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2006-07-14

The One Percent Doctrine: Journalist Ron Suskind on the Deliberate U.S. Bombing of Al Jazeera, Losing Bin Laden and More

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Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind joins us to discuss his new book, "The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11." In it, Suskind writes that that the U.S deliberately bombed the Kabul, Afghanistan offices of Al Jazeera in 2001. [includes rush transcript]

Earlier this week, Dima Tahboub–the widow of Al Jazeera correspondent Tareq Ayyoub–filed a lawsuit against the Bush administration for her husband’s death. On April 8 2003, Ayyoub was reporting from Al Jazeera’s offices in Baghdad when he was killed by a US missile. He was the first journalist to be killed in Iraq just hours before U.S. forces seized the capital. At a press conference in Washington D.C earlier this week, Dima’s attorney said the case was being launched in part because of the disclosure last year in London’s Daily Mirror that President Bush told British Prime Minister Tony Blair of his desire to bomb Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Qatar. The Mirror cited a secret memo leaked from the British government.

In the new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," investigative journalist Ron Suskind writes that that the U.S deliberately bombed the Kabul, Afghanistan offices of Al Jazeera. He writes, "On November 13, 2001, a hectic day when Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance and there were celebrations in the streets of the city, a U.S. missile obliterated Al Jazeera’s office. Inside the CIA and White House there was satisfaction that a message had been sent to Al Jazeera."

The "One Percent Doctrine" also examines how the Bush Adminstration’s philosophy of separating analysis from action and embracing suspicion as a justification for the use of American power has shaped its policies.

  • Ron Suskind, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and author of "The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11." His previous books include "The Price of Loyalty: George W Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O’Neill" and "A Hope Unseen."
    - Website: RonSuskind

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind joins us now in our Firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!

RON SUSKIND: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s start on the issue of Al Jazeera and what happened in Afghanistan.

RON SUSKIND: Well, you know, there are so many things that I found in two years of investigation. This was one of the surprising things. The United States denied this, of course. There’s so much in the book they have denied. Now, they can’t. It was purposeful. There was great animosity toward Al Jazeera at that point. It was felt inside the administration they were the mouthpiece for bin Laden, and that was a lot of what bin Laden was doing at that juncture. And they wanted to send a message. They asked Al Jazeera to proscribe things it was doing. Al Jazeera said we’re a media organization, we don’t do that sort of thing. And the headquarters was bombed. It’s part of a really secret interchange between the U.S. government and Al Jazeera and the Emir of Qatar, the owner of Al Jazeera, that you see throughout the book, which is quite extraordinary.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk more about this. What evidence do you have? Because this is ongoing. Of course, it didn’t just happen in Afghanistan, as we heard. Tareq Ayyoub, the offices in Baghdad were attacked. A reporter was arrested on the way to the Putin-Bush summit in Crawford, an Al Jazeera reporter. And then you have the whole issue of the Daily Mirror, that secret memo, and Qatar’s offices. How do you know that Al Jazeera was deliberately targeted in Afghanistan?

RON SUSKIND: The sources for this book are senior officials within the United States government, past and present, such that each one of the disclosures in the book has been sourced with many impeccable sources. Some of this occurs, you know, this is years after the event. Once you pass a certain timeframe, I think folks say, "Well, what do we have to fear about the truth?" Certain people do, and those folks essentially are represented in this book. There’s not a doubt about this sort of thing, about the thing we’re mentioning, as to the Kabul bombing.

As well, I think what you see throughout the book is the administration’s belief in the value in almost the mystical kind of power of the use of force. This is the key — one of the key things that’s different here. There was hesitation about use of force with other administrations, because often force creates backlash, creates more problems than you solve. Not with this administration, certainly not after 9/11.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, a key aspect in reading your book is just the title, The One Percent Doctrine. Could you talk about what is the 1% doctrine, who’s behind it, and how it has effected this policy on the war on terror.

RON SUSKIND: The book fixes finally accountability. Some things people suspected but had been denied or they couldn’t attach essentially action with outcome, many of those are now over. It’s in the book. It’s clear. The 1% doctrine comes from a meeting that the Vice President has in November of 2001. And it’s one in the White House in the situation room, in which he receives a harrowing bit of intelligence. Pakistani nuclear scientists had sat with bin Laden and Zawrahi a few weeks before 9/11 to discuss the issues of nuclear feasibility for al-Qaeda. This intelligence is delivered to the Vice President. Folks from the CIA and NSC are there.

