Main State of Denial: Bush at War, Part 3

State of Denial: Bush at War, Part 3

Award-winning author and journalist Bob Woodward turns his attention to the presidency of George W. Bush. Before the acts of terrorism on 11 September, George W. Bush's presidency had been beset by numerous problems. Not only was it in many peoples eyes invalid, very few people took him seriously as a world statesman. Then following one violent mindless act of terrorism, George W. Bush became a president that his country could rely on, one they felt they could trust to lead them through these difficult times. And the world saw a man who was decisive and resolute, a president who was seemingly determined to route out the people who had carried out the heinous acts. But one year after the attacks how has the 44th President of the United States fared? And what were the actual behind the scenes discussions that took place whilst the country was rocked by the crisis? Bob Woodward has been shadowing the President since those fateful events, he was allowed unprecedented access to closed-door meetings and briefings and this masterful book is a look at what really happened.
Year: 2002
Edition: 1ST
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Language: english
ISBN 10: 0743204735
ISBN 13: 9780743204736
Series: Bush at War Part 3
File: MOBI , 495 KB
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Bob Woodward


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Mark Malseed, a 1997 Phi Beta Kappa architecture graduate of Lehigh University, assisted me full-time in the reporting, writing, editing, research - and thinking - for this book. He is one of the brightest, calmest, most remarkable young men I have ever encountered or worked with. He began as my assistant in May 2002, and in just six months mastered the subjects of Bush, his war cabinet, their debates and strategies. Well-read and meticulous, Mark always had superb ideas for improving the structure, substance and language of this story. He has a natural sense of order and was able to juggle a half-dozen tasks and persevere through 12-hour days with grace. He is tough-minded but scrupulously fair. I found I could trust him without question. Every day working with Mark was a joy, and I treasure our friendship. This book is a collaboration - his as much as mine.

To Donald E. Graham, who so brilliantly carries on the legacy of his mother, Katharine Graham: hands off, mind on - a spirit of unfettered, independent inquiry and a willingness to listen


This is an account of President George W. Bush at war during the first 100 days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The information I obtained for this book includes contemporaneous notes taken during more than 50 National Security Council and other meetings where the most important decisions were discussed and made. Many direct quotations of the president and the war cabinet members come from these notes. Other personal notes, memos, calendars, written internal chronologies, transcripts and other documents also were the basis for direct quotations and other parts of this story.

In addition, I interviewed more than 100 people involved in the decision making and execution of the war, including President Bush, key war cabinet members, the White House staff, and officials currently serving at various levels of the Defense and State Departments and the CIA. Most sources were interviewed multiple times, several a half-dozen or more times. Most of the interviews were conducted on background - meaning that I could use the information but the sources would not be identified by name in this book. Nearly all allowed me to tape-record our interviews, so the story could be told more fully and with the exact language they used.

I have attributed thoughts, conclusions and feelings to the participants. These come either from the person himself, a colleague with direct knowledge of them, or the written record - both classified and unclassified.

President Bush was interviewed on the record twice - once for 90 minutes by myself and Dan Balz, a colleague at The Washington Post, for a lengthy eight-part series, "Ten Days in September," which was published in the Post in early 2002.1 have drawn on that interview and the series for a portion of this book. I interviewed President Bush a second time on August 20, 2002, at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, for two hours and 25 minutes. The transcript shows that I asked questions or made short comments 300 times. The president gave specific answers, often very detailed, about his reactions and reasoning behind the main decisions and turning points in the war.

War planning and war making involve secret information. I have used a good deal of it, trying to provide new specific details without harming sensitive operations or relationships with foreign governments. This is not a sanitized version, and the censors, if we had them in the United States - thank God we don't - would no doubt draw the line at a different, more restrictive place than I have.

This book contains a voluminous amount of new, documented information which I was able to obtain while memories were freshest and notes could be deciphered. It is an inside account, largely the story as the insiders saw it, heard it and lived it. Since it covers events and secret deliberations that began just over a year ago, it is an early version. But I was able to test the information I had for accuracy and context with trusted sources I have known for years and in some cases decades. Criticism, the judgments of history and other information may, over the coming months and years, alter the historical understanding of this era. This is my effort to get the best obtainable version of the truth.

In 1991, I published a book called The Commanders which was about the 1989 invasion of Panama and the lead-up to the Gulf War during the presidency of Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush.

"The decision to go to war is one that defines a nation, both to the world and, perhaps more importantly, to itself," I wrote at the beginning of that book. "There is no more serious business for a national government, no more accurate measure of national leadership." That is truer today than perhaps ever.

Bob Woodward October 11,2002 Washington, D.C.




Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld

Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Condoleezza Rice

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency George J. Tenet

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers, United States Air Force

White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.


Chief of Staff to the Vice President I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby /"

Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage

Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz

Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Stephen J. Hadley

Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John E. McLaughlin

Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace, United States Marine Corps


Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command General Tommy Franks, United States Army

Attorney General of the United States John D. Ashcroft

Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Robert S. Mueller III

Counselor to the President Karen P. Hughes

Senior Adviser to the President Karl Rove

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer


Deputy Director for Operations James L. Pavitt

Director of the Counterterrorism Center Gofer Black

Chief of Counterterrorist Special Operations Hank '

Jawbreaker Team Leader Gary


Lead Commander Mohammed Fahim

Commander of Forces in Northern Afghanistan Abdurrashid Dostum

Commander of Forces in Northern Afghanistan Attah Mohammad

Commander of Forces in Central Afghanistan Karim Khalili

Commander of Forces in Western Afghanistan Ismail Khan

Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah

Chief of Security Engineer Muhammed Arif Sawari




TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, began as one of those spectacular pre-fall days on the East Coast, sunny, temperatures in the 70s, light winds, the sky a vivid light blue. With President George W. Bush traveling in Florida that morning promoting his education agenda, his intelligence chief, CIA Director George J. Tenet, didn't have to observe the 8 A.M. ritual of personally briefing the president at the White House on the latest and most important top secret information flowing into America's vast spy empire.

Instead Tenet, 48, a hefty, outgoing son of Greek immigrants, was having a leisurely breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel, three blocks north of the White House, with the man who was most responsible for his rise in the world of secret intelligence - former Oklahoma Democratic Senator David L. Boren. The two had struck up an unusually close friendship going back 13 years when Tenet was a mid-level staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Boren chaired. Boren had found Tenet to be a gifted briefer and had jumped him over others with more seniority to make him staff director, a post which granted him access to virtually all the nation's intelligence secrets.

Boren then recommended Tenet to President-elect Bill Clinton in 1992, urging that he be appointed to head the administration's transition team on intelligence. The following year, Tenet was named National Security Council staff director for intelligence, responsible for coordinating all intelligence matters for the White House, including covert action. In 1995, Clinton named him deputy CIA director, and two years after that, he appointed him director of central intelligence (DCI), charged with heading the CIA and the vast U.S. intelligence community.

High-strung and a workaholic, Tenet had a heart attack while he was NSC intelligence staff director. He could be volatile. During President Clinton's second term, when he was CIA director, he stormed out of a principals' committee meeting that included the secretaries of state and defense but not the president. He thought the meeting, which was keeping him from attending his son's school Christmas play, was droning on too long. "Fuck you, I'm leaving" had been his parting comment. But Tenet had since learned how to control his temper.

In early 2001, Boren called President-elect Bush, praising Tenet as nonpartisan and urging him to keep him on as CIA director. Ask your father, he suggested. When the younger Bush did, the former President George H.W. Bush said, "From what I hear, he's a good fellow," one of the highest accolades in the Bush family lexicon. Tenet, who has a keen nose for cultivating political alliances, had helped the senior Bush push through the controversial nomination of Robert Gates as CIA director in 1991, and later led the effort to rename CIA headquarters for Bush, himself a former DCI.

The former president also told his son, the most important thing you'll do as president every day is get your intelligence briefing.

BEGINNING WITH HIS time heading the Senate Intelligence Committee staff, Tenet had developed an understanding of the importance of human intelligence, HUMINT in spycraft. In an era of dazzling breakthroughs in signals intelligence, SIGINT - phone, teletype and communications intercepts and code breaking - and overhead satellite photography and radar imagery, the CIA had downgraded the role of HUMINT. But Tenet earmarked more money for human intelligence and the training of case officers, the clandestine service operatives who work undercover recruiting and paying spies and agents in foreign governments - called "sources" or "assets."

Without case officers, Tenet knew, there would be no human sources to provide intelligence, no access to governments, opposition groups or other organizations abroad, little inside information, little opportunity for covert action. And covert action to effect change in foreign countries was part of the agency's charter, however controversial, misguided or bungled it may have been over the years.

The case officers were the critical first step. At one point in the 1990s, only 12 were being trained for the future in the year-long intensive program at the CIA facility called "the Farm" in the Virginia countryside. In 2001, Tenet had 10 times as many in training, an incredible jump. It was designed to increase HUMINT and make covert action, if authorized by the president, possible. All this had been done during the Clinton years.

"WHAT ARE YOU worried about these days?" Boren asked Tenet that morning.

"Bin Laden," Tenet replied, referring to terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, an exiled Saudi who was living in Afghanistan and had developed the worldwide network al Qaeda, Arabic for "the Base." He was convinced that bin Laden was going to do something big, he said.

"Oh, George!" Boren said. For the last two years he had been listening to his friend's concerns about bin Laden. How could one private person without the resources of a foreign government be such a threat? he asked.

"You don't understand the capabilities and the reach of what they're putting together," Tenet said. Boren was worried that his friend had developed an unhealthy obsession about bin Laden. Nearly two years earlier, just before the 2000 millennium celebration, Tenet had taken the highly unusual and risky step of personally warning Boren not to travel or appear at big public events over New Year's Eve or New Year's Day because he anticipated major attacks.

