant carrot.

San Francisco, Calif.: During the Gulf War, the commanding general stayed near the action, in Saudi Arabia. This time the action was in Afghanistan but the commanding general was headquartered in Florida. Why did he stay many time zones away from combat and how did that decision affect the war effort?

Bob Woodward: That's a very good question, and our Pentagon reporter, Tom Ricks, has written about it. Basically, the central command headquarters was set in Florida for reasons I don't comprehend. A general close to the action is probably a good idea. But I am unaware of any information that the location thousands of miles away has inhibited or had a negative impact on U.S. military operations, which seem to have been very successful.

Anderson, S.C.: Re: "Mueller.. '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.' "

Q. Other than titillating newspaper sales value, what particular value do you see in this kind of comment?

Why is it important to you for Mueller to be publicly undercut and the country's enemies given inside information so early in the game?

Bob Woodward: First, it's accurate. And Mueller explained to other people his feeling. He had come on the job a week before Sept. 11, and all available accounts since then show that he is running the FBI and making the necessary changes to shift emphasis to prevention of terrorist attacks, rather than investigation and prosecution of terrorists. Mueller gets high marks and self-awareness is an important character trait. I, for one, found it refreshing that he was willing to provide a critical self-analysis, and if you can't see clearly from the top, you're never going to master the assignment. A smart enemy reading that would think, "Ah, the FBI director is not afraid of being unprepared for a briefing." I suspect that Mueller has not, since Camp David, appeared before the president without an abundance of information.

Harrisburg, Pa.: The White House claims they evacuated the president because they had credible evidence of a possible attack on the White House. Did they have any specific information the airplane that crashed in Pennsylvania was headed to the White House, or we they just being cautious? Did they overreact based on speculation, or were they being properly cautious?

Bob Woodward: As best Dan Balz and I could tell, there was substantial intelligence information coming in, showing that the White House was a target. I have little doubt that's true. Whether specifically the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania was heading there, no one will know. But given the terrorists' goal of a spectacular incident, the White House would be an obvious target. So believe it was prudent to evacuate. And certainly everyone we talked to agreed it was necessary. Interestingly enough, as we showed in the article on the events of Sept. 13, when the CIA and Secret Service had additional intelligence that the White House would be attacked, President Bush refused to be evacuated to the bunker beneath the executive mansion, and declared, "I'm not leaving." Then asked for a hamburger.

Rocky River, Ohio: Do you believe the war cabinet will use the same planning approach against the three countries accused of terrorism in the State of the Union as carefully and strategically as they did the move into Afghanistan? A concern would be, are "on a roll" and a bit jaded by success in Afghanistan, patriotism, and ghosts from the past to just forge ahead in the name of righteousness? Bottom line, are they smart enough to avoid a policy quagmire and LBJ-type obsession we saw with Vietnam in their war on terrorism?

Bob Woodward: Those are a series of very good questions. The president indicated the worry about this "axis of evil," but there is no indication now that some military attack is imminent. I suspect, at least initially, those countries would be the focus of CIA work and diplomatic efforts to win support. As the series of articles show, the Bush administration spent some time and a number of days issuing a diplomatic ultimatim to the Taliban in Afghanistan before striking. But I am not sure from my reporting exactly what the intelligence information is that North Korea, Iraq and Iran pose some immediate terrorist threat.

Chappaqua, N.Y.: Given the scope of executive powers which include the president's role of commander in chief of the armed forces and the ability to deploy troops for up to six months (War Powers Act) -- to what degree can the president, with or without the approval of his cabinet, initiate and maintain CIA operations? How much discretion does the president actually have without the consent of Congress? What would constitute the equivalent of an Iran-Contra scenario?

