A dramatic and damning narrative account of how America has fought the
"War on Terror"
In the days immediately following September 11th, the most powerful people in the country were panic-stricken. The radical decisions about how to combat terrorists and strengthen national security were made in a state of utter chaos and fear, but the key players, Vice President Dick Cheney and his powerful, secretive adviser David Addington, used the crisis to further a long held agenda to enhance Presidential powers to a degree never known in U.S. history, and obliterate Constitutional protections that define the very essence of the American experiment.
THE DARK SIDE is a dramatic, riveting, and definitive narrative account of how the United States made terrible decisions in the pursuit of terrorists around the world-- decisions that not only violated the Constitution to which White House officials took an oath to uphold, but also hampered the pursuit of Al Qaeda. In gripping detail, acclaimed New Yorker writer and bestselling author, Jane Mayer, relates the impact of these decisions—U.S.-held prisoners, some of them completely innocent, were subjected to treatment more reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition than the twenty-first century.
THE DARK SIDE will chronicle real, specific cases, shown in real time against the larger tableau of what was happening in Washington, looking at the intelligence gained—or not—and the price paid. In some instances, torture worked. In many more, it led to false information, sometimes with devastating results. For instance, there is the stunning admission of one of the detainees, Sheikh Ibn al-Libi, that the confession he gave under duress—which provided a key piece of evidence buttressing congressional support of going to war against Iraq--was in fact fabricated, to make the torture stop.
In all cases, whatever the short term gains, there were incalculable losses in terms of moral standing, and our country's place in the world, and its sense of itself. THE DARK SIDE chronicles one of the most disturbing chapters in American history, one that will serve as the lasting legacy of the George W. Bush presidency.
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Jane Mayer is the co-author of two bestselling and critically acclaimed narrative nonfiction books, LANDSLIDE: THE UNMAKING OF THE PRESIDENT, 1984-1988, and STRANGE JUSTICE: THE SELLING OF CLARENCE THOMAS, the latter of which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Mayer was also awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in connection with THE DARK SIDE.
She is currently a Washington-based staff writer for The New Yorker, specializing in political and investigative reporting. Before that, she was a senior writer and front-page editor for The Wall Street Journal, as well as the Journal's first female White House correspondent.
She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with her husband, Bill, and their daughter, Kate.
America should go “not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. . . . She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.” –John Quincy Adams, An Address . . . Celebrating the Anniversary of Independence, at the City of Washington on the Fourth of July 1821
If anyone in America should have been prepared to respond to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it ought to have been Vice President Dick Cheney. For decades before the planes hit the Pentagon and World Trade Center, Cheney had been secretly practicing for doomsday.
During the 1980s, while serving as a Republican congressman from Wyoming and a rising power in the conservative leadership in Congress, Cheney secretly participated in one of the most highly classiﬁed, top-secret programs of the Reagan Administration, a simulation of survival scenarios designed to ensure the smooth continuity of the U.S. government in the event of all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Every year, usually during congressional recesses, Cheney would disappear in the dead of the night. He left without explanation to his wife, Lynne Vincent Cheney, who was given merely a phone number where he could be reached in the event of emergency. Along with some four or ﬁve dozen federal ofﬁcials, Cheney would pretend for several weeks to be chief of staff to a designated substitute “president,” bivouacked in some remote location in the United States.
As James Mann reveals in The Vulcans, his rich intellectual history of the neoconservative brain trust that has guided Bush foreign policy, the exercise tried to re-create some of the anticipated hardships of surviving a nuclear holocaust. Accommodations were Spartan and cuisine was barely adequate. Civilian communications systems were presumed destroyed. The challenge was to ensure civil order and control over the military in the event that the elected president and vice president, and much of the executive branch, were decimated. The Constitution, of course, spells out the line of succession. If the president and vice president are indisposed, then power passes ﬁrst to the Speaker of the House, and next to the president pro tempore of the Senate. But in a secret executive order, President Reagan, who was deeply concerned about the Soviet threat, amended the process for speed and clarity. The secret order established a means of re-creating the executive branch without informing Congress that it had been sidestepped, or asking for legislation that would have made the new “continuity-of-government” plan legally legitimate. Cheney, a proponent of expansive presidential powers, was evidently unperturbed by this oversight.
Mann and others have suggested that these doomsday drills were a dress rehearsal for Cheney’s calm, commanding performance on 9/11. It was not the ﬁrst time he had stared into the abyss. One eyewitness, who kept a diary, said that inside the Presidential Emergency Operations Command, or PEOC, a hardened command center several hundred feet under the by-then-evacuated White House, Cheney never broke a sweat as he juggled orders to shoot down any additional incoming hijacked planes, coordinated efforts with other cabinet members, most particularly the Directors of the FBI and CIA, and resolved issues such as how to avoid charges of taking hostage two visiting foreign heads of state, from Australia and Lithuania, after all air trafﬁc had been shut down.