More recently, Tenet had worried that there would be attacks during the July 4, 2001, celebration. Though he didn't disclose it to Boren, there had been 34 specific communications intercepts among various bin Laden associates that summer making declarations such as "Zero hour is tomorrow" or "Something spectacular is coming." There had been so many of these intercepts - often called chatter - picked up in the intelligence system and so many reports of threats that Tenet had gone to maximum alert. It seemed like an attack of some sort was imminent against U.S. embassies abroad or concentrations of American tourists, but the intelligence never pinpointed when or where or by what method.

Nothing had happened, but Tenet said it was the issue he was losing sleep over.

Suddenly, several of Tenet's security guards approached. They were not strolling. They were bolting toward the table.

Uh-oh, Boren thought.

"Mr. Director," one of them said, "there's a serious problem."

"What is it?" Tenet asked, indicating that it was okay to speak freely.

"The World Trade tower has been attacked."

One of them handed Tenet a cell phone and he called headquarters.

"So they put the plane into the building itself?" Tenet asked incredulously.

He ordered his key people to gather in his conference room at CIA headquarters. He would be there in about 15-20 minutes.

"This has bin Laden all over it," Tenet told Boren. "I've got to go." He also had another reaction, one that raised the real possibility that the CIA and the FBI had not done all that could have been done to prevent the terrorist attack. "I wonder," Tenet said, "if it has anything to do with this guy taking pilot training." He was referring to Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent whom the FBI had detained in Minnesota the previous month after he had acted suspiciously at a local flight training school.

Moussaoui's case was very much on his mind. In August, the FBI had asked the CIA and the National Security Agency to run phone traces on any calls Moussaoui had made abroad. He was already the subject of a five-inch-thick file in the bureau. As Tenet hopped in his car to go to the 258-acre CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the past, present and future of his counterterrorism efforts were swirling in his head.

The CIA had been after bin Laden for more than five years, and increasingly so after the devastating 1998 bin Laden-sponsored terrorist bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that had left more than 200 people dead. At that time, President Clinton directed the U.S. military to launch 66 cruise missiles into terrorist training camps in Afghanistan where bin Laden was believed to be in a high-level meeting. But he had apparently left a few hours before the missiles arrived.

In 1999, the CIA commenced a covert operation to train 60 commandos from the Pakistani intelligence agency to enter Afghanistan to capture bin Laden. But the operation was aborted because of a military coup in Pakistan. More ambitious and riskier options had been weighed in seemingly endless meetings with the top Clinton national security officials.

One option that had been considered was a clandestine helicopter-borne night assault on bin Laden with a small, elite U.S. military Special Forces unit of roughly 40 men. It would require aerial refueling, as the helicopters would have to fly some 900 miles. But they were spooked by the 1980 Desert One operation President Carter had ordered to rescue the American hostages held in Iran when several aircraft had crashed in the desert, and the downing of two Blackhawk helicopters in Somalia during a 1993 mission, which had led to 18 American deaths. The military said a raid on bin Laden might fail and could involve substantial U.S. casualties. Intelligence reports also showed that bin Laden had his key lieutenants keep their families with the entourage, and Clinton was opposed to any operation that might kill women and children.

A U.S. Special Forces unit and U.S. submarines capable of firing cruise missiles were put on alert, but they required six to ten hours advance warning about bin Laden's future location.

One of the most guarded secrets in the CIA was the existence of 30 recruited Afghan agents, operating under the codeword GE/ SENIORS, who had been paid to track bin Laden around Afghanistan for the last three years. The group, which was paid $10,000 a month, could move together or break into smaller tracking teams of five men.

The CIA had daily secure communications with the "Seniors" as they were called, and had bought them vehicles and motorcycles. But tracking bin Laden grew increasingly difficult. He moved at irregular times, often departing suddenly at night.

Incredibly, the Seniors seemed to have him located most of the time, but they were never able to provide "actionable" intelligence - to say with any confidence that he would remain there for the time needed to shoot cruise missiles at the location. And the CIA failed to recruit a reliable human spy in bin Laden's circle who could tip them to his plans.

There were those in the Clinton White House and national security apparatus who were skeptical of the Seniors, because at times there was contradictory intelligence about bin Laden's location. And in Afghanistan people, especially intelligence assets, were regularly bought off.

Neither Clinton, nor Bush to this moment, had given the CIA lethal authority to send the Seniors or other paid CIA assets to kill or assassinate bin Laden. The presidential ban on assassination, first signed by President Gerald Ford, had the force of law.

During one period, the leader of the Afghan Seniors had met several times with the CIA station chief from Islamabad, Pakistan, who controlled and paid them. The Senior leader maintained that they had shot at bin Laden's convoy on two occasions in self-defense, which was permissible, but he wanted to go after the convoy in a concerted way, proposing an ambush - shoot everything up, kill everyone and then run.

The CIA station chief kept saying, "No, you can't, you can't do that." It would violate U.S. law.

Given the money that was available, the covert action resources and the atmosphere, Tenet figured the CIA had done everything they knew how to do. But he had never requested a change in the rules, had never asked Clinton for an intelligence order that would have permitted the Seniors to ambush bin Laden.

The lawyers at the Justice Department or the White House, he believed, would have said no, that it would have violated the assassination ban. He felt bound by the dovish attitude of Clinton and his advisers. Everything was "lawyered to death," he would say. But he too had contributed to that atmosphere during his five and a half years as Clinton's DCI and deputy DCI.

What the rules did permit was for the CIA to seize bin Laden and turn him over to law enforcement, an operation legally known as a "rendering." A big operation to do this was put on the covert action drawing boards. Tenet was convinced that bin Laden would never allow himself to be taken alive, so such an operation, if successful, would lead to his demise.

But all the CIA experts in the Directorate of Operations thought it would not work - that it would lead to a lot of people getting killed, and not necessarily bin Laden. And Tenet agreed. The plan never went further. A proposal by the Saudis that the CIA place a homing device in the luggage of bin Laden's mother, who was traveling from Saudi Arabia to visit her son in Afghanistan, was also rejected as risky and unlikely to work.

BY 9:50 A.M., Tenet was in his seventh floor office. Two commercial passenger airliners had already struck both World Trade Center towers and a third had hit the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane was over Pennsylvania apparently heading for the Washington area.

Reports were swamping the system saying that future targets included the White House, the Capitol and the State Department. CIA headquarters, a highly visible and recognizable landmark near the Potomac River, was a possible target. Investigators knew that Ramzi Yousef, an al Qaeda terrorist who was responsible for the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, had had plans to fly a plane packed with explosives into the CIA buildings.

"We have to save our people," Tenet told his senior leadership. "We have to evacuate the building." He wanted everyone out, even the core staff of hundreds from the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) down in the windowless bowels of the building.

Gofer Black, the head of the CTC, looked on this order with skepticism, almost shaking his head. At 52, Black was a veteran covert operator and one of the agency's legends. He had helped in the 1994 capture of Carlos the Jackal, perhaps the most notorious pre-bin Laden international terrorist. Black had thinning hair and wore prominent eyeglasses, and bore a striking resemblance to Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist. He was a throwback to the era when the agency was filled with colorful and eccentric figures. While most everyone in the CIA called Tenet by his first name, Black observed old-school protocol, calling him "Mr. Director" or simply "Sir."

"Sir," Black said, "we're going to have to exempt CTC from this because we need to have our people working the computers."

"Well," Tenet said, "the Global Response Center . . ." He was referring to the eight people on watch on the sixth floor, near the top of the building, who monitored the latest intelligence on terrorism throughout the world. "They're going to be at risk."

"This is an element - we're going to have to keep them in place."

"Well, we have to get those people out," Tenet insisted.

"No, sir, we're going to have to leave them there because they have a key function to play in a crisis like this. This is exactly why we have the Global Response Center."

"Well, they could die."

"Sir, then they're just going to have to die."

Tenet paused.

The CIA director was a sort of father protector to the thousands who worked there. In the popular culture and to many in Washington, the CIA was a broken, even unnecessary institution; at best, it was an endangered species of sorts. A director protected.

"You're absolutely right," Tenet finally told Black. The rules, maybe all of them, had changed that morning. Thousands were already dead in New York City and at the Pentagon.

Black sensed an important shift. People, including the director, were maturing before his eyes in a very short period of time, moving from the bureaucratic mode to acceptance of risk, even death. Black was not at all surprised by the attack, but even he was shocked at the level of carnage.

In his three years as counterterrorism chief, he had concluded that if the CTC chief was not more aggressive than his superiors, then they had the wrong person in the job. He had operated against al Qaeda when he was station chief in Khartoum, Sudan, and had been the target of a failed ambush and assassination attempt in 1994. He had made some aggressive, lethal covert action proposals to get bin Laden, but they had been rejected. He figured given the climate, it was probably inevitable.

Now all that had changed.

Tenet ordered the building evacuated, except for those in the Global Response Center.

IN LIMA, PERU, that morning, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell had just sat down to breakfast with the new president, Alejandro Toledo. Powell was attending an Organization of American States meeting. He anticipated a pleasant series of events with the foreign ministers or leaders of 34 of the 35 countries in the region. Cuba had not been invited.

Toledo was going on and on about U.S. textile quotas. He wanted an exemption for high-quality cotton which he maintained would not compete with lower-quality cotton produced in certain Southern states of the U.S. which of course insisted on the quotas.

Suddenly, the door opened and Craig Kelly, Powell's executive assistant, rushed in with a note written on a piece of paper that had been ripped out of a spiral wire notepad: Two airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Two is not an accident, Powell realized. The next note said it was two jets. Powell thought, I've got to go home. No matter what it was, it was too big for him to be sitting around at a conference of foreign ministers in Peru. The plane, get the plane, he told Kelly. Go tell them we're leaving.

It would take about an hour to get the plane ready, so Powell stopped by the conference. Other foreign ministers made speeches of sympathy. Powell spoke briefly, thanking the assembly members for their condolences and vowing that the U.S. would respond and ultimately prevail. "A terrible, terrible tragedy has befallen my nation," he said, "but. . . you can be sure that America will deal with this tragedy in a way that brings those responsible to justice. You can be sure that as terrible a day as this is for us, we will get through it because we are a strong nation, a nation that believes in itself."