Bob Woodward: As commander in chief, the president can employ the U.S. military as he sees fit. The Cabinet has no legal check on that authority, which is vested exclusively in the president. Practically speaking, the biggest lever the Congress has is cutting off funding. By tradition and some legislation, the president has the power to use the CIA also. But he is obligated to inform some of the senior members of the Senate and House intelligence committees. Substantial oversight of military and CIA operations exists, but the questioner raises the issue of the internal psychology of Bush and his team. I don't know the answers, because our focus was really the first 10 days. And there's no doubt that the terrorist attacks and how to respond became an obsession for the president. But you don't win wars without being obsessed.

New York, N.Y.: Are you going to publish "10 Days in September" so that we can all read the story without having to chase around New York for a copy of The Washington Post everyday. I, for one would like to have a hard copy of your report. The entire series is here on "10 Days in September."

Bob Woodward: It's on the Web site.

Ashland, Pa.: Mr. Woodward:

By 9:10 a.m. Sept. 11 we knew what was happening was a terrorist's attack. Why did it take so long to get military fighters into the air?

Thank you,
Bill Farley

Bob Woodward: A lot of people, including the president, thought the first plane that hit the first tower of the World Trade Center, was an accident. It was only after the second one that it was clear there was some coordinated attack underway. I think the record shows that this country was not prepared for Sept. 11. And jet fighters, which are in the Washington area, take time to get in the air and adopt defensive positions. My take on the day of Sept. 11, as Dan Balz and I reported it extensively, is that it shows how fragile the open society is, and how after the Cold War, there was a general feeling of relaxation about threats to the homeland. So Sept. 11 was a jarring wake-up call to the military, to the intelligence agencies and to President Bush.

Austin, Tex.: In your interviews, did you find what kind of briefing the new Bush administration, or Bush himself, received from the outgoing Clinton administration about how serious the terrorism threat was as the administration changed hands?

Bob Woodward: When we interviewed President Bush, he made it clear that a plan for increasing efforts against bin Laden was in the works, but the president acknowledged that it was not at the top of his agenda. And at his level, there was no kind of handoff from Clinton, saying here's going to be your number one problem. At the same time, at lower levels and at some of the departments, for example, the Defense Department, the outgoing Clinton team actually gave phone numbers of critical counter terrorist officials to the incoming Rumsfeld team, and told them you are going to need these numbers.

Washington, D.C.: Rumsfeld seemed pretty paranoid about his authority being undermined. I also recall that on Sept. 11, much of his comments were about warning members of the military not to leak information. I also remember an op-ed you wrote about how during the Nixon/Ford years, he wasn't necessarily a good soldier himself, and had higher aspirations.

What's your impression of the secretary of defense?

Bob Woodward: First, I never said he was not a good soldier. I said he was a wild card, in the sense that he did not like to be pushed around by anybody, including presidents. There is a visceral personal reaction that a number of people in the Pentagon have to Rumsfeld, who is very forceful, very demanding and insistent that the rules, as he understands them, be followed. The reporting that Dan Balz and I did showed that Rumsfeld, in the closed war cabinet meetings, is the one who repeatedly had the most questions, and had a very broad understanding of the dilemmas they faced in declaring a worldwide war on terrorism.

Blue Springs, Mo.: Why was the Bush administration so willing to give you documents and information that would normally only become available after an administration leaves office?

Bob Woodward: Dan Balz and I had acquired some information about these 10 days, and we pooled it and went to various officials in the White House and elsewhere, and said we wanted to write as complete a story as possible. And, to varying degrees, people responded to questions -- sometimes in great depth, with immense specificity, and on other occasions were less helpful. Obviously, the Bush administration is proud of what occurred in these 10 days, and they believe it's a story that should be told early, rather than late. As Bush and his advisers know, war is measured by outcome, not the orderliness and depth of the internal debate while making the war decisions. This is as neutral and straightforward a presentation of the facts that we could make. History, not journalists Balz and Woodward, will judge its meaning or how successful it was.

No one knows how these 10 days will look in 2003, 2010 or 2015. We have no idea.

Mr. Woodward had to leave early, so that wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion. The questions were terrific.

© Copyright 2002 The Washington Post Company