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CBS Report on Rumsfeld’s 9/11 Notes Under Scrutiny

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On September 4, 2002, CBSNEWS.com ran a bombshell of a story titled “Plans For Iraq Attack Began On 9/11.” The article stated that “barely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq — even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks.” The article cited “notes taken by aides who were with Rumsfeld in the National Military Command Center on Sept. 11.”

CBSNEWS.com, “Plans For Iraq Attack Began On 9/11,” 9/4/02:

. . . at 2:40 p.m., the notes quote Rumsfeld as saying he wanted “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H.” – meaning Saddam Hussein – “at same time. Not only UBL” – the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden . . . “Go massive,” the notes quote him as saying. “Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

To those of us who were questioning the Bush administration’s push to invade Iraq, this article was nothing short of mind-blowing. The last part of the notes was the kicker. What did Rumsfeld mean when he asked his aides to “[s]weep it all up,” looking for “[t]hings related and not,” unless he was encouraging them to cherry-pick for anything that could be used to link the attacks to Iraq? In ten words, Donald Rumsfeld had confirmed our very worst fears about the Bush administration’s reckless approach to Iraq. Looking at the article, it is obvious that CBS knew that the last few sentences were the key part of the quotation. Printed in bold letters, under a menacing photo of Rumsfeld, were the lines: “Go massive . . . Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

Since the article was published in September 2002, thousands of websites and blogs have linked to it. On my blog, outragedmoderates.org, I contrasted Rumsfeld’s “related and not” quote with Robert E. Lee’s observation that “[i]t is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it.” When I read Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, I was intrigued to learn that Colin Powell had also been drawn to Lee’s quotation during the lead-up to Iraq.

But while Robert E. Lee’s quotation surfaced in Plan of Attack, Rumsfeld’s “related and not” quotation is nowhere to be seen. Woodward’s account of 9/11 discusses Rumsfeld’s notes from that afternoon, but there is no mention of the “Go massive . . . Sweep it all up. Things related and not” quotation that was reported in CBS’s article.

Woodward,

The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 334-335:

On the afternoon of 9/11, according to contemporaneous notes, Secretary Rumsfeld instructed General Myers to obtain quickly as much information as possible. The notes indicate that he also told Myers that he was not simply interested in striking empty training sites. He thought the U.S. response should consider a wide range of options and possibilities. The secretary said his instinct was to hit Saddam Hussein at the same time—not only Bin Ladin. Secretary Rumsfeld later explained that at the time, he had been considering either one of them, or perhaps someone else, as the responsible party.

Before CBS’s National Guard memo controversy, I had not noticed the discrepancy between the network’s coverage of Rumsfeld’s 9/11 notes and the accounts given in The 9/11 Commission Report and Plan of Attack. But the carelessness CBS demonstrated in regards to the forged National Guard memos forced me to take another hard look at the article.

After spending hours researching this online, and skimming through dozens of books at bookstores, I cannot find a single media source or book that independently reports the “Go massive . . . Sweep it all up. Things related and not” quotation. Every single blog post, article, and book I have found that does mention this quotation refers back to the CBS article from September 4, 2002 as the source.

Some of the most significant books on this topic, like Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies, and John Dean’s Worse than Watergate, do not discuss the contents of the notes. Among the significant books that cite the CBS article are Craig Unger’s House of Bush, House of Saud, James Bamford’s A Pretext for War, and The War We Could Not Stop, a collection of articles by reporters at the UK newspapers the Guardian and the Observer.

It may not mean anything that there is a discrepancy between CBS’s report on Rumsfeld’s 9/11 notes, and the accounts given in The 9/11 Commission Report and Plan of Attack, two of the most authoritative accounts of the hours and days following the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 Commission Members and Bob Woodward might have merely left the quotation out of their respective accounts of Rumsfeld’s notes, for a variety of political or editorial reasons.

However, the 9/11 Commission made a point of taking on many of the issues that had become most controversial during the 2 ½ years between the attacks and the book’s release, such as the Saudi flights after 9/11. It seems unlikely that the 9/11 Commission would have discussed some of the contents of Rumsfeld’s 9/11 notes, but then left out the most controversial part of them. And if the CBS version of Rumfeld’s notes is real, it is hard to imagine Bob Woodward leaving it out of Plan of Attack, his controversial 467-page book dedicated to how the Bush administration came to its decision to invade Iraq.

