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'Terrorist Watch' Charts the Counterterrorism Effort

'Terrorist Watch' Charts the Counterterrorism Effort

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Journalist Ronald Kessler charts the American counterterrorism effort since Sept. 11, 2001 in his new book, The Terrorist Watch. Brooks Glogan hide caption

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Brooks Glogan

In his new book, The Terrorist Watch, author and journalist Ronald Kessler investigates the FBI, the CIA, and the other agencies that work to find and capture terrorists. He explains how the information gathered by intelligence agencies helps law enforcement to thwart terrorists' plans.

The Terrorist Watch also offers insight into specific intelligence achievements, such as the discovery of information that helped authorities foil the 2006 Heathrow airport plot.


Ronald Kessler, chief Washington correspondent for and author of The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack

Excerpt: 'The Terrorist Watch'

Terrorist Watch Book Cover

"We're At War"

At 8 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush sat down for his daily intelligence brie¿ng from the CIA's Michael Morell. They were in Bush's suite at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, an eleven-mile-long barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and Sarasota Bay off the coast of Florida. It was a gorgeous day, the sky crystal clear.

Morell is preppy and boyish with light brown hair tufted at the part. Soft spoken, he speaks the clear, precise language of the briefer, choosing his words well and effortlessly.

"As soon as the brie¿ng was over, I went down and got into my place in the motorcade, which was the van carrying the senior staff, so it was Karl Rove and Dan Bartlett and Ari Fleischer," Morell recalls. "And it was on the drive from the Colony Resort to the school that Ari Fleischer's phone rang, and he answered his phone. He chatted with somebody for about ¿ve seconds, and he turned around and said, 'Michael, do you know anything about a plane hitting the World Trade Center?' And I said, 'No, I'll make some calls.' "

At that point, everyone thought a small airplane had lost its way. Morell called the CIA operations center and learned that the airplane was a commercial jet. A few minutes later, the second plane hit, clinching the fact that it was a terrorist attack.

As Bush read to children at Emma E. Booker Elementary School, Andrew H. (Andy) Card, Jr., his chief of staff, whispered to him that a second plane had hit the south tower.

"America is under attack," Card said.

After letting the news sink in, Bush cut short his presentation, apologizing to the principal, Gwendolyn Tose-Rigell. From a secure phone in the next room, he called Vice President Dick Cheney and FBI Director Mueller. Bush watched videos of the attacks on a television that had been wheeled in on a cart. Flame and smoke engulfed both towers, and people were jumping from windows.

"We're at war," Bush announced to his aides — Card, Fleischer, Rove, and Bartlett.

"The president wrote out what he was going to say to the nation when he went back into the classroom," Morell says. "He went back into the classroom, and the Secret Service said to us, as soon as he's done in there, we're going to Air Force One, so if you're not in the motorcade, you're going to be left behind. So everybody kind of rushed out into the motorcade and went back to Air Force One."

As they were ¿ying from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana to Omaha, Bush asked to see him.

"Who do you think did this?" Bush asked.

Morell's right hand is like another person in the room — tapping ¿ngers, wiggling ¿ngers, his index ¿nger in the air to make a point. When he mentions George Bush, Morell makes a loose ¿st with the thumb sitting on top. When he refers to protecting the American people, his hand makes a kind of fence on the arm of his chair.

"There's a couple of countries who have the capability to do this — Iran and Iraq would have the capabilities to do this," Morell said. "But they've got nothing to gain, and everything to lose, in doing this. I don't think it's one of those countries. There's no evidence, there's no data, but I would pretty much bet everything I own that the trail will end with al Qaeda and bin Laden."

"When will we know?" Bush asked.

Morell reviewed previous al Qaeda attacks — the one of the USS Cole and the detonation of two truck bombs that killed 224 people, including twelve Americans, at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He recounted how and when the United States determined that the terrorist group was behind them.

At that moment, the CIA had already linked three of the hijackers to al Qaeda.

"They had done name traces on the ¿ight manifests," Morell says. "And when we got to Omaha, and we got to the brie¿ng area, George Tenet [the director of Central Intelligence] briefed the president on the fact that we already knew three of these guys were al Qaeda."

At 8:30 that evening, Bush spoke to the nation. In a speech he gave in 1999 at The Citadel military academy, he had said that those who sponsored terrorism or attacks on the United States could expect a "devastating" response. Mike Gerson, Bush's chief speechwriter, enlarged on that text to say that the United States will "make no distinction between those who planned these acts and those who permitted or tolerated or encouraged them."

Bush felt that was "way too vague." Instead, he wanted to use the word "harbor." The ¿nal sentence read: "We will make no distinction between those who planned these acts and those who harbor them."

This not only expanded the de¿nition of the enemy, but also shifted the burden of proof the United States would use in pursuing those who support terrorism. Instead of having to show that another country was aware of and permitted terrorists to operate within its borders, the United States would now use military force or apply diplomatic pressure on countries simply because terrorists lived there.

This declaration became known as the Bush Doctrine. It was a sea change in foreign policy, one that made all the difference in the war on terror; now Arab countries began turning over terrorists to the United States and providing intelligence leads.

"It was during those moments when I was with the president that I saw this determination," Morell says. "And it was in the days after, in the Oval Of¿ce every morning, that I saw this determination for not only bringing to justice those folks who did 9/11, but doing everything in his power and authority to make sure that it didn't happen again."

Reprinted from The Terrorist Watch by Ronald Kessler. Copyright © 2007. Published by Crown Forum, a division of Random House, Inc.