Rumsfeld’s Pentagon Before 9/11

My earlier post excerpting Chapter 8 portrayed the Commission’s findings regarding Attorney General Ashcroft prior to 9/11. Chapter 6 paints a similar picture of (probably benign) negligence in the case of Rumsfeld.

The confirmation of the Pentagon’s new leadership was a lengthy process. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz was confirmed in March 2001 and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith in July. Though the new officials were briefed about terrorism and some of the earlier planning, including that for Operation Infinite Resolve [the military options for striking at Al Qaeda in Afghanistan that were developed during the Clinton administration], they were focused, as Secretary Rumsfeld told us, on creating a twenty-first-century military.

At the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Shelton did not recall much interest by the new administration in military options against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. He could not recall any specific guidance on the topic from the secretary. Brian Sheridan—the outgoing assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict (SOLIC), the key counterterrorism policy office in the Pentagon—never briefed Rumsfeld. He departed on January 20; he had not been replaced by 9/11.

Rumsfeld noted to us his own interest in terrorism, which came up often in his regular meetings with Tenet. He thought that the Defense Department, before 9/11, was not organized adequately or prepared to deal with new threats like terrorism. But his time was consumed with getting new officials in place and working on the foundation documents of a new defense policy, the quadrennial defense review, the defense planning guidance, and the existing contingency plans. He did not recall any particular counterterrorism issue that engaged his attention before 9/11, other than the development of the Predator unmanned aircraft system.

–9/11 Commission Report, pp. 207-208.

The Commission Report very neutrally states that “the key counterterrorism policy office[r] in the Pentagon… had not been replaced by 9/11.” Actually the truth is a bit starker: the Bush administration didn’t even put forward a nomination for this vacant post until September 21.

In general, this passage speaks to me of a Secretary of Defense who really didn’t care about issues of terrorism, or want to do anything about it. In some ways this is more damning than Ashcroft’s indifference, because our military had directly suffered from a terrorist attack with the Cole bombing just a couple of months before Rumsfeld moved into the Pentagon.