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Context of 'Early 2001: Taliban Disinformation Project Is Cancelled'

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The heads of the US military, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have become frustrated by the lack of CIA disinformation operations to create dissent among the Taliban, and at the very end of the Clinton administration, they begin to develop a Taliban disinformation project of their own, which is to go into effect in 2001. When they are briefed, the Defense Department’s new leaders kill the project. According to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton, “[Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld and Deputy [Defense] Secretary Paul Wolfowitz were against the Joint Staff having the lead on this.” They consider this a distraction from their core military missions. As far as Rumsfeld is concerned, “This terrorism thing was out there, but it didn’t happen today, so maybe it belongs lower on the list… so it gets defused over a long period of time.” (Benjamin 3/30/2004)

Although neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz has lost his chance of becoming director of the CIA due to his sexual entanglements with foreign nationals (see Late December 2000), he has not been entirely dismissed from consideration for high positions, and has the support of Vice President Cheney. President Bush, who has insisted that his administration’s officials comply with the highest moral standards, never learns about Wolfowitz’s infidelities. (A letter that Wolfowitz’s wife wrote to Bush about her husband’s affairs was intercepted by Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby. Wolfowitz himself unleashed a group of lawyers on his wife and forced her to sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep quiet about his affairs.) Incoming Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chooses Wolfowitz to be his deputy, blocking incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell’s choice for the position, Richard Armitage, from taking the office (see Late December 2000 and Early January 2001). The Washington Post calls Wolfowitz’s selection “another victory for… Cheney over… Powell.” Rumsfeld knows about Wolfowitz’s sexual liaisons, as do most White House officials, and chooses to remain silent. “Rumsfeld told Wolfowitz to keep it zipped,” a State Department source later says. “He didn’t want any problems. He was basically to run the show and Wolfowitz could come on those terms.” (Unger 2007, pp. 191-192)

A joint US-British air force strike team bombs 20 radar and command centers inside Iraq, enforcing the UN no-fly zones in the largest air strikes within Iraq in two years. While the White House is informed of the strikes by a general from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is livid because he feels he hasn’t been given enough information about the strikes quickly enough. Rumsfeld’s information comes to him, by established law and protocol, through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry Shelton; thus it could be hours before Rumsfeld learns of such events. Saying, “I’m the secretary of defense. I’m in the chain of command,” Rumsfeld decides to upend the entire system and ensure that he, not Shelton, will be informed first about any such operations. Rumsfeld presses Shelton for information about the reporting of the air strikes: who had selected those targets and why, who had briefed, who had been briefed, and most importantly, why wasn’t Rumsfeld consulted? CNN had reported air strikes in Baghdad, though the actual bases struck were not in the city itself; it looked for a moment if the US had just declared unilateral war on Iraq. Rumsfeld feels misled and ignored. He is the one in the chain of command, he insists, he is the one reporting to the president, so he should be informed first. Shelton replies that he has to know what’s going on, to know what details to press for and what questions to ask, in order to properly inform the Secretary of Defense, who can then properly inform the president. Rumsfeld insists on being informed before Shelton, and demands a top-to-bottom review of the procedures involving the National Military Command Center (NMCC) and detailed timelines of each incident where Shelton was informed before Rumsfeld. (Woodward 2006, pp. 22-25)

Thomas White.Thomas White. [Source: US Department of Defense]Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hosts a breakfast meeting in his private dining room at the Pentagon. (Burns 9/12/2001; Rumsfeld 12/5/2001; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004) The meeting, which is attended by several members of Congress, is intended to discuss the Department of Defense’s Quadrennial Defense Review. As well as the secretary of defense, others in attendance include Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, Navy Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr.; Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Pete Geren, a special assistant to Rumsfeld; and Representatives John Mica (R-FL), Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL), Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Robin Hayes (R-NC), Doug Bereuter (R-NE), John Hostettler (R-IN), Kay Granger (R-TX), John Shimkus (R-IL), Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA), and Christopher Cox (R-CA). (Powell Moore 9/10/2001 pdf file; Mahlburg 9/14/2001; Hasson 3/31/2003; Wolfowitz 5/9/2003; Powell Moore 9/19/2003 pdf file; Rumsfeld 9/10/2004; Miles 9/8/2006) Secretary of the Army Thomas White, who is at the meeting, appears to say it is also attended by numerous key military figures, later telling PBS: “Don Rumsfeld had a breakfast, and virtually every one of the senior officials of the Department of Defense—service chiefs, secretary, deputy, everybody, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And as that breakfast was breaking up, the first plane had hit the World Trade tower.” (White 10/26/2004; PBS 10/26/2004) By “chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” White presumably means Richard Myers, who is the acting chairman on this day, in place of Henry Shelton who is out of the country (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Garamone 9/8/2006) During the course of the meeting Rumsfeld predicts that some kind of “shocking” world event will occur in the near future (see (Before 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Most accounts suggest the meeting is adjourned soon after the time the first World Trade Center tower is hit, presumably around 8:50 a.m., though one report says it ends at about 9:00 a.m. Just prior to the meeting ending, Rumsfeld is handed a note informing him of the crash (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Giambastiani also sees this note. Whether the other people in attendance are notified of the crash at this time is unknown. (Rumsfeld 12/5/2001; Rumsfeld 8/12/2002; PBS 10/26/2004; Miles 9/8/2006) White will later recall, “We all went on with the day’s business,” after leaving the meeting. White heads off to give a speech at the nearby Army Navy Country Club. (White 10/26/2004) Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Giambastiani return to their offices. (Wolfowitz 5/9/2003; Miles 9/8/2006) The members of Congress leave the building. (Rumsfeld 1/9/2002) If Myers is at the meeting, as White appears to say, he must head promptly to Capitol Hill, as he enters another meeting in the offices of Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) before the time when the second WTC tower is hit (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Armed Forces Radio And Television Service 10/17/2001; Rhem 10/23/2001)

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld writes a memo to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Henry Shelton, insisting that initial war plans should emphasize, among other things, the global nature of the conflict. (Feith 8/7/2004)


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