Six weeks after the attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush Administration had successfully restored calm, reassured the ﬁnancial markets, and rallied the sympathies and support of much of the world. But once again the White House was plunged into a state of controlled panic.
On October 17, 2001, a white powder that had been sent through the U.S. mail to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s ofﬁce in the Capitol was positively identiﬁed. Scientiﬁc analysis showed it to be an unusually difﬁcult to obtain and lethally potent form of the deadly bacterial poison anthrax. This news followed less than ten days after the death in Florida of a victim in another mysterious anthrax attack. The anthrax spores in the letter to Daschle were so professionally reﬁned, the Central Intelligence Agency believed the powder must have been sent by an experienced terrorist organization, most probably Al Qaeda, as a sequel to the group’s September 11 attacks. During a meeting of the White House’s National Security Council that day, Cheney, who was sitting in for the President because Bush was traveling abroad, urged everyone to keep this inﬂammatory speculation secret.
At the time, no one, not even America’s best-informed national security leaders, really knew anything for sure about what sorts of threats loomed, or from where. The only certainty shared by virtually the entire American intelligence community in the fall of 2001 was that a second wave of even more devastating terrorist attacks on America was imminent. In preparation, the CIA had compiled a list of likely targets ranging from movie studios–whose heads were warned by the Bush Administration to take precautions–to sports arenas and corporate headquarters. Topping the list was the White House.
The next day, the worst of these fears seemed realized. On October 18, 2001, an alarm in the White House went off. Chillingly, the warning signal wasn’t a simple ﬁre alarm triggered by the detection of smoke. It was a sensitive, specialized sensor, designed to alert anyone in the vicinity that the air they were breathing had been contaminated by potentially lethal radioactive, chemical, or biological agents. Everyone who had entered the Situation Room that day was believed to have been exposed, and that included Cheney. “They thought there had been a nerve attack,” a former administration ofﬁcial, who was sworn to secrecy about it, later conﬁded. “It was really, really scary. They thought that Cheney was already lethally infected.” Facing the possibility of his own death, the Vice President nonetheless calmly reported the emergency to the rest of the National Security Council.
Members of the National Security Council were all too well aware of the seriousness of the peril they were facing. At Cheney’s urging, they had received a harrowing brieﬁng just a few weeks earlier about the possibility of biological attack. His attention had been drawn to the subject by a war game called Dark Winter conducted in the summer before that simulated the effects of an outbreak of smallpox in America. After the September 11 attacks, Cheney’s chief of staff,
I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, screened a video of the Dark Winter exercise for Cheney, showing that the United States was virtually defenseless against smallpox or any other biological attack. Cheney in particular was so stricken by the potential for attack that he insisted that the rest of the National Security Council undergo a gruesome brieﬁng on it on September 20, 2001. When the White House sensor registered the presence of such poisons less than a month later, many, including Cheney, believed a nightmare was unfolding. “It was a really nerve-jangling time,” the former ofﬁcial said.
In time, the Situation Room alarm turned out to be false. But on October 22, the Secret Service reported that it had found what it believed to be additional anthrax traces on an automated letter-opening device used on White House mail. By then, Cheney had convinced the President to support a $1.6 billion bioterrorism-preparedness program. Cheney argued that every citizen in the country should be vaccinated against smallpox.
During the ten days after the Vice President’s scare, threats of mortal attack were nonetheless so frequent, and so terrifying, that on October 29 Cheney quietly insisted upon absenting himself from the White House to what was described as “a secure, undisclosed location”–one of several Cold War—era nuclear-hardened subterranean bunkers built during the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations, the nearest of which were located hundreds of feet below bedrock in places such as Mount Weather, in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, and along the Maryland-Pennsylvania border not far from Camp David.
In a subterranean bunker crammed with communications equipment and government-issue metal desks, Cheney and other rotating cabinet members took turns occupying what was archly referred to as “The Commander in Chief’s Suite.”
Ofﬁcials who worked in the White House and other sensitive posts with access to raw intelligence ﬁles during the fall of 2001 say it is nearly impossible to exaggerate the sense of mortal and existential danger that dominated the thinking of the upper rungs of the Bush Administration during those months.
“They thought they were going to get hit again. They convinced themselves that they were facing a ticking time bomb,” recalled Roger Cressey, who then headed what was known as the Terrorist Threats Sub-Group of the National Security Council.
Counterterrorism experts knew that Al Qaeda’s members had in the recent past made efforts to obtain nuclear and other horriﬁc weapons of mass destruction in order to commit murder on an even greater scale. Unlike earlier enemies of America, they targeted innocent civilians and fought clandestinely with inhuman disregard for life. Other foes had been better organized and more powerful, but none had struck as great a blow behind the lines in America, nor spread a greater sense of vulnerability in the population. Under the circumstances, Cressey admitted, “I ﬁrmly expected to get hit again too. It seemed highly probable.”
The sense of fear within the White House was understandable, but it was intensiʂ...
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