Four years ago, when the Justice Department deposed Al Gore in the Clinton fund-raising scandal, I poked fun at Gore’s self-serving, hypocritical redefinitions of everyday words. Today, National Security Adviser Condi Rice resorted to similar tactics in her testimony before the 9/11 commission. Here’s a glossary of her terms.
Gathering threats: Unclear perils that previous administrations irresponsibly failed to confront quickly. Example: For more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America’s response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient. Historically, democratic societies have been slow to react to gathering threats, tending instead to wait to confront threats until they are too dangerous to ignore or until it is too late.
Vague threats: Unclear perils that the Bush administration understandably failed to confront quickly. Example: The threat reporting that we received in the spring and summer of 2001 was not specific as to time, nor place, nor manner of attack. … The threat reporting was frustratingly vague.
Up-to-date intelligence: The precise, useful information the administration responsibly demanded and got. Example: President Bush revived the practice of meeting with the director of Central Intelligence almost every day. … At these meetings, the president received up-to-date intelligence. … From Jan. 20 through Sept. 10, the president received at these daily meetings more than 40 briefing items on al-Qaida.
Specific threat information: The precise, useful information the administration didn’t get, thereby absolving it of responsibility. Example: On Aug. 6, 2001, the president’s intelligence briefing … referred to uncorroborated reporting, from 1998, that a terrorist might attempt to hijack a U.S. aircraft in an attempt to blackmail the government into releasing U.S.-held terrorists. … This briefing item was not prompted by any specific threat information.
Specific warnings: The precise, useful alerts the administration issued based on the information it got. Example: I asked Dick [Clarke] to make sure that domestic agencies were aware of the heightened threat period and were taking appropriate steps to respond. … The FAA issued at least five civil aviation security information circulars to all U.S. airlines and airport security personnel, including specific warnings about the possibility of hijacking.
Briefing: Addition to a warning, without which the warning is insufficient. Example: To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Chairman, this kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us.
Recommendation: Addition to a briefing, without which the briefing is insufficient. Example: In the memorandum that Dick Clarke sent me on Jan. 25, he mentions sleeper cells. There is no mention or recommendation of anything that needs to be done about them.
Historical: Communications that mentioned the past and were therefore irrelevant to the future. Example:The Aug. 6 PDB [president’s daily briefing] …was not a particular threat report. And there was historical information in there about various aspects of al-Qaida’s operations. … This was not a warning. This was a historic memo.
Analytical: Documents given to the administration that were general and therefore useless. Example: On the Aug. 6 memorandum to the president, this was not threat reporting about what was about to happen. This was an analytic piece. … Threat reporting is, “We believe that something is going to happen here and at this time, under these circumstances.” This was not threat reporting. … The PDB does not say the United States is going to be attacked. It says Bin Laden would like to attack the United States.”
Broad: Documents issued by the administration that were general and therefore effective. Example: Our counterterrorism strategy was a part of a broader package of strategies that addressed the complexities of the region.
Structural: Factors that the administration couldn’t influence because they were systematic. Example:The absence of light, so to speak, on what was going on inside the country, the inability to connect the dots, was really structural.
Chance: Factors that the administration couldn’t influence because they were non-systematic. Example (answering charges that the administration might have disrupted the 9/11 plot by holding regular Cabinet “principals” meetings on terrorism): You cannot depend on the chance that some principal might find out something in order to prevent an attack. That’s why the structural changes that are being talked about here are so important.Synonym: Lucky. Example:I do not believe that it is a good analysis to go back and assume that somehow maybe we would have gotten lucky by “shaking the trees.” … We had a structural problem.
Bureaucratic impediments: Factors that the administration couldn’t influence because they involved the administration. Example: We did have a systemic problem, a structural problem. … It was there because there were legal impediments, as well as bureaucratic impediments.
Set of ideas: Richard Clarke’s proposals for fighting al-Qaida, prior to being adopted by Bush. Antonym: Plan. Example: We were not presented with a plan. … What we were presented on Jan. 25 was a set of ideas.
Strategy: Clarke’s proposals for fighting al-Qaida, as adopted by Bush. Example: We decided to take a different track. We decided to put together a strategic approach to this that would get the regional powers. … But by no means did [Clarke] ask me to act on a plan. He gave us a series of ideas.
Swatting flies: Bill Clinton’s weak, partial counterterrorist measures. Example: [Bush] made clear to us that he did not want to respond to al-Qaida one attack at a time. He told me he was tired of swatting flies. … He felt that what the agency was doing was going after individual terrorists here and there, and that’s what he meant by swatting flies.
Disrupting: Bush’s strong, partial counterterrorist measures. Example: [Bush] directed the director of Central Intelligence to prepare an aggressive program of covert activities to disrupt al-Qaida.
Law enforcement: Clinton’s weak policy of targeting individual terrorists. Example: That’s actually where we’ve had the biggest change. The president doesn’t think of this as law enforcement. He thinks of this as war.
Hunting down terrorists one by one: Bush’s strong policy of targeting individual terrorists. Example: Under his leadership, the United States and our allies are disrupting terrorist operations, cutting off their funding and hunting down terrorists one by one.
Diplomacy: Clinton’s impotent pleas to foreign governments. Example: We were continuing the diplomatic efforts. But we did want to take the time to get in place a policy that was more strategic toward al-Qaida, more robust.
Strong messages: Bush’s potent pleas to foreign governments. Example: Within a month of taking office, President Bush sent a strong private message to President Musharraf, urging him to use his influence with the Taliban to bring Bin Laden to justice and to close down al-Qaida training camps.
Deferral: Clinton’s irresponsible postponement of counterterrorism ideas. Example: We also made decisions on a number of specific anti-al-Qaida initiatives that had been proposed by Dick Clarke to me in an early memorandum after we had taken office. Many of these ideas had been deferred by the last administration.
Taking time: Bush’s prudent postponement of counterterrorism ideas. Example: We did want to take the time to get in place a policy that was more strategic toward al-Qaida, more robust. It takes some time to think about how to reorient your policy toward Pakistan. It takes some time to think about how to have a more effective policy toward Afghanistan.