And the Vice President says two things. He says we need to think in a new way about these low probability, high-impact type events, a different way. And then, by the end of the briefing, he has that different way. He says, "If there’s even a 1% chance that WMDs have been given to terrorists, we need to treat it as a certainty, not in our analysis or the preponderance of evidence," he demurs, "but in our response." At this moment the Vice President officially separates analysis from action, allows for an evidence-free model to move forward, and says suspicion may be all we have to use the awesome powers of the United States.

This defines events, episodes, incidents all the way to now, moving forward from that point — Iraq, Afghanistan, the global war on terror. What’s fascinating about it is that people have different names for it inside of the upper reaches of the government — the 1% rule, the Cheney doctrine — but it allowed the United States to essentially operate in an evidence-free realm, using the extraordinary forces at our disposal. And we all know the countless outcomes of that, which the U.S. now is embarrassed by.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the justification being that the catastrophic potential of underestimating an even suspicious threat was so great that you have to act as if even your suspicions are facts.

RON SUSKIND: Right. Look, Cheney basically says, you know, evidence is going to be too much here. Cheney is feeling frustration after all of his years in government with the sort of search-and-find model. Evidence often is tricky. It leads you in directions you don’t want to go. At this point, he’s saying, "Enough. We’re not going to have it. We can’t expect it. It’s too high a threshold. We’re going to have to act for good reason, bad reason or no reason. Action itself is an inherent good." And that really guides events from that moment forward.

There are lots of folks who will look at this and say, "What choice does the Vice President have? We’re all in the state of panic at this point. It’s two months after 9/11. They’re thinking about a second wave attack." But what you see is that there has not been a fundamental change in this policy or a correction in the five years since this event and this moment, Cheney really running the foreign policy of the U.S. — the book shows that clearly — is innovated by Dick Cheney.

AMY GOODMAN: Why does the CIA call Cheney "Edgar"?

RON SUSKIND: Well, that’s one of the nicknames inside of CIA for the Vice President, Edgar Bergen. I guess you all are old enough to know who that is — some younger listeners of yours may not be — the famous ventriloquist and his puppet Charlie McCarthy. Look, there are lots of nicknames. This one is nasty and probably half-true. People inside of CIA and inside of other parts of the government saw early on that the way these two men worked, Cheney and Bush, is that Cheney essentially is the global thinker of the pair. He’s created an architecture, a platform of sorts, in which George Bush can be George Bush and still be president. He, inside of this framework, embraces his instinct, his gut, acts as a man of action. But Cheney really is the designer of the architecture and also the global thinker of the pair. That is made very clear in the book through many, many incidents in which you’re in the Oval Office, in the room.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Ron Suskind, won the Pulitzer Prize while working as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. His latest book is The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11. We’re going to go to break. When we come back, I want to ask you about slam dunk comment. You say what Bob Woodward reported actually wasn’t true, one of the stories that led us into war. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Ron Suskind, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. His latest book is called The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11. Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, your book is a fascinating read in terms of the inner workings of the administration and also the people in the various agencies, the mid-level people who actually do all the day-to-day work.

RON SUSKIND: I call them the "invisibles," I call them.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The invisibles, right. But one of the things that really struck me was — I guess it’s frightening to a certain degree — how you emphasize that President Bush doesn’t like to read, and that basically when he gets a briefing, he doesn’t want to go through a long report, he wants a verbal presentation. Therefore, how officials present themselves to him and how they explain the policy options are more important actually than the facts that they’re marshaling together.

RON SUSKIND: Yeah, well, look, it’s a long analysis. I’ve been following George Bush since 2002, and in my last book, The Price of Loyalty, Paul O’Neill, former Treasury Secretary, talks about the President being like a blind man in a room full of deaf people. And in that book, like in this one, you see how verbal briefings for this president, who’s not a reader — they trumpet books he’s been reading, that’s mostly marketing by the White House — the verbal briefing is the way George Bush processes information. He’s a very visual listener, as well. He sizes people up. He believes in these capacities, these instincts to manage, you know, really, almost the overwhelming demands of being president.

But also you have problems, as I show at the beginning of the book, where he’s getting — this is again all new. He got face-to-face verbal briefings in August of 2001 before 9/11, not just the bin Laden memo. CIA analysts flew down to Crawford to interrupt his vacation, and in one such briefing where the needles were pointing to red inside of CIA — something’s coming, we don’t know when, we don’t know where but it’s coming — the President said to the panicked analyst, "Alright, now, you’ve covered your ass." And that’s a startling moment, and it’s one that folks at CIA, of course, say, you know, that is our president. We did warn him. The question was, how did he receive those warnings prior to 9/11.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Because, as you say in the book, in the early meetings of the administration, and as you said before in your previous book, the focus was on Iraq from the very beginning.

