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.”
. . . 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.
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.
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.