A Rare Glimpse Inside Bush's Cabinet

As He Speaks Frankly About Early Days Of War On Terror

In a 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward discloses previously unknown information from his new book about how the president and his cabinet prosecuted the war on terror in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Bush at War," draws on four hours of interviews with President Bush and quotes 15,000 words from National Security Council and other White House meetings in reconstructing the internal debate that led to U.S. military action in Afghanistan and the decision to aggressively confront Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The book describes Secretary of State Colin Powell as frequently at odds with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and struggling to establish a relationship with Mr. Bush.

Woodward interviewed Mr. Bush in August at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

"He said, 'One of the things I learned is, the vision thing matters,'" Woodward tells 60 Minutes about what Mr. Bush told him.

And his vision includes getting rid of the evil from what he calls the axis of evil: Iraq, Iran, North Korea. Talking with Woodward, Mr. Bush dropped all pretense of diplomatic language as he tore into North Korea's leader Kim Jong II. And the President permitted Woodward to tape record his interview.

President Bush: "I loathe Kim Jong II. — I've got a visceral reaction to this guy because he is starving his people. It appalls me. — I feel passionate about this. — They tell me, well we may not need to move too fast, because the financial burdens on people will be so immense if this guy were to topple. — I just don't buy that."

Clearly transformed by Sept. 11, the President makes a point of projecting strength, confidence, and determination.

President Bush: "A president has got to be the calcium in the backbone. — If I weaken, the whole team weakens. — If I'm doubtful, I can assure you there will be a lot of doubt."

And Mr. Bush wants strength, not doubt, in his cabinet.

"In the midst of tough times I don't need people around me who are not steady," Bush tells Woodward. "And if there's a kind of a hand-wringing attitude going on when times are tough, I don't like it."

Woodward managed to get the notes from more than 50 National Security Council and War Cabinet meetings, in which, he says, Mr. Bush dominates his more experienced cabinet members Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld - and even Vice President Dick Cheney.

Woodward says the president told him that when he chairs a meeting he often tries to be provocative. When Woodward asked him if he tells his staff that he is purposely being provocative, Mr. Bush answered: "Of course not. I am the commander, see?"

President Bush: "I do not need to explain why I say things. — That's the interesting thing about being the President. — Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."

Woodward reports that Powell believes Cheney and Rumsfeld are too quick to go for the guns - too macho; while Powell remains the reluctant warrior.

"When Powell would be asked to go on television talk shows, the White House would tell him no," Woodward tells Wallace "And Powell would say, privately to his deputy Richard Armitage, 'I'm in the refrigerator. — I'm in the ice box. — They've got me put away and they'll pull me out like a carton of milk when they need me, and then put me back.'"

Woodward says it is the hidden political hand in the White House, and communications operations.

"Often they called on Powell to carry the message, but sometimes into the refrigerator he went," Woodward says.

Woodward says the president was furious when he had to wait a week to bomb Afghanistan after the military told him they needed more time to prepare.

"Bush gets fiery. Actually explodes, and says, 'Why that's unacceptable,'" Woodward says.

But while Mr. Bush was waiting for the military, at his direction, the CIA led by George Tenet, was already on the ground buying Afghan warlords.

Woodward: Tenet sent his secret paramilitary team in, and the team leader, who's named Gary, is riding in his helicopter and he has a big suitcase between his legs. — Giant. — What's in it is three million dollars in cash.

Gary, who reportedly met with the intelligence chief for the Northern Alliance put a half a million dollars in cash on the table.

"And the intelligence chief for the Northern Alliance said, essentially, 'What do you want us to do?'" Woodward says.

And at one time, the CIA offered a Taliban commander $50,000 to defect and he asked for time to think it over.

And then they dropped a bomb on him in his area. — And then they went back and said, the offer now which used to be $50,000 is now $40,000. — And he said "I accept."

Woodward reports the president has the CIA actively pursuing al Qaeda in 80 countries now, no longer restrained by what had been a 25 year ban on assassination, as we saw two weeks ago in Yemen when a CIA plane fired a missile into a car killing six members of al Qaeda.

Woodward: The gloves are off. — There are no restraints on the CIA. — And there's this whole invisible war where the CIA has had foreign intelligence services and police forces arrest or detain terrorists, al Qaeda members, thousands of them.

Woodward reports that the United States has bought the intelligence services of Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria, among others.

Woodward: Tens of millions of dollars goes to these intelligence services. — They can get new equipment. — They can develop new agent networks within terrorist cells.

Woodward reveals that shortly after Sept. 11 FBI Director Robert Mueller told President Bush that 331 suspected terrorists had somehow slipped into the U.S., and that the FBI didn't know where they were.

When Woodward asked the President about this, he said, "I was floored."

Woodward: He directly said he did not release it publicly because It was so soon after 9/11, feeling that the country had gone through enough trauma. — So he kept it secret.

President Bush: "The idea of saying there's 331 Al Qaeda type killers lurking to the point where they made a list, just wasn't necessary. — On the other hand what was necessary was for our FBI to realize that their mindset had to change. — There has to be a sense of accountability."

Some of those 331 suspected terrorists have been apprehended, Woodward says.

"There are cells all over that are being watched. And there are 125 al Qaeda related investigations going on by the FBI that are very secret," Woodward says.

  • Jaime Holguin

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