The National Security Archives received a reserve of newly declassified high-level documents related to the White House’s reaction to the September 11 attacks.
The documents chronicle “step-by-step the evolving response to the terrorist attacks, which were such a shock to the system and signified the dawn of a new strategic era,” Barbara Elias, the director of the Afghanistan, Pakistan and Taliban project at the archives, said.
Most of the documents were released for public viewing through the Freedom of Information Act. Filing under the act is an “unfortunately a long process” that includes “diligence with identifying important documents, asking for them, and going through the proper procedures to get those documents,” Elias said.
Other documents in the collection were declassified through a mandatory review at the Pentagon.
The papers reveal an inside glimpse of the frank communications among White House officials and foreign dignitaries during a time of crisis in the country.
The 26 files – currently available only through the archive website – include Department of State cables, memoranda from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and former Secretary of State Colin Powell to President Bush and memos with talking points and game plans.
Secret Service timelines from that day detail the agency’s code words like “Crown” for the White House and “Ace” for Elizabeth Cheney, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter.
Rumsfeld wrote to Bush just 10 days after the attacks to “capitalize on our strong suit, which is not finding a few hundred terrorists in the caves of Afghanistan,” but instead utilizing “the vastness of our military and humanitarian resources, which can strengthen enormously the opposition forces in terrorist-supporting states,” according to one memo.
Through Pakistani officials, the U.S. government also sent a note to Mullah Omar, then-leader of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and the de facto head of its government, saying the U.S. would hold his group accountable for terrorism and that “every pillar of the Taliban regime will be destroyed.”
A record of a Department of State cable sent to the Taliban about a month after the 9/11 attacks warned there would be “devastating” consequences in the event of a subsequent terrorist attack “against our country, our forces or those of our friends or allies” if they were in any way connected to Afghanistan.
“It is in your interest and in the interest of your survival to hand over all al-Qaida leaders,