The others stood and applauded. Powell then raced to the airport for the seven-hour flight. Once the plane took off, Powell found that he couldn't talk to anybody because his communications were connected to the system in the U.S., which was swamped. Without a phone or his e-mail, he was like a man without a country.

After a few minutes, he went to the front of the plane to call over the radio. That meant over-and-out, nonsecure communications. He reached Richard L. Armitage, the deputy secretary of state and his best friend. They spoke several times, but real talk was hopeless. Armitage, a 1967 Naval Academy graduate, had served four tours in Vietnam, and later as an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. He was an outspoken, muscular, barrel-chested man who deplored fancy-pants, pin-striped diplomatic talk. Even before they took over the State Department, Powell and Armitage talked several times each day. "I would trust him with my life, my children, my reputation, everything I have," Powell said of Armitage.

Of all the things Powell hated, being out of the action was at the top of the list. A central part of national security policymaking was crisis management. No matter what structure a president, a White House or a national security team might try to impose on the process of policymaking, there was a random quality to some of the big moments. Crisis provided the greatest danger and the greatest opportunity.

At 64, Powell had already sat in three of the seats in the White House Situation Room - national security adviser to President Reagan for a year, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the first President Bush during the Gulf War and now secretary of state to the new Bush for the last nine months.

A report came that another airliner had hit the Pentagon, and there were vague reports and rumors flying around about all kinds of other planes all over the place.

Powell started to scribble notes to himself. Ever the soldier, he wrote, What are my people going to be responsible for? How is the world, the United States going to respond to this? What about the United Nations? What about NATO? How do I start calling people together?

The seven hours of isolation seemed an eternity for the man who could have been commander in chief.

In 1995, Powell, two years retired from the Army, had considered running for president. He wrote an autobiography, My American Journey, which became a No. 1 national best-seller. He was poised at the epicenter of American politics, with stratospheric poll ratings, the Republican nomination nearly his for the asking, and the presidency within reach.

Armitage had been passionately against it. "It's not worth it. Don't do it," he advised, finally telling his friend, "I don't think you're ready for this." The process of campaigning would be everything Powell hated, "every bad thing you could imagine." Powell liked well-laid plans, order, predictability, a level of certainty that was not part of the hurly-burly of American politics.

It was well known his wife, Alma, was opposed to his running. What was secret was that Alma had flatly told him that if he ran for president she would leave him. "If you run, I'm gone," she said. She feared he would be attacked or shot. Running for president, becoming president, making her first lady was not what she wanted for her life. "You will have to do it alone," she said.

After Bush won the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, Powell signed on to help, but Karl Rove found that the campaign had to move heaven and earth to get him to appear at an event with Bush. Nearly every other important Republican fell in line, not Powell. His people always wanted to know who else would be at an event, what would be said, who the audience was, what was the political purpose. All this seemed designed to determine the political fallout - on Powell, not Bush. Rove detected a subtle, subversive tendency, as if Powell were protecting his centrist credentials and his own political future at Bush's expense.

Nevertheless, he was an available vehicle to move Bush toward the center, and he became the almost certain choice for secretary of state if Bush were elected. Powell let it be known this was a post he would accept. Within his inner circle, there was a strong sense that voters knew they were choosing a team - not just Bush and his vice presidential running mate, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, but also Powell.

When the Supreme Court declared Bush the winner by 537 votes in the Florida saga, Powell's advisers were convinced that their boss had clearly provided the margin of victory many, many times over.

IN HIS FIRST months as secretary of state, Powell had never really closed the personal loop with Bush, never established a comfort level - the natural, at-ease state of closeness that both had with others. There existed a distance between these two affable men - a wariness - as if they were stalking each other from afar, never sitting down and having it out, whatever the "it" was. Both Bush and Powell used barracks-room humor freely with others, but rarely with each other.

Rove was disturbed and felt Powell was beyond political control and operating out of a sense of entitlement. "It's constantly, you know, 'I'm in charge, and this is all politics and I'm going to win the internecine political game,' " Rove said privately.

Whenever Powell was too out in front on an issue and became the public face of the administration, the political and communications operations at the White House reined him in, kept him out of the limelight. Rove and Karen P. Hughes, Bush's longtime communications director, now White House counselor, decided who from the administration would appear on the Sunday talk shows, the major television evening news and the morning programs. If the White House didn't call to suggest that he accept the numerous invitations to appear, Powell knew the rules. He told the shows no.

In April 2001, when an American EP-3E military spy plane off the coast of China was intercepted, forced down and taken hostage along with its 24 crew members by the Chinese government, the White House determined to keep Bush away from the issue, so that the president would not appear to be emotionally involved or the negotiator. It was important to behave as if there was no hostage crisis, mindful of how the Iranian hostage crisis had paralyzed President Carter and how the Lebanon hostage situation had become a consuming obsession for President Reagan in the mid-1980s.

The issue was turned over to Powell, who successfully won their release after 11 days. It was a big win, but even then the White House didn't want him on television to take credit.

Powell and Armitage would joke that Powell had been put in the "icebox" or the "refrigerator" - to be used only when needed.

Just the week before September 11, Time magazine had done a cover story on Powell with the headline, "Where Have You Gone, Colin Powell?" The story said he was leaving "shallow footprints" on policy and losing out to administration hard-liners. It was a very effective hit by the White House, where certain officials had cooperated with the writers to prove that Powell was operating, sometimes desperately, often in isolation, at the edges of the new administration.

Rove, for one, was saying privately that he thought Powell had somehow lost a step and that it was odd to see him uncomfortable in the presence of the president.

Powell and others in his circle had spent hours with the Time reporters unsuccessfully trying to talk them down from the story line. But Powell and Armitage knew the overwhelming power of perception in Washington where charting rise and fall is more than a parlor game. The problem was that the vivid story line would be seen as the truth, even if it wasn't. The larger problem was that it was in part true. Powell was not formulating a foreign policy. He was getting assignments and reacting to one minor crisis after another. But as he once said in private, "Survival at the top is pragmatics."

When he had been chairman of the Joint Chiefs, he had written out some of his favorite sayings and slipped them underneath the glass on his desk in the Pentagon. One said, "Never let them see you sweat."

L RESIDENT BUSH WAS reading to second graders at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, when Rove brought him the news that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At first, it seemed it might be an accident, pilot error or maybe, Bush thought, the pilot had had a heart attack.

He was sitting on a stool in the classroom in a dark suit, blue shirt and bright red tie. A small blackboard behind him said, "Reading makes a country great!"

Andrew H. Card Jr., 55, Bush's chief of staff and a former White House aide to Reagan and Bush senior, soon interrupted the president and whispered directly in his right ear, "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."

A photo of that moment is etched for history. The president's hands are folded formally in his lap, his head turned to hear Card's words. His face has a distant sober look, almost frozen, edging on bewilderment. Bush remembers exactly what he was thinking: "They had declared war on us, and I made up my mind at that moment that we were going to war."

Bush decided that he needed to say something to the public. At 9:30 A.M. he appeared before the television cameras in the Booker school's media center to make a four-paragraph statement. He cautiously described what had happened as "an apparent terrorist attack." Looking shaken, his language oddly informal, he promised that the full resources of the federal government would be employed to investigate and find "those folks who committed this act.

"Terrorism against our nation will not stand," he said, echoing the famous "This will not stand" formulation his father had used 11 years earlier when he faced his greatest challenge after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.

Bush felt his father's declaration of resolve on the White House lawn several days after the invasion was among his finest moments as president. "Why I came up with those specific words, maybe it was an echo of the past," this president said later. "I don't know why... . I'll tell you this, we didn't sit around massaging the words. I got up there and just spoke.

"What you saw was my gut reaction coming out."

THE PRESIDENT'S MOTORCADE raced to the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. He dashed up the steps and into his private front cabin and office on Air Force One.

"Be sure to get the first lady and my daughters protected," was his first order to the Secret Service agents.

"Mr. President," one of the agents said nervously, "we need you to get seated as soon as possible."

Bush strapped in, and the plane accelerated down the runway, almost standing on its tail as it climbed rapidly.

FIRST LADY LAURA Bush, in a bright red suit with a double string of pearls around her neck, was in the Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington about to testify on children's early learning before Senator Edward M. Kennedy's committee.

Word of an "accident" came, and Mrs. Bush, Senator Kennedy and others left through a side door. When she learned some of the details, Mrs. Bush worked hard to control herself. Her face was soon quite ashen, her eyes tear-rimmed and her lips quivering.

Then the Pentagon was hit, and Secret Service and police cloistered around her. They explained the need to get her to a safe place. The group soon broke into an anxious trot. By 9:50, Mrs. Bush was awaiting an escort. In the traffic jam from the Capitol, it took 45 minutes to get her to Secret Service headquarters where she was taken into the basement to the Wood Conference Room.

Not until 10:51 A.M. did the Secret Service relocate Turquoise, the codename for Barbara Bush, a 19-year-old freshman at Yale, to their New Haven office. Twinkle, codename for the other Bush twin, Jenna, a freshman at the University of Texas in Austin, was relocated to the Driskill Hotel six minutes later.

IT WAS 9:39 A.M. when American Airlines Flight 77, a Boeing 757, slammed into the Pentagon.

Five minutes later, Bush reached his vice president, Dick Cheney, who had been whisked from his West Wing office by the Secret Service to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, or PEOC, the emergency bunker beneath the White House grounds.

"We're at war," Bush said, and told Cheney to give the congressional leadership a briefing. When the president hung up, he turned to some of his staff on Air Force One who had heard his comment to Cheney. "That's what we're paid for boys. We're going to take care of this. And when we find out who did this, they're not going to like me as president. Somebody is going to pay."