RON SUSKIND: Absolutely. From the first NSC meeting, the very first one in January of 2001, all about Iraq — how to overthrow Saddam, what to do once we own that country. There was opportunity that arrived after 9/11, but the intent was fused from the first day.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Suskind, this issue of slam dunk. Explain the original comment, as it was reported, the significance of it, and what you have learned.

RON SUSKIND: Well, look, it’s become a catch phrase for one of the great historical controversies of this era: did we go to war under false pretenses? It was reported by Bob Woodward in his book Plan of Attack that George Tenet, in a meeting in December of 2002, right before we went in in the spring, said, you know, as to WMDs in Iraq, he said to the President in the Oval Office, "It’s a slam dunk," and he waved his arms, and what not. George Tenet doesn’t remember saying that. John McLaughlin, who was with George Tenet in that meeting, doesn’t remember George Tenet saying that. I think that’s important. You know, clearly those two words — I don’t think Bob Woodward, who reported it, probably knew how important those words would be going forward. But, of course, they have become really a signature of this era and this controversy. Neither man remembers it. In fact, they say that meeting was more about marketing and presentation, how to make a pitch; it was not about underlying evidence or analysis. I think that’s important.

AMY GOODMAN: Is George Tenet a source for One Percent Doctrine, the way Paul O’Neill for Price of Loyalty?

RON SUSKIND: I’m not getting into any of the sourcing issues, because we have more than a hundred sources in this book. But I’ll say this: if folks are believing that George Tenet is the primary or a primary source for this book, I would say they probably shouldn’t go down that path. This book is one in which more than a hundred sources, all throughout the government, FBI, CIA, even inside of the White House, cooperated. There are people inside of those buildings who believe that truth matters, and they want to embrace it.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to follow up on Al Jazeera. You talk about the direct targeting, the deliberate targeting by the United States of the offices in Kabul. But you also talk about the Emir of Qatar providing key information based a reporter’s notebook.

RON SUSKIND: Yeah, it’s an extraordinary moment. This book, it’s like a spy thriller, for some folks, with the future of the planet at stake. They run up and down as the administration did on victories and defeats. We are in a global battle here. Intelligence often comes from human sources and personal relationships. George Tenet had those relationships. No one else kind of does now.

One of them was with the Emir of Qatar. He, of course, owns Al Jazeera. And at a moment, a key moment, in the summer of 2002, their star reporter, Yousri Foudah, comes to his bosses at Al Jazeera with the biggest scoop they had had up to that point. He had visited the safe house in Karachi where Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 planner, and his deputy Ramzi Binalshibh were hiding. He says, well, it was a whole, you know, skullduggery where he went, you know, through various channels. He delivers it to his bosses. They all say, "We must keep this secret." Of course, it goes up the ranks to the Emir. The Emir summarily tells George Tenet exactly what the reporter has said.

I mean, just in terms of how reporters feel about the primacy and privilege of information they receive, it’s extraordinary. It’s arguably the most important piece of information we got up to that point. Three months later we raided that safe house in Karachi. We almost caught Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. We did catch Ramzi Binalshibh, and we caught Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s wife and children, children who we he later threatened to try to get Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to talk.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In a similar manner you also talk about the first attempts at cooperation between Libya and the United States on the war on terror. Shortly after 9/11, the ambassador, the Saudi ambassador to the United States at his home in England, I think it is —

RON SUSKIND: Yeah, that’s right.

JUAN GONZALEZ: — arranges a meeting between a CIA agent and a high-ranking intelligence agent of the Libyan government, and that begins the process of cooperation that eventually led to the normalization of relations.

RON SUSKIND: Look, this is a book about the new era. And one of the questions is, should we embrace the dark side? Should we get information from experts, whatever guises they may be wearing? Musa Kusa is the man, the Libyan, who our officials from CIA meet with at Prince Bandar’s house in London. Musa Kusa, of course, is the man believed to be behind the Lockerbie bombing.

AMY GOODMAN: He’s the Saudi —

RON SUSKIND: He’s the Libyan.

AMY GOODMAN: And Bandar’s the Saudi ambassador.

RON SUSKIND: And Bandar’s the Saudi ambassador. A meeting is set up, because Kusa says, "There are things I can help you with." We need his help. Several things are important here. One is that the idea, two years later, that Libya gave up its weapons of mass destruction because of Iraq is false. It’s shown in the book to be false. It was a long process. The President figured he can craft that story any way he wanted, because all of it’s classified, it’ll never come out. It’s out now. Two, Kusa ends up being a key source, and you have to ask a question: is sitting with a man who is ostensibly behind the Lockerbie bombing a kind of acquiescence to the dark side, to terrorists? I mean, there are families, of those kids especially, on that plane who literally get nauseous thinking about this. But who are we going to match up with to get the intelligence we need in this perilous moment? That’s a question.

