Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 by Ron Suskind








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Ron Suskind’s latest book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11, gives readers exactly what we look for from an investigative journalist: a perspective that we may not have known about without this work. The title refers to a policy of Vice President Cheney: we need to act on our suspicions if there’s even a 1% chance that the suspicion is accurate. That’s a new doctrine for America, to respond to the challenges of new threats of terror. Counterrorism professionals throughout the administration are trying to figure out how to implement this policy effectively. Since 9/11, the results are mixed. The implications of this policy on America remain unclear. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 3, “Necessity’s Offspring,” pp. 82-87:


“Gentlemen, we are at war.”

Tenet, naturally theatrical, knew when to pause, to let a line sink in.

While the President, the Vice President, and the Pentagon were preparing for the next stage—an invasion and occupation of Iraq— Tenet was getting down to the business of fully, and finally, fighting the “war on terror” as it was originally, fitfully defined. Find them, stop them.

The architecture was already clear. CIA would be offense. FBI would be defense. Justice would set the rules, some of which were meant to be broken. He would have to do some things that he’d rather not see on the front page of a newspaper. When, if, they appeared, he hoped he’d have a defendable position.

“This,” Tenet continued, “is a challenge unlike any other we’ve faced. It is a challenge which redefines the way we work, the way we think, the way we act.

“It is a challenge which has cut deeply into my country’s psyche.”

Another pause.

“This is not a passing phenomenon. It is a challenge that will out­live everyone in this room.”

Everyone in that room was an intelligence chief—an extraordinary collection of them, twenty or so—representing the world’s “English-speaking peoples.”

This designation of kinship, popularized by Winston Churchill in speeches designed to deepen an alliance with America as World War II approached, had for decades provided a cooperative context for a group of like-minded nations: the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.

Intelligence chiefs from these nations had assembled, irregularly and informally, for a few decades. Sometimes the DCI came. Often not. Tenet changed that when he assumed the post in 1997, taking over from John Deutch, who never had much taste for meetings like this. A firm rotation was developed. Everyone came, led by the vanguard of the American intelligence community.

This year, it was New Zealand’s turn to host, and a procession of planes—unmarked Gulfstreams, mostly—alighted at Queenstown Airport on Sunday March 10.

Everything, of course, was different at this meeting. The long­standing goal to cooperate and coordinate—to match the group’s generally solid concert on sigint with the increased sharing of humint—would now be lifted to divine mission. Cooperation was now survival.

So, on Monday morning, the team that would fight the global “war on terror” settled in for a long day at the end of the earth: an inconspic­uous stone house on the edge of a resort on an island with more sheep than people.

“We must work as one,” Tenet said, once his opening was complete. “As for CIA, I can tell you this. There is nothing we won’t do, noth­ing we won’t try, and no country we won’t deal with to achieve our goals—to stop the enemy. The shackles, my friends, have been taken off”

Then they dove in. Tenet and Pavitt with Lieutenant General Mike Hayden, head of NSA, guided the proceedings, offering updates, though much of the best news had already been passed, week by week, in regular array of cross-border communications—calls, cables, and secure packages.

Now everyone was in one room to talk it through, to hear of progress and plot the near future. Tenet told them that they felt they were closing in on a prize, an actual al Qaeda manager, Abu Zubaydah. That was the first order of business. Yes, they’d picked up some mid-sized lieutenants—like Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who’d run the al Qaeda training camp in Khalden, Afghanistan. A couple of others—Abu Faisal and Abdul Aziz—were picked up in December, both mid-level al Qaeda players.

But just two weeks earlier, in late February, he told them, there had been a break. A Pajerojeep was stopped by militiamen at a checkpoint in Chapri, a town near the Afghan border. The town has an archway passage to the Pakistani tribal frontier. The jeep carried some very tall women, three of them, wearing burkas, and four men. The group was arrested and sent off for interrogation in Kohat. The disguised men were unforthcoming, but the driver, who was Pakistani, was bribable. The passengers were bound for Faisalabad, Pakistan’s teeming central mill town. The driver gave up the name of his Faisalabad contact, who soon enough was found and gave up the fact that Zubaydah was in town.

Pavitt said that CIA operatives, matched with Pakistani intelligence teams, were sweeping Faisalabad, and had narrowed the search to a dozen or so houses.

Everyone in the room knew of Zubaydah, a thirty-year-old Saudi-born Palestinian. He’d been ever present on sigint for nearly two years. His name was intoned by operatives at all levels, by new re­cruits, foot soldiers, and wannabes throughout South Asia and the Mideast. It wasn’t always clear what Zubaydah was doing, or where he fit in the wider organization. Just that he seemed to connect people.