Soon Cheney was on the phone again to the president urging that he authorize U.S. military aircraft to shoot down any additional commercial airliners that were controlled by hijackers. A hijacked airliner was a weapon. It would be a momentous decision, but Cheney, normally cautious, insisted that giving the American fighter pilots the authority to fire on commercial airliners, even if they were full of civilians, was the only practical answer.

"You bet," Bush said. He gave the authority.

At about 10:30 A.M. Cheney reached Bush again on Air Force One, which was still on its way to Washington. The White House had received a threat saying, "Angel is next." Since "Angel" was the codeword for Air Force One, it could mean that terrorists had inside information.

"We're going to find out who did this," Bush said to Cheney, "and we're going to kick their asses."

Card reported that First Lady Laura Bush was in a secure location with the Secret Service and that his daughters had been removed to safer locations.

A few minutes later, Cheney was back on the phone urging that the president not return to Washington. "There's still a threat," he said.

Signals intelligence and all kinds of reports were flooding in. Given what had happened - four hijackings - it wasn't prudent to come back. Cheney immediately clicked into the possibility that the terrorists might be trying to decapitate the government, to kill its leaders. He said they had a responsibility to preserve the government, its continuity of leadership. Bush recalled, "He was the man on the telephone who said, 'Do not come to Washington.'"

The president agreed to divert to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. Shortly after, those on the plane could feel it bank suddenly and sharply to the left in a westerly direction.

At 10:52 A.M. Bush spoke with his wife.

IT WAS A time of chaos and confusion that is reflected in the official documents of the day, some public, some classified. Various documents have Bush arriving in Louisiana at 11:48 A.M., 11:57 A.M., 12:05 P.M. and 12:16 P.M. - a range of 28 minutes. Somewhere around noon Air Force One landed at Barksdale under heavy security. At 12:36 - this time is precise - Bush issued another statement before the television cameras.

It had been more than three hours since the president or any senior administration official had spoken publicly. The president's eyes were red-rimmed when he walked in. His performance was not reassuring. He spoke haltingly, mispronouncing several words as he looked down at his notes. He seemed to gain strength at the end of the 219-word statement, promising resolve. "But make no mistake," he said, "we will show the world that we will pass this test."

He told Card, "I want to go back home ASAP. I don't want whoever did this holding me outside of Washington."

But the Secret Service said it was too unsteady in Washington, and Cheney said it was not safe yet.

"The right thing is to let the dust settle," Card said.

Bush reluctantly acquiesced and reboarded Air Force One, which shortly after 1:30 P.M. zoomed into the western sky, this time for Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Offutt is home to the Strategic Command, which controls the United States's nuclear weapons, and the base has a facility to protect the president. He could also meet with his National Security Council over a secure video link.

From the plane, Bush reached his secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld.

"Wow, it was an American airliner that hit the Pentagon," the president said in some wonderment. "It's a day of national tragedy, and we'll clean up the mess and then the ball will be in your court and Dick Myers's court."

Air Force General Richard B. Myers, the tall, gentlemanly vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was slated to move up to become chairman, the top U.S. military position, in three weeks.

Rumsfeld, a small-framed, almost boyish, former Navy fighter pilot who did not look his 69 years, had been expecting, even counting on, the order from the president putting the ball squarely in his court.

Earlier in the year, when Rumsfeld was in discussions about becoming Bush's secretary of defense, he had had a talk with the president-elect, a little test of sorts. He told Bush that during the eight years of Clinton, the natural pattern when challenged or attacked had been a "reflexive pullback" - caution, safety plays, even squeamishness. The Clinton weapon of choice was the standoff cruise missile. Rumsfeld left no doubt in Bush's mind that when that moment came, as it surely would, that the United States was threatened, he, as secretary of defense, would be coming to the president to unleash the military. The president could expect a forward-leaning action plan.

Bush had replied, unambiguously in Rumsfeld's estimation, that that was precisely what he wanted. Rumsfeld believed they had a clear, common understanding.

RUMSFELD HAD BEEN one of the brightest Republican stars in the 1960s and 1970s - a JFK from the GOP - handsome, intense, well educated with an intellectual bent, witty with an infectious smile. Many in the party, including Rumsfeld himself, thought he might be headed for the presidency. But he never gained traction as a popular or national political figure, in part because of the brusque way he often treated people, especially subordinates. In \addition, he made a political enemy of one of the party's rising stars, George H.W. Bush, who did make it to the presidency.

Rumsfeld's ascent to the inner circle of power is a story of intrigue, drive and luck. In 1962, at the age of 30, Rumsfeld was elected to his first of four terms in Congress representing the district of Chicago's North Shore suburbs where he had grown up. He resigned from Congress in 1969 to become director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, the anti-poverty organization that was a cabinet level post in the Nixon administration but not a flashy, high-visibility position.

By 1973-74 he was in Brussels, serving as U.S. ambassador to NATO, dodging the Watergate bullet. According to Nixon's memoirs, in July 1974, "Don Rumsfeld called from Brussels, offering to resign as Ambassador to NATO and return to help work against impeachment among his former colleagues." Nixon resigned the next month and Rumsfeld was asked to chair the presidential transition team of his former House colleague Gerald Ford.

Ford asked Rumsfeld to become White House chief of staff, but Rumsfeld wanted to stay at NATO. Rumsfeld agreed when Ford promised to streamline the staff and give Rumsfeld full authority.

After a year in the White House, Ford told him he planned to fire Defense Secretary James Schlesinger. Rumsfeld would move to Defense. CIA Director William Colby was going to be replaced by George Bush senior, then the U.S. representative in China. Rumsfeld privately called the China post "a crappy, irrelevant job." He was opposed to the new assignments for both Bush and himself. He told Ford that moving the two would put them on ice for Ford's upcoming presidential campaign. They were, he said, the only two who could give effective political speeches in the coming election year, 1976. But Rumsfeld saluted and took Defense.

Bush senior was convinced that Rumsfeld-was secretly pushing him out to the CIA to end his political career. It seemed inconceivable at the time that the head of spying and dirty tricks abroad could ever become president.

President Ford then elevated Rumsfeld's deputy, Dick Cheney, to be White House chief of staff. At the time, over concerns about politicizing the CIA, the Senate was refusing to confirm Bush senior as director unless Ford pledged not to select him as his vice presidential running mate for the coming election. Rumsfeld told Ford and Cheney that the president should not cave in to the Senate. When Ford and Bush eventually made the pledge to the Senate anyway, Rumsfeld blamed Cheney in part, telling him in so many words, You've screwed up on the first thing you've done.

Over the next year, 1976, there emerged a subtle rivalry between Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and CIA Director In their years in the House, Rumsfeld had found Bush to be a lightweight who was interested in friendships, public relations and public opinion polls more than substantive policy. In his view, Bush senior avoided controversy and sweat, except in the House gym. He went so far as to tell some that Bush had some of what Rumsfeld called the "Rockefeller syndrome" - available, wanting to serve, but not having clear goals. In Rumsfeld's world, having no larger purpose was almost a high crime.

Rumsfeld believed that Bush was a weak CIA director who seriously underestimated the Soviet Union's military advances and was manipulated by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Rumsfeld went on to hold government appointments in the Reagan administration as Middle East envoy and in the Clinton administration as head of a commission to assess the ballistic missile threat to the U.S., but none in the administration of Bush senior.

Instead of being on a track to run for the presidency, Rumsfeld was now the secretary of defense for a second time, serving his longtime rival's son. In some respects, Rumsfeld was a walking example of what the novelist Wallace Stegner calls "resilience under disappointment," the persistence of drive, hard work and even stubbornness when ambition has not been fully realized.

In his first eight months back in the Pentagon, Rumsfeld struck two major themes. First, the military was hidebound and outdated, still equipped, trained and organized to fight old enemies, mainly the Soviet Union. He undertook what he called "transformation," to remake the force, and as he said somewhat presciently at his confirmation hearings, to "develop capabilities to defend against missiles, terrorism and new threats against our space assets and information systems."

Rumsfeld's second theme was surprise. He routinely handed out or recommended a book called Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision by Roberta Wohlstetter. Rumsfeld particularly recommended the foreword, written by Thomas Schelling, who argued that Pearl Harbor was an ordinary blunder, the type government specializes in.

"There is a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable.. .. The danger is in a poverty of expectations, a routine obsession with a few dangers that may be familiar rather than likely."

Rumsfeld's transformation plans met with something just short of organized resistance bordering on insubordination among a significant part of the senior uniformed officers. One four-star officer who worked with him said Rumsfeld was "an egomaniac cleverly disguised... a hip shooter who gives the impression he is not." Another said if anyone disagreed with Rumsfeld it was risky because the result might be an "ass chewing from him." The officer said, "I'd go up there [to Rumsfeld's office on the third floor] and when I disagreed with him I'd tell him I disagreed. Sometimes he was nice about it, sometimes he wasn't nice about it."

On occasion Rumsfeld bounced ranking generals out of his office, telling one, "Come back and brief when you know what you're talking about." Woe to the briefer who presented only a proposed solution. "Wait, let's back up," Rumsfeld would often say. I can read the answer. What I want to know is how you got there - the premise, the starting point, the full reasoning.

This baffled the senior military. It was humbling and off-putting too at times. Rumsfeld confronted them with tough questions that seemed excessive. What is it you know about this subject? What don't you know? What do you think about it? What do you think I ought to ask you about it? That's the only way I'm going to learn anything, he explained, adding, And for sure it's the only way that you are going to learn anything!

He seemed too confident in himself and too distrustful of his subordinates in the military. Working with a close-knit group, mostly civilians, he was a mystery to many in the building, especially the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the uniformed heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

Rumsfeld didn't like muddling along. He didn't like imprecision. He redid or had suggestions on most memos. He hated loose language. One memo had an obvious typographic error - "not" coming out as "ton" - and he asked, What does this "ton" mean? Why is "ton" in this sentence? What does it mean?