Even if CBS’s report is incorrect, the discrepancy does not change my view on the larger issue. Regardless of whether Rumsfeld instructed his aides to “Go massive . . . Sweep it all up. Things related and not,” it is well-documented that the Bush administration began searching for a link between 9/11 and Iraq shortly after the attacks happened. Also, this kind of discrepancy does not convince me that there is a systemic liberal bias in the media – in fact, the very reason this article was so influential was that it stood out as a breath of fresh air in the oppressive media climate of 2002, when Americans who questioned the Bush administration’s arguments for invading Iraq were marginalized.

But if blogs are really going to serve as a check on the power of the media, it is important that bloggers scrutinize everything, and not just reports that “hurt” one side or the other. When a major media outlet quotes the Secretary of Defense in the context of a highly controversial military decision, “mostly true” just isn’t good enough. And personally, I am much more disturbed by the thought of a network running a questionable story that preys on my own beliefs and biases, than one that preys on someone else’s beliefs and biases.

If anyone else has more information about Rumsfeld’s 9/11 notes, please post it here, or contact me through outragedmoderates.org, where this article is cross-posted.

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  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Great piece of research, Thad! Hope it bears fruit…

  • http://ari.typepad.com Steve Rhodes

    I’m not sure what the big deal is.

    Lots of sources have Rumsfeld arguing for going after Iraq right after 9/11

    Frontline has reported it several times.

    As you say, just because you didn’t find it anywhere else doens’t mean it is wrong.

    Did you try and contact the reporter or producer on the story to see what their response is?

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    The point of this article is that Frontline is not a ‘source’. What you have is a lot of news media reporting it, but no named source – a source being someone who was there and heard the statement.

    Dave

  • http://www.outragedmoderates.org Thad Anderson

    Well, as the post says, the issue isn’t whether Rumsfeld argued for going after Iraq that afternoon, because a number of sources confirm that he did (in addition to the 9/11 Commission Report and Plan of Attack, Clarke’s book describes this in detail). The issue is just whether the “Go massive . . . Sweep it up. Things related and not” quote was part of the notes he wrote.

    I wouldn’t consider the discrepancy significant, except that the specific quotation had a profound impact on so many people, including myself. I’ve looked pretty hard, and have found no other news source independently reporting the quote.

  • http://bushwar.leftflex.com Calico Cat

    All this vitual ink and trying to run down the source, but “After spending hours researching this online, and skimming through dozens of books at bookstores,” where do I see Thad Anderson making an honest attempt to contact CBS News’ National Security Correspondent, David Martin and get this sorted out? It seems very odd that he’d spend all that time and never even attempt to contact the the person named in the story. He might have done that and been able to say, if true, “repeated e-mails and phone calls to Mr. Martin…” and give result or lack there of.

    You talk about CBS’s carelessness, with regard to the distract-o-matic “forged memo” story — which was really the Bush/AWOL from Guard fact-based story that stands on its own without the questionable memo — but what about your own carlessness here?

    CBS still has the story on line: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/09/04/september11/main520830.shtml
    According to the report:
    “(CBS) CBS News has learned that barely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq — even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks.

    That’s according to notes taken by aides who were with Rumsfeld in the National Military Command Center on Sept. 11 – notes that show exactly where the road toward war with Iraq began, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.

    With the intelligence all pointing toward bin Laden, Rumsfeld ordered the military to begin working on strike plans. And at 2:40 p.m., the notes quote Rumsfeld as saying he wanted “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H.” – meaning Saddam Hussein – “at same time. Not only UBL” – the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden.

    Now, nearly one year later, there is still very little evidence Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. But if these notes are accurate, that didn’t matter to Rumsfeld.

    “Go massive,” the notes quote him as saying. “Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” -###-

    Now, why would Rumsfeld want to “go massive” and find a pretext to attack Iraq? Read Greg Palast’s exclusive for Harpers (HARPER’S: BAGHDAD COUP D’ETAT FOR BIG OIL From the April Issue of Harper’s Magazine – http://gregpalast.com/detail.cfm?artid=418&row=0) for background on that question.

    There are still so many unanswered questions regarding the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and its relationship to Bush’s war of aggression in Iraq, but over time truth has a way of leaking out…”sweep it up, go massive, things related or not.”

    CC

  • http://www.outragedmoderates.org Thad Anderson

    I realize that the story is online – that’s why I linked to it in my post.

    I will try to contact CBS, but I’ve never gotten any non-automated responses to any comments or questions I’ve ever submitted to TV networks.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I never have any trouble getting through to a specific person’s voice mail at a news network. Just call their local number in New York and ask for the person you want or used the automated system to find them. Works like a charm most of the time.

    BTW: “”Plans For Iraq Attack Began On 9/11.” – and here I thought they began the moment GB-42 left office.

    Dave

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