AMY GOODMAN: The report in the last week that the CIA has closed its unit looking for Osama bin Laden. You write in your book about the CIA warning President Bush if he doesn’t move troops into Tora Bora, Osama bin Laden’s gone. Talk about that.

RON SUSKIND: Right. Another answer people have been waiting for, it’s in the book. End of November 2001, in a briefing inside of the White House, the CIA, who is really the point of the spear in many of the initiatives at work — make no mistake — they made a lot of mistakes, but they also were carrying the fight. They brief the President. They said there were troops at that point in Afghanistan. 1,200 Marines had landed, and they said, "If you don’t move those troops over to the Tora Bora caves, we will lose bin Laden. We are running a terrible risk here." The Afghan proxies, so-called, are exhausted. They’re not really committed to getting bin Laden, as you might think. The President ignored that advice. He seemed to defer to Don Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks. It was an enormous mistake. The President has skirted accountability on that. That can no longer occur.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I think — again, well, I think the book is fascinating. One of the things that I found missing was sort of an analysis of — because you seem to — in the book, if anyone is the villain, it’s Don Rumsfeld and Cheney, again, in terms of their decisions and how they’re moving the administration forward. The CIA, Tenet, comes out more as heroic figures, trying to continue the good fight. But Rumsfeld and Cheney have been around for a long time. They would not have risen up in government circles to the point they are now and have such enormous influence unless they had enormous backing in sectors of American society, whether it’s in industry or in other sections of government. They, in essence, it seems to me, do represent a continuing perspective in our country, even before 9/11, of seeking to dominate sections of the world, whether it’s Iraq, because you say they came in from the very beginning wanting to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but it was really to get control of Iraq — isn’t it? — more than to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

RON SUSKIND: You know, there were lots of reasons they wanted to do it. That was one. There was belief about — certainly the oil was a part of the equation. But I think more what it was, as I show in the book, is a belief that — two things. One is that we can’t stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. They’re carried on civil technology. B, what we want to do, because we can’t fight all the folks who are now going to have weapons, countries specifically, we need to make an example of Saddam Hussein — that was the thinking — to create a demonstration model, so other folks will not exhibit similar temerity in challenging the U.S., many of them with destructive weapons. It was a global experiment in behavior modification. That’s what it was. And that was the real thinking.

Now, demonstration models are not the province only of the U.S. Anyone can get involved in those. And, of course, Iraq has become a demonstration model of the limits of U.S. power, of overreach, and of some of the means that, frankly, we may not have been right to employ toward whatever ends, that has created multiplication, a multiplicative effect of our problems and enormous animosity toward the U.S. around the world. Ultimately at the next attack, and a lot of people in the book say this, it will be because our alliances have been frayed by this unilateral embrace of U.S. power, in some cases for its own sake. The President feels, act. It’s a game changer. It puts your opponents on the defensive. Act for whatever reason. Just act.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the story you tell in your book about the FBI moving to weaponize First Data Corp.?

RON SUSKIND: Oh, gosh! First Data is an example of many companies that have entered into secret relationships to carry forward U.S. policy, using their consumer bases to whatever end. And that’s the reason, I think, First Data is important in the book. You know, they say, "We want to help." Lots of companies did that. A lot of the telecom companies with the NSA. And what happens at this point is they get involved —

JUAN GONZALEZ: And who is First Data?

RON SUSKIND: First Data is a giant credit card processor. Sorry. They also own Western Union, the old telegraph company. Western Union is a company of choice for terrorists. They wire money through it. What you see as we go forward is just how problematic and complicated it is for companies to get involved in this way. We need to draw these lines clearly. First Data runs thousands of credit card sweeps. Generally, they were papered, so to speak, with all sorts of paper, you know, national security letters, some subpoenas, etc. At the end of the day, though, we even get to the point where Western Union has set up wire transfer traps in the West Bank and Gaza, handing Israeli intelligence specific information as to who is picking up wire transfers inside of the Palestinian organizations. That, of course, is a golden nugget for intelligence. They are then able to follow the carrier to the safe house. It changed the state of play on the West Bank in Gaza in a destructive fashion. Do we want companies doing this? Should companies be here? And what about the consumers here and abroad who use those companies? Those are the questions raised.

AMY GOODMAN: Ron Suskind, I want to thank you very much for being with us. His book is The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11. And you can read the transcript or go to our website at democracynow.org to get a copy of the DVD. I want to thank you very much for being with us.

RON SUSKIND: My pleasure.

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