"Cambone!" was a familiar refrain when Rumsfeld wanted information or action. A 6-foot-3 defense intellectual who had worked on the space and missile defense commissions that Rumsfeld had headed, Steve Cambone was the dark, nonsunny, nonoptimistic side of Rumsfeld who had forebodings about something bad happening. He was civilian special assistant to the secretary, and he largely defined the relationships between Rumsfeld and the rest of the Pentagon. Cambone was the means by which, at least initially, Rumsfeld had extended his grasp around the throats of the military brass.

Army General Henry B. "Hugh" Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since October 1997, grew despondent at times under the new civilian leadership, reporting to colleagues a real rupture with Rumsfeld. At one point Rumsfeld suggested that Shelton ought to give his military advice to the president through him. Shelton had to point out that the law made him the "principal military adviser" to the president, and he believed his advice should be given directly.

If Rumsfeld rubbed the chiefs and the brass raw at times, many had respect for his intelligence. One senior general said, "I admire the man greatly even though I don't necessarily like him.... He's got a weakness in wanting to have his hands around everything. Okay?"

AWARE OF THE attacks on the World Trade Center, Rumsfeld had been proceeding with his daily intelligence briefing in his office when the third hijacked plane struck the western face of the Pentagon. He felt the building shudder and darted to the window, but from his vantage it was unclear what had happened. He went outside and followed the rising cloud of smoke to the crash site, helping with the rescue effort before a security agent urged him to get out of the area.

"I'm going inside," Rumsfeld said, and hurried to the National Military Command Center, the large, heavily staffed Pentagon war room. It was filled with smoke, so he and his team went up to an isolated communications network room called "Cables" where the air was better.

General Myers urged Rumsfeld to leave. "The smoke is getting pretty bad," he said. "We've got a lot of support people here. It's actually worse for them than it is for us right here." The others would not leave as long as Rumsfeld was there. "We ought to think about moving."

Okay, Rumsfeld said, but kept on working.

The military, which seemed to have contingency plans for the most inconceivable scenarios, had no plans for Afghanistan, the sanctuary of bin Laden and his network. There was nothing on the shelf that could be pulled down to provide at least an outline. This was not a surprise for the secretary of defense. Now he turned to Myers with a message: When I've asked to see various plans, I've not been happy with what I've seen. They are neither imaginative nor creative. Clearly the plans are old and have been on the shelf for too long. I've just not been happy. We've got a long way to go. You need to know that.

"I understand, sir," Myers replied.

RUMSFELD FINALLY LEFT the war room and went to his office suite and set himself to working the problem.

"This is the defining moment," he told his top aides - Cam-bone, his military assistant, his general counsel and his spokesperson. The president is going to come back into town, he said, and I need to be ready to talk to him when he arrives. What are the things the president needs to think about? Rumsfeld asked. What does the president need to address?

He started jotting down ideas. He wanted thoughts from everyone, short concepts, statements of the problems. Get this old paper, this report, this memo, he said. Speak up. What did they have before them?

For Cambone, it was distill, distill, distill - digest, digest, digest.

Victoria A. "Torie" Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, thought Rumsfeld was like a Vegas blackjack dealer, sitting in his massive office sorting through the paper, almost by instinct, setting out three stacks of memos, papers and notes: 1. This is what we know. 2. This is what we're dealing with right now. 3. This is what we've got to deal with next - tomorrow and into the long-term future.

How do we crystallize the problem for the president? Rumsfeld asked. He deemed it part of his responsibility to think on the president's behalf. We have to have the right thoughts, complete thoughts. Because, he said, the first full meeting of the National Security Council was going to be terribly important in setting the stage for how they moved forward. Paper kept flying from stack to stack, and the piles got smaller and smaller. He threw some of these notes and paper in the Burn Bag for classified trash. Clarke fished some out to recirculate.

After several hours, Rumsfeld had it all down on a single sheet of paper - nice, neat, no misspellings, no loose language - to take that night for a meeting at the White House with the president.

He had a final question for General Myers. "Where are those plans?"

AT OFFUTT AIR Force Base in Nebraska, President Bush convened the first meeting of the National Security Council for the terrorist crisis at 3:30"P.M.

Tenet reported with near certainty that bin Laden was behind the attacks. Passenger manifests showed three known al Qaeda operatives had been on American Airlines Flight 77, which had plowed into the Pentagon. One of them, Khalid Al-Midhar, had come to the CIA's attention the previous year in Malaysia. A paid CIA spy had placed him at an al Qaeda meeting. They had informed the FBI, who put him on a domestic watch list, but he had slipped into the United States over the summer and avoided detection by the bureau.

Al Qaeda was the only terrorist organization capable of such spectacular, well-coordinated attacks, Tenet said. Intelligence monitoring had overheard a number of known bin Laden operatives congratulating each other after the attacks. Information collected days earlier but only now being translated indicated that various known operatives around the world anticipated a big event. None specified the day, time, place or method of attack.

It was pretty obvious there had been some kind of screwup, and it didn't sound to the president like the FBI and CIA were communicating. "George, get your ears up," the president told Tenet, meaning listen in on everything.

Tenet said since all the attacks had taken place before 10 A.M. that morning, chances were that there would be no more that day, but there was no way to be sure.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, who had only been in the job for a week, said they didn't know how the hijackers had taken over the planes. As a precaution, all air traffic over the U.S. had been grounded indefinitely.

The president said he wanted to get the airlines flying again.

"We need to understand the penetration of airport security before the planes take off," Tenet cautioned. It was a reasonable suggestion, but it seemed to shift the problem to airport security and away from intelligence lapses that may have allowed the hijackers to enter and live in the U.S. for months before their missions.

"I'll announce more security measures," the president said, "but we won't be held hostage," and he added impulsively, "We'll fly at noon tomorrow."

It would take three days before commercial airline flights resumed at a reduced schedule.

"The terrorists can always attack," Rumsfeld said defiantly. "The Pentagon's going back to work tomorrow."

Secret Service Director Brian L. Stafford addressed the president. "Our position is stay where you are," the director said. "It's not safe." Stafford thought he was making the obvious case. Bush knew the Secret Service could not guarantee perfect security - there was no 100 percent - but if the president followed their recommendations, they could provide him with the best security possible. If he ignored their recommendations, all bets were off.

"I'm coming back," Bush said.

Stafford was surprised.

About 4:30 P.M. the president reached his wife on the phone.

"I'm coming home," he said. "See you at the White House. Love you, go on home."

AT CIA HEADQUARTERS, James L. Pavitt, the deputy director for operations (DDO) who headed the agency's clandestine service and covert operations, wanted to send a personal message to his troops. Pavitt, 55, a roly-poly, gregarious career spy, seemed an unlikely chief of the most secretive, subterranean latticework of undercover case officers, paid agents and secret-stealers in the world.

Pavitt's message was labeled a DOSB - a secret message for all Directorate of Operations Stations and Bases.

"The United States has been attacked again by resolute and committed foes readily willing to accept self-destruction in order to fulfill their mission of terror.

"I expect each station and each officer to redouble efforts of collecting intelligence on this tragedy. The Counterterrorism Center is the focal point for all information on this subject, and we anticipate that a good percentage of the most valuable information concerning the attacks and their perpetrators will come within the next 48 hours." They had to get information before the trail grew cold. He said they should be careful and protect their families. "I also ask all of you to join me in a silent prayer for the thousands who perished today and for their loved ones now so terribly alone."

BUSH WANTED TO give a speech that night to the nation on television, and his chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, had come up with a draft. It included the sentences, "This is not just an act of terrorism. This is an act of war." This reflected what Bush had been saying all day to the NSC and his staff.

Take it out, Bush instructed Karen Hughes. "Our mission is reassurance." He wanted to calm already jumpy nerves.

"I did not want to add to the angst of the American people yet," Bush said later. He wanted to go on television and be tough, show some resolve but also find some balance - be comforting, demonstrate that the government was functioning and show the nation that their president had made it through. There had been some doubt as he had hopscotched most of the day from Air Force base to Air Force base.

About 6:30 P.M., the president was finally back at the White House dealing with the speech draft in the small study off the Oval Office. Drawing on a presidential campaign speech in 1999 at The Citadel military academy, Gerson had written that, in responding to terrorism, the United States would make no distinction between those who planned the acts and those who tolerated or encouraged the terrorists.

"That's way too vague," Bush complained, proposing the word "harbor." In final form, what would later be called the Bush Doctrine said, "We will make no distinction between those who planned these acts and those who harbor them." It was an incredibly broad commitment to go after terrorists and those who sponsor and protect terrorists, rather than just a proposal for a targeted retaliatory strike. The decision was made without consulting Cheney, Powell or Rumsfeld.

The president did consult with his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. She wondered if that kind of far-reaching declaration and policy pronouncement belonged in a speech that was meant to console the shaken nation. "You can say it now or you'll have other opportunities to say it," Rice advised him. It was her style not to commit herself unless the president pressed. But in the end she favored including it that night, because, she thought, first words matter more than almost anything else.

"We've got to get it out there now," Bush said. It had been a policy he had been inching toward. Might as well say it.

In the West Wing, there was debate about whether the president needed to make a firm declaration of the obvious - that this was war. White House communications director Dan Bartlett, 30, was deputized to suggest that to the president.

"What?" Bush barked. "No more changes."

Bartlett showed him a proposed change about being at war.

"I've already said no to that," the president replied.

Bartlett went back to his West Wing colleagues. "Thanks, you can take the message next time."

PRESIDENT BUSH SPOKE to the nation for seven minutes from the Oval Office. He declared his policy - go after terrorists and those who harbor them.

"None of us will forget this day," he said. "Yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in the world."

After the speech, Bush chaired an expanded NSC meeting that turned out to be unwieldy. So at 9:30 P.M. he gathered his most senior principal national security advisers in the White House bunker. It was at the end of one of the longest and most chaotic days in each of their lives.