Sigint among these closest, English-speaking allies had, over the past fifty years, been tugged by goodwill and advancing technology into an ever-tightening weave. The system, called Echelon, developed during World War II to intercept radio communications, had grown with each step of the technological revolution. Largely managed out of Fort Meade by the NSA, with 38,000 employees worldwide, and by the British out of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) based near Cheltenham, England, the system catches an es­timated 3 billion communications each day that are carried by radio, satellite, telephone, faxes, and c-mails. Automated computer analysis sorts the intercepts. It is essentially one system—with shared satellites, fiberoptic pipes, listening posts, and devices placed at telephone switching stations—that has firewalls built within it.

Even as technology has raced forward, the statutory framework of each country, among a family of almost identical democracies, has stood firm on rights of privacy. Essentially that means there is a prohi­bition against any of the governments eavesdropping on its citizens without probable cause and a subpoena—the type that the United States would generally seek through the FISA Court. The long­standing concern with Echelon is that its primary purpose is to pro­vide member countries with a capability to spy on foreigners and that the firewalls within the system—to prevent domestic spying—are a sort of honor system rendered in computer code. Nearly a trillion communications collected annually are searched, allocated, and stored on the basis of these complex codes. Leading computer engineers have trouble deciphering them.

At this meeting, Tenet described such constraints among “the shackles” that would, at the very least, be loosened, if not in practice discarded. What the new era demanded, he said, was creative partner­ships. A country may not be able to tap the lines of its own citizens without legal authorization. But there’s nothing to stop it from listen­ing in on some other country’s citizen, and then filing very thorough reports to that foreign citizen’s government. Just as long as the report does not hand over the specific raw matter—the sigint dispatch of nouns and verbs—the letter of various privacy laws would stay intact.

Spirit of the law be damned. If necessity is the mother of invention, those in the room were now necessity’s sons and daughters. “What this meant,” said one foreign intelligence chief a bit later, “is that the privacy laws of the leading democracies would, essentially, be skirted. The idea was: This is war. This is what is demanded.”

Around the room they went, realizing, each of them, that intelli­gence in this war was as important as a bullet in a gun or a plane that strafes. In the corner, FBI chief Bob Mueller watched silently, taking mental notes, trying not to think—as the discussion swirled—the way he had his whole life, like a prosecutor building a case. He already un­derstood that the FBI would need to find some bridge between intel­ligence and law enforcement.

Mueller offered a brief “my focus is law enforcement, not intelli­gence” disclaimer to the group, and said little else. “I’m here as an ob­server,” he added. He had already given ground to Tenet on the interrogation issue. Now he would look the other way on issues of the use, or misuse, of signals intelligence. His job in the “war on terror” was to not do certain things.

Lunch was served. People milled about in slacks and polo shirts, comrades in arms. Intelligence services, in any democracy, tend to be of modest size and conflicting profile. Secrets, and surveillance, are counterpoints to so many cherished freedoms, such as privacy, dissent, and government accountability Over sandwiches, several par­ticipants discussed the oddity of working with countries like Pa­kistan—an authoritarian regime with a secret police force of signifi­cant size and vast latitude. Yet, in a way, one foreign intelligence chief told his American counterpart, “that could work to our advantage.”

After lunch, Tenet picked up the thread. “We’re going to have to work with others in a way we haven’t before,” he said, and then he ticked off “Egypt, Syria, Russia—very much Russia. . . China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and India.”

Each country chimed in. The Brits were strong with Pakistan and Algeria. Australia had leverage with India and Indonesia. Who had re­lationships that were active and productive? How could all those rela­tionships be shared?

“Risks are going to have to be taken,” Tenet implored them. “These countries are our partners now, like it or not. We’re going to have to shed old habits and old mind-sets.”

Pavitt laid out the particulars—the progress on specific innovations since 9/11. Tens of millions had been spent, with hundreds of millions more expected, to establish Counter-Terrorist Intelligence Centers, or CTICs, in more than a dozen countries that were not generally con­sidered all that friendly to the United States. It was a delicate dance, as a fragile trust with local intelligence officials was built, day by day on grants of helicopters, eavesdropping equipment, and bulletproof vests, making local intelligence officials feel like princes. The CIA had already sent specialists to train local forces in Yemen and Morocco. “We’re going to be working with intelligence agencies that are utterly unhesitant in what they will do to get captives to talk,” said Pavitt.

One foreign intelligence chief interjected with a question: “How do we know what we should or shouldn’t tell some of these foreign services? Especially ones we’ve traditionally had trouble trusting?”

“In most cases, tell them everything—because they already know more than you,” said Tenet, his voice rising. “Without them, and their help, we have no fucking global effort. We’d be walking through the Arab world wide open and half blind. The key for us, at this point, is understanding that we don’t know shit.”


Suspicion can become paralyzing, and actions can become erratic. The One Percent Doctrine takes readers inside the policy making arenas of our government and reveals the challenges America is facing with amazing detail and perspective. It’s clear that Suskind’s sources are some of the people who sit or have sat in the meetings where key decisions are made. This perspective adds to the knowledge that Americans need to influence support  of or disillusionment in our leaders.



Steve Hopkins, September 25, 2006



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