President Bush was expected to sign detailed plans for a worldwide war against al-Qaida two days before Sept. 11 but did not have the chance before the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, U.S. and foreign sources told NBC News.
The document, a formal National Security Presidential Directive, amounted to a “game plan to remove al-Qaida from the face of the earth,” one of the sources told NBC News’ Jim Miklaszewski.
The plan dealt with all aspects of a war against al-Qaida, ranging from diplomatic initiatives to military operations in Afghanistan, the sources said on condition of anonymity.
In many respects, the directive, as described to NBC News, outlined essentially the same war plan that the White House, the CIA and the Pentagon put into action after the Sept. 11 attacks. The administration most likely was able to respond so quickly to the attacks because it simply had to pull the plans “off the shelf,” Miklaszewski said.
The United States first would have sought to persuade other countries to cooperate in the campaign by sharing intelligence and using their law enforcement agencies to round up al-Qaida suspects.
The plans also called for a freeze on al-Qaida financial accounts worldwide and a drive to disrupt the group’s money laundering. The document mapped out covert operations aimed at al-Qaida cells in about 60 counties.
In another striking parallel to the war plan adopted after Sept. 11, the security directive included efforts to persuade Afghanistan’s Taliban government to turn al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden over to the United States, with provisions to use military force if it refused.
Plan was ready to go
Officials did not believe that Bush had had the opportunity to closely review the document in the two days between its submission and the Sept. 11 attacks. But it had been submitted to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the officials said Bush knew about it and had been expected to sign it.
The couching of the plans as a formal security directive is significant, Miklaszewski reported, because it indicates that the United States intended a full-scale assault on al-Qaida even if the Sept. 11 attacks had not occurred.
Such directives are top-secret documents that are formally drafted only after they have been approved at the highest levels of the White House, and represent decisions that are to be implemented imminently.
Such a directive would normally be approved with the president’s knowledge by his Principals Committee, which in Bush’s White House includes Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and CIA Director George Tenet, among other senior administration officials.