"This is the time for self-defense," the president said, making the somewhat obvious point. There was a sense it was not over, and they were meeting in the bunker not because it was comfortable - it wasn't - but because it was still dangerous. They had neither a handle on what had happened nor what might be next nor how to respond. "We have made the decision to punish whoever harbors terrorists, not just the perpetrators," he told them.

The president, Rice, Hughes and the speechwriters had made one of the most significant foreign policy decisions in years, and the secretary of state had not been involved. Powell had just made it back from Peru. And now, he said, "We have to make it clear to Pakistan and Afghanistan, this is showtime."

Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime, an extreme Islamic fundamentalist militia group which came to power in 1996, was harboring al Qaeda terrorists in exchange for substantial bankrolling by bin Laden. Neighboring Pakistan's powerful intelligence service, the ISI, had had a giant role in creating the Taliban and keeping them in power. The hard-line regime, whose strict interpretation of Islamic law and draconian rule led to the oppression of women, mass hunger and the flight of nearly one million refugees, earned international condemnation for destroying the giant centuries-old Buddha statues at Bamiyan.

"This is a great opportunity," Bush said, somewhat locating the pony in the pile of manure. It was a chance to improve relations especially with big powers such as Russia and China. "We have to think of this as an opportunity."

The members of the war cabinet had lots of questions, none more than Rumsfeld. On his single sheet of paper, he had the questions he thought the president and the rest of them needed to address and eventually answer: Who are the targets? How much evidence do we need before going after al Qaeda? How soon do we act?

The sooner they acted, Rumsfeld said, the more public support they would have if there's collateral damage. He was being careful. Since the military had no plan and no forces in the immediate area, he wanted to keep expectations low. He dropped a bomb, telling them that some major strikes could take up to 60 days to put together.

The notion of waiting 60 days for something major - until November 11 perhaps - just hung in the room.

Rumsfeld had more questions. Powell thought they were a clever disguise, a way to argue rhetorically and avoid taking a position. Rumsfeld wanted others to answer his queries. It was a remarkable technique, Powell thought.

Still, the questions were good, and Rumsfeld went on. Are there targets that are off-limits? Do we include the American allies in any military strikes? Last, the secretary of defense said, we have to set declaratory policy, announce to the world what we're doing.

Cheney noted that Afghanistan would present a real challenge. A primitive country 7,000 miles away with a population of 26 million, it was the size of Bush's home state of Texas but had few roads and little infrastructure. Finding anything to hit would be hard.

The president returned to the problem of the al Qaeda terrorists and their sanctuary in Afghanistan. Since bin Laden relocated there from Sudan in May 1996, the Taliban had allowed al Qaeda to establish their headquarters and training camps in the country.

We have to deny al Qaeda sanctuary, Tenet said. Tell the Taliban we're finished with them. The Taliban and al Qaeda were really the same.

Rumsfeld said that they should employ every tool of national power, not just the military but legal, financial, diplomatic and the CIA.

Tenet said that al Qaeda, though headquartered in Afghanistan, operated worldwide, on all continents. We have a 60-country problem, he said.

"Let's pick them off one at a time," the president said.

Rumsfeld, not to be outdone in identifying difficulties, said the problem was not just bin Laden and al Qaeda, but other countries that supported terrorism.

"We have to force countries to choose," Bush said.

The meeting was adjourned. The president, untested and untrained in national security, was about to start on the complicated and prolonged road to war without much of a map.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE WENT to the national security adviser's office in the corner of the West Wing after the meeting. A former Stanford political science professor and then provost, she had worked on the NSC staff as a Russian expert during the presidency of Bush senior. Rice, 46, was perhaps the person in the upper reaches of Bush's national security team who was most alone. Her mother was dead and her father had died a year ago. Following the attacks that morning she called the only family she had, her aunt and uncle in Birmingham, Alabama, to tell them she was all right, then went back to work.

Beginning in the presidential campaign when she was Bush's chief foreign policy adviser, Rice had developed a very close relationship with Bush. Tall, with near perfect posture, a graceful walk and a beaming smile, she had become a permanent fixture in the presidential inner circle. The president and first lady had in a sense become her family.

That night, she acknowledged to herself that she was in a fog. She tried to focus on what had to be done the next day.

If it was bin Laden and al Qaeda - it almost surely was - there was another complication. The questions would sooner or later arise about what the Bush administration knew about the bin Laden threat, when they knew it and what they had done about it.

ABOUT A WEEK before Bush's inauguration, Rice attended a meeting at Blair House, across from the White House, with President elect Bush and Vice President-elect Cheney. This was the secrets briefing given by Tenet and Pavitt.

For two and one half hours, Tenet and Pavitt had run through the good, the bad and the ugly about the CIA to a fascinated president-elect. They told him that bin Laden and his network were a "tremendous threat" which was "immediate." There was no doubt that bin Laden was coming after the United States again, they said, but it was not clear when, where or how. Bin Laden and the network were a difficult, elusive target. President Clinton had approved five separate intelligence orders, called Memoranda of Notification (MON), authorizing covert action to attempt to destroy bin Laden and his network, disrupt and preempt their terrorist operations. No authority had been granted outright to kill or assassinate bin Laden.

Tenet and Pavitt presented bin Laden as one of the three top threats facing the United States. The other two were the increasing availability of weapons of mass destruction - chemical, biological and nuclear, including weapons proliferation concerns - and the rise of Chinese power, military and other.

In April, the National Security Council deputies' committee, made up of the No. 2's in each major department and agency, recommended that President Bush adopt a policy that would include a serious effort to arm the Northern Alliance, the loose confederation of various warlords and tribes in Afghanistan that opposed the Taliban regime that harbored bin Laden.

The CIA estimated that the Northern Alliance forces were outnumbered about 2 to 1, with some 20,000 fighters to the Taliban's roughly 45,000 military troops and volunteers.

A CIA covert program of maintenance for the rebel forces of several million dollars a year was already in place. But worries about the Northern Alliance abounded. First, it was not really an alliance, because the various warlords could probably with some ease be bought off by the Taliban. The warlords flourished in a culture of survival - meaning they would do anything necessary. Several were just thugs, serial human rights abusers and drug dealers. In addition, the Russians and Iranians - who both supported the Alliance with substantial amounts of money - had strong influence with some of the warlords.

In the Clinton administration, the State Department had flatly opposed arming the Alliance because of these real concerns. It was Richard Armitage, Powell's deputy, who had agreed to lift State's objections that spring. Armitage had checked with Powell, who had agreed that bin Laden was a sufficient threat to justify arming the Northern Alliance on a large scale.

During July, the deputies' committee recommended a comprehensive plan, not just to roll back al Qaeda but to eliminate it. It was a plan to go on the offensive and destabilize the Taliban. During August, many of the principals were away. It was not until September 4 that they approved and recommended a plan that would give the CIA $125 million to $200 million a year to arm the Alliance.

Rice had a National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) ready to go to the president on September 10. The door had been opened and they were ready to walk through it. The NSPD was numbered 9 - meaning eight other matters had been formally assessed, vetted, agreed upon and signed off on as policy by the president before al Qaeda.

The question that would always linger was whether they had moved fast enough on a threat that had been identified by the CIA as one of the top three facing the country, whether September 11 was as much a failure of policy as it was of intelligence.

AT 11:08 P.M., September 11, the Secret Service awakened the Bushes and hurriedly escorted them to the bunker. An unidentified plane seemed to be heading for the White House. The president was in his running shorts and a T-shirt. Mrs. Bush was in her robe and without her contact lenses. Their dogs, Spot and Barney, scampered along. In the long tunnel leading to the bunker, they met Card, Rice and Stephen J. Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, who were racing along.

The errant plane was soon identified, but the Secret Service still wanted the president to spend the night in the bunker. Bush looked at the small bed and announced he was going back to the residence.

Rice had a Secret Service detail assigned to her, and an agent said they didn't want her to go home that night to her Watergate apartment. Maybe you ought to stay here, the agent said, so Rice agreed to sleep in the bunker.

"No," the president said, "you come stay in the residence."

Like his father during his White House years, the president tried to keep a daily diary of some thoughts and observations. He dictated that night:

"The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today."

Bush would recall that he had two thoughts, "This was a war in which people were going to have to die. Secondly, I was not a military tactician. I recognize that. I was going to have to rely on the advice and counsel of Rumsfeld, Shelton, Myers and Tenet."

He was now a wartime president. Soldiers and citizens, the entire world, would pick up instantly on his level of engagement, energy and conviction. The widely held view that he was a lightweight, unconcerned with details, removed, aloof and possibly even ignorant would have to be dispelled. He had much work to do.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK Cheney, who had been the efficient, solid rock standing behind or to the side of President Bush during the first nine months of the administration, anticipated he would have a major role in the crisis. Heavyset, balding, with a trademark tilted head and a sly, knowing smile, the 61-year-old Cheney, a conservative hard-liner, had been training all his life for such a war. His credentials were impeccable - at 34, White House chief of staff to President Ford; congressman from Wyoming for 10 years, rising to become the No. 2 House Republican leader; defense secretary to the first President Bush during the Persian Gulf War.

Cheney had flirted with running for president himself in 1996, but decided against it after testing the waters - too much fund-raising and too much media scrutiny. In the summer of 2000, Bush had asked Cheney to be his vice presidential running mate with these words, "If times are good, I'm going to need your advice, but not nearly as much as if times are bad. Crisis management is an essential part of the job."

On the morning of Wednesday, September 12, Cheney had a moment alone with Bush. Should someone chair a kind of war cabinet for you of the principals? We'll develop options and report to you. It might streamline decision making.

No, Bush said, I'm going to do that, run the meetings. This was a commander in chief function - it could not be delegated. He also wanted to send the signal that it was he who was calling the shots, that he had the team in harness. He would chair the full National Security Council meetings, and Rice would continue to chair the separate meetings of the principals when he was not attending. Cheney would be the most senior of the advisers. Experienced, a voracious reader of intelligence briefing papers, he would, as in the past, be able to ask the really important questions and keep them on track.

Without a department or agency such as State, Defense or the CIA, Cheney was minister without portfolio. It was a lesser role than he had perhaps expected. But he, as much as any of the others, knew the terms of presidential service - salute and follow orders.

PRESIDENT BUSH, LIKE many members of his national security team, believed the Clinton administration's response to Osama bin Laden and international terrorism, especially since the embassy bombings in 1998, had been so weak as to be provocative, a virtual invitation to hit the United States again.

"The antiseptic notion of launching a cruise missile into some guy's, you know, tent, really is a joke," Bush said later in an interview. "I mean, people viewed that as the impotent America. ... a flaccid, you know, kind of technologically competent but not very tough country that was willing to launch a cruise missile out of a submarine and that'd be it.

"I do believe there is the image of America out there that we are so materialistic, that we're almost hedonistic, that we don't have values, and that when struck, we wouldn't fight back. It was clear that bin Laden felt emboldened and didn't feel threatened by the United States."

Until September 11, however, Bush had not put that thinking into practice nor had he pressed the issue of bin Laden, Though Rice and the others were developing a plan to eliminate al Qaeda, no formal recommendations had ever been presented to the president.

"I know there was a plan in the works.... I don't know how mature the plan was," Bush recalled. He said the idea that a plan was going to be on his desk September 10 was perhaps "a convenient date. It would have been odd to come September the 10th because 1 was in Florida on September the 10th, so I don't think they would have been briefing me in Florida."

He acknowledged that bin Laden was not his focus or that of his national security team. "There was a significant difference in my attitude after September 11.1 was not on point, but I knew he was a menace, and I knew he was a problem. I knew he was responsible, or we felt he was responsible, for the [previous] bombings that killed Americans. I was prepared to look at a plan that would be a thoughtful plan that would bring him to justice, and would have given the order to do that. I have no hesitancy about going after him. But I didn't feel that sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling."

AT 8 A.M., September 12, Tenet arrived at the Oval Office for the President's Daily Brief, the TOP SECRET/CODEWORD digest of the most important and sensitive intelligence. This briefing included a review of available intelligence tracing the attacks to bin Laden and his top associates in al Qaeda. One report out of Kandahar, Afghanistan, the spiritual home of the Taliban, showed the attacks were "the results of two years' planning." Another report said the attacks were "the beginning of the wrath" - an ominous note. Several reports specifically identified Capitol Hill and the White House as targets on September 11. One said a bin Laden associate - incorrectly - "gave thanks for the explosion in the Congress building."

A key figure in the bin Laden financing organization called Wafa initially claimed that "The White House has been destroyed" before having to correct himself. Another report showed that al Qaeda members in Afghanistan had said at 9:53 A.M., September 11, shortly after the Pentagon was hit, that the attackers were following through with "the doctor's program." The second-ranking member of bin Laden's organization was Ayman Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician often referred to as "the Doctor."

A central piece of evidence involved Abu Zubayda, identified early as the chief field commander of the October 2000 attack on the Navy destroyer USS Cole that killed 17 sailors in the Yemeni port of Aden. One of the most ruthless members of bin Laden's inner circle, Zubayda, according to a reliable report received after September 11, had referred to the day of the attacks as "zero hour."

In addition, the CIA and the FBI had evidence of connections between at least three of the 19 hijackers and bin Laden and his training camps in Afghanistan. It was consistent with intelligence reporting all summer showing that bin Laden had been planning "spectacular attacks" against U.S. targets.

For Tenet, the evidence on bin Laden was conclusive - game, set, match. He turned to the agency's capabilities on the ground in Afghanistan.

As the president knew, the CIA had had covert relationships in Afghanistan authorized first in 1998 by Clinton and then reaffirmed later by him. The CIA was giving several million dollars a year in assistance to the Northern Alliance. The CIA also had contact with tribal leaders in southern Afghanistan. And the agency had secret paramilitary teams that had been going in and out of Afghanistan without detection for years to meet with opposition figures.

Though an expanded covert action plan had been in the works for months, Tenet told Bush an even more expanded plan would soon be presented for approval, and it would be expensive, very expensive. Though Tenet did not use a figure, it was going to approach $1 billion.

"Whatever it takes," the president said.

AFTER THE INTELLIGENCE briefing, Bush met with Hughes. He told her that he wanted a daily meeting to shape the administration's message to Americans about the fight against terrorism. Hughes, who was focused on details of the day ahead, proposed that the president make an early public statement and reminded him that he would need remarks for a scheduled visit to the Pentagon that afternoon.

"Let's get the big picture," Bush said, interrupting her. "A faceless enemy has declared war on the United States of America. So we are at war."

They needed a plan, a strategy, even a vision, he said, to educate the American people to be prepared for another attack. Americans needed to know that combating terrorism would be the main focus of the administration - and the government - from this moment forward.

Hughes returned to her corner office on the second floor of the West Wing to begin drafting a statement. Before she could open a new file on her computer, Bush summoned her. ; "Let me tell you how to do your job today," he told her when she arrived at the Oval Office. He handed her two pieces of White House notepaper with three thoughts scratched out in his handwriting:

"This is an enemy that runs and hides, but won't be able to hide forever.

"An enemy that thinks its havens are safe, but won't be safe forever.

"No kind of enemy that we are used to - but America will adapt."

Hughes went back to work.

BUSH CONVENED HIS National Security Council in the Cabinet Room and declared that the time for reassuring the nation was over. He said he was confident that if the administration developed a logical and coherent plan, the rest of the world "will rally to our side." At the same time, he was determined not to allow the threat of terrorism to alter the way Americans lived their lives. "We have to prepare the public, without alarming the public."

FBI Director Mueller began to describe the investigation under way to identify the hijackers. He said it was essential not to taint any evidence so that if accomplices were arrested, they could be convicted.

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft interrupted. Let's stop the discussion right here, he said. The chief mission of U.S. law enforcement, he added, is to stop another attack and apprehend any accomplices or terrorists before they hit us again. If we can't bring them to trial, so be it.

The president had made clear to Ashcroft in an earlier conversation that he wanted to make sure an attack like the ones on the Pentagon and World Trade Center never happened again. It was essential to think unconventionally. Now, Ashcroft was saying, the focus of the FBI and the Justice Department should change from prosecution to prevention, a radical shift in priorities.

After he finished with the NSC, Bush continued meeting with the half-dozen principals who comprised the war cabinet, without most of their deputies and aides.

Powell said the State Department was ready to carry the president's message - you're either with us or you're not - to Pakistan and the Taliban.

Bush responded that he wanted a list of demands for the Taliban. "Handing over bin Laden is not enough," he told Powell. He wanted the whole al Qaeda organization handed over or kicked out.

Rumsfeld interjected. "It is critical how we define goals at the start, because that's what the coalition signs on for," he said. Other countries would want precise definitions. "Do we focus on bin Laden and al Qaeda or terrorism more broadly?" he asked.

"The goal is terrorism in its broadest sense," Powell said, "focusing first on the organization that acted yesterday."

"To the extent we define our task broadly," Cheney said, "including those who support terrorism, then we get at states. And it's easier to find them than it is to find bin Laden."

"Start with bin Laden," Bush said, "which Americans expect. And then if we succeed, we've struck a huge blow and can move forward." He called the threat "a cancer" and added, "We don't want to define [it] too broadly for the average man to understand."

Bush pressed Rumsfeld on what the military could do immediately.

"Very little, effectively," the secretary replied. ::.: Though Rumsfeld did not get into all the details, he was having a difficult time getting some military plans on his desk. General Tommy Franks, the commander in chief or CINC of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which was responsible for South Asia and the Middle East, had told him it would take months to get forces in the area and plans drawn up for a major military assault in Afghanistan.

"You don't have months," Rumsfeld had said. He wanted Franks to think days or weeks. Franks wanted bases and this and that. Afghanistan was halfway around the world. Al Qaeda was a guerrilla organization whose members lived in caves, rode mules and drove large sport-utility vehicles. Fearing a U.S. military strike, their training camps were virtually empty. Rumsfeld said he wanted creative ideas, something between launching cruise missiles and an all-out military operation. "Try again," Rumsfeld hammered.

Bush told his advisers what he had told British Prime Minister Tony Blair that morning in a secure phone call - that above all he wanted military action that would hurt the terrorists, not just make Americans feel better. He understood the need for planning and preparation but his patience had limits. "I want to get moving," he said.

Bush believed the Pentagon needed to be pushed. "They had yet to be challenged to think on how to fight a guerrilla war using conventional means," he recalled. "They had come out from an era of strike from afar - you know, cruise missiles into the thing."

He understood that his early actions on global climate change and national missile defense had rattled U.S. allies in Europe. America's friends feared the administration was infected with a new strain of unilateralism, a go-it-alone attitude, looking inward rather than engaging the world as the lone superpower might be expected to do.

In an interview, Bush later described how he believed the rest of the world saw him in the months leading up to the attacks of September 11. "Look," he said, "I'm the toxic Texan, right? In these people's minds, I'm the new guy. They don't know who I am. The imagery must be just unbelievable."

BEFORE 11 A.M., reporters were ushered into the Cabinet Room. Dressed in a dark blue suit, light blue dress shirt and blue striped tie, Bush sat slightly forward in his chair. He wanted to escalate his public rhetoric from the previous night.

"The deliberate and deadly attacks which were carried out yesterday against our country were more than acts of terror," he said. "They were acts of war."

He described the enemy as one America had never before encountered, an enemy who operated in the shadows, who preyed on innocent people, who hit and then ran for cover. "This is an enemy that tries to hide, but it won't be able to hide forever." The country would use all its resources to find those responsible. "We will rally the world. We will be patient, we will be focused, and we will be steadfast in our determination.

"This will be a monumental struggle between good and evil. But good will prevail."

MUCH OF THE work of assembling an international coalition was left to Powell, but Bush called Russian President Vladimir Putin and also spoke with the leaders of France, Germany, Canada and China.

"My attitude all along was, if we have to go it alone, we'll go it alone; but I'd rather not," Bush recalled.

At 11:30 A.M. the president met with the congressional leaders and told them, "The dream of the enemy was for us not to meet in this building. They wanted the White House in rubble." He warned of additional attacks. "This is not an isolated incident," he said. The public might lose focus. A month from now Americans will be watching football and the World Series. But the government would have to carry on the war indefinitely.

The enemy was not only a particular group, he said, but also "a frame of mind" that fosters hate. "They hate Christianity. They hate Judaism. They hate everything that is not them." Other nations, he added, would have to choose.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, the South Dakota Democrat, cautioned the president to use care in his rhetoric. "War is a powerful word," he said. Daschle pledged bipartisan support but asked that the administration make Congress a full partner with ongoing consultations. During their first private meeting after Bush was declared the winner, the president-elect had surprised Daschle by saying, "I hope you'll never lie to me." Daschle had replied, "Well, I hope you'll never lie to me."

Near the end of the meeting, Senator Robert C. Byrd, the 83-year-old West Virginia Democrat president pro tempore of the Senate, took the floor and described his dealings with 10 presidents. He noted that Bush had said he did not want a declaration of war from the Congress but would be interested in a resolution endorsing the use of force. Byrd said Bush could not expect the kind of blank check Congress had given Lyndon Johnson in the Vietnam War with the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution. We still have a Constitution, he said, pulling a copy from his pocket.

Byrd recalled the night he and his wife had dined with Bush at the White House. Bush had said grace before dinner, without asking. "It impressed me," Byrd said. The senator talked about Hollywood's negative influence on the culture, the slide America had taken toward permissiveness and materialism. "I'm praying for you," Byrd said. "Despite Hollywood and TV, there's an army of people who believe in divine guidance and the creator." His closing line brought silence to the room: "You stand there," he said. "Mighty forces will come to your aid."

That afternoon, Bush met privately with Bernadine Healy, the head of the American Red Cross, who said there was not enough blood if there was another terrorist attack.

"Keep collecting blood," the president said. "Get my drift?" He said he was not going to be on the run. "I'm in the Lord's hands." He had been told that an airliner flying up the Potomac River from National Airport could be steered off course and be at, and into, the White House in about 40 seconds. He had come to terms with that, he said.

AT THE STATE Department, Richard Armitage was moving around his large suite of seventh floor offices like a fullback looking for a hole in the defensive line. President Bush had recently asked Armitage, who was well known for his obsessive weight lifting, what he was bench pressing these days. Armitage answered, "330/6," which meant 330 pounds, six repetitions in a row. At his peak, years earlier, Armitage had pressed 440.

That's good, the president had replied. I'm doing 205 pounds. Isn't that the best for any president?

Yes, Armitage had replied, he thought it must be.

Now, it was time for contact diplomacy. The president had declared the sweeping Bush Doctrine without formal input from State. The Pentagon was still burning; there was no time to coordinate with the other departments.

General Mahmoud Ahmad, the dignified-looking head of the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, was in Washington, by happenstance, visiting the CIA where he told Tenet and his deputies that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was religious, a man of humanitarian instincts, not a man of violence, but one who had suffered greatly under the Afghan warlords.

"Stop!" the DDO Jim Pavitt said. "Spare me. Does Mullah Omar want the United States military to unleash its force against the Taliban? Do you want that to happen? Why would Mullah Omar want that to happen? Will you go ask him?"

Armitage invited Mahmoud to the State Department.

He began by saying it was not clear yet what the U.S. would ask of Pakistan but the requests would force "deep introspection. Pakistan faces a stark choice, either it is with us or it is not. This is a black and white choice with no gray."

Mahmoud said that his country had faced tough choices in the past but Pakistan was not a big or mighty power.

Pakistan is an important country, Armitage cut in.

Mahmoud returned to the past.

"The future begins today," Armitage said. Pass the word to General Musharraf, the Pakistani president - with us or against us.

AT 4 P.M., the NSC reconvened. The persistent question was the exact definition of the mission.

Rumsfeld insisted on a point he had made before. "Are we going against terrorism more broadly than just al Qaeda? Do we want to seek a broader basis for support?"

Bush again said his instinct was to start with bin Laden. If they could strike a blow against al Qaeda, everything that followed would be made easier. But Rumsfeld worried that a coalition built around the goal of taking out al Qaeda would fall apart once they succeeded in that mission, making it more difficult to continue the war on terrorism elsewhere.

Powell, agreeing with Bush, argued that it would be far easier initially to rally the world behind the specific target of al Qaeda. They could win approval of a broad U.N. resolution by keeping it focused on al Qaeda.

Cheney again focused on the question of state sponsorship of terrorism. To strike a blow against terrorism inevitably meant targeting the countries that nurture and export it, he said. In some ways the states were easier targets than the shadowy terrorists.

Bush worried about making their initial target too diffuse. Let's not make the target so broad that it misses the point and fails to draw support from normal Americans, he said. What Americans were feeling, he added, was that the country had suffered at the hands of al Qaeda.

Cheney countered that the coalition should be a means to wiping out terrorism, not an end in itself - a view that others shared. They wanted support from the rest of the world, but they did not want the coalition to tie their hands. The mission should define the coalition, not the other way around.

In that case, Rumsfeld argued, they wanted coalition partners truly committed to the cause, not reluctant participants.

Powell offered what one colleague later described as the "variable geometry" of coalition building. The coalition should be as broad as possible, but the requirements for participation would vary country by country. This would entail, as Rumsfeld put it, a coalition of coalitions.

Rumsfeld raised the question of Iraq. Why shouldn't we go against Iraq, not just al Qaeda? he asked. Rumsfeld was speaking not only for himself when he raised the question. His deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, was committed to a policy that would make Iraq a principal target of the first round in the war on terrorism.

Before the attacks, the Pentagon had been working for months on developing a military option for Iraq. Everyone at the table believed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was a menace, a leader bent on acquiring and perhaps using weapons of mass destruction. Any serious, full-scale war against terrorism would have to make Iraq a target - eventually. Rumsfeld was raising the possibility that they could take advantage of the opportunity offered by the terrorist attacks to go after Saddam immediately.

Powell, who opposed striking Iraq at this point, countered that they were focusing on al Qaeda because the American people were focused on al Qaeda. "Any action needs public support. It's not just what the international coalition supports; it's what the American people want to support. The American people want us to do something about al Qaeda."

Bush made clear it was not the time to resolve the issue. He emphasized again that his principal goal was to produce a military plan that would inflict real pain and destruction on the terrorists.

"I don't want a photo-op war," he told them. He wanted "a realistic scorecard" and "a list of thugs" who would be targeted. Everyone was thinking about the Gulf War, he said, which was the wrong analogy. "The American people want a big bang," he said. "I have to convince them that this is a war that will be fought with many steps."

His reference was Vietnam, where the U.S. military had fought a conventional war against a guerrilla enemy. He later said he "instinctively knew that we were going to have to think differently" about how to fight terrorists. "The military strategy was going to take a while to unfold," he said. "I became frustrated."

LATER THAT AFTERNOON, Pavitt sent a second SECRET cable from CIA headquarters to all stations and bases around the world with the heading "Action Required: Your Thoughts."

The agency was continuing its massive worldwide effort to find the perpetrators of September 11, Pavitt wrote. "The CIA is also in the process of developing an unprecedented new covert action program with the clear goal of wreaking havoc upon and eliminating the sponsors and supporters of radical Islamic terrorism."

Pavitt pressed his clandestine officers in the Directorate of Operations, those on the street, closest to the action, to put forward their boldest, most radical thinking on how to conduct the massive terrorist manhunt. No restrictions. Think about "novel, untested ways" to accomplish the mission, he said.

"This covert action program will include paramilitary, logistical, and psychological warfare elements as well as classical espionage," the cable said. No holds barred, in other words.

The Directorate of Operations was back in business.

ABOUT 9:30 A.M., Thursday, September 13, the president met with the NSC in the White House Situation Room, one floor below the chief of staff's office in the southwest corner of the West Wing. Tenet brought counterterrorism chief Gofer Black to present more detail on the CIA proposals.

Tenet's concept called for bringing together expanded intelligence-gathering resources, sophisticated technology, agency paramilitary teams and opposition forces in Afghanistan in a classic covert action. They would then be combined with U.S. military power and Special Forces into an elaborate and lethal package designed to destroy the shadowy terrorist networks.

Tenet said the key concept was to fund and invigorate the Northern Alliance. The Alliance's roughly 20,000 fighters were decidedly a mixed bag dominated by five factions, but in reality probably 25 sub-factions. It was a strained coalition of sometimes common interests. The assassination two days before September 11 of its most charismatic leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, was a major setback, leaving the Alliance more fractured than ever. But with the CIA teams and tons of money, the Alliance could be brought together into a cohesive fighting force, Tenet said.

The agency's paramilitary teams had periodically met clandestinely with Alliance leaders over the past four years. Tenet said he could insert paramilitary teams inside Afghanistan with each warlord. Along with Special Forces teams from the U.S. military, they would provide "eyes on the ground" for U.S. military bombing. American technological superiority could give the Northern Alliance a significant edge.

Gofer Black was next. Black had found at these meetings with the most senior officials that there was an unfortunate tendency to talk in generalities. They were not used to ordnance on target, so to speak, to hitting hard and directly. But he believed he knew what they craved.

He had a PowerPoint presentation and a narrative.

"Mr. President," he said, "we can do this. No doubt in my mind. We do this the way that we've outlined it, we'll set this thing up so it's an unfair fight for the U.S. military."

Black faced Bush, who was at the head of the table. "But you've got to understand, people are going to die. And the worst part about it, Mr. President, Americans are going to die - my colleagues and my friends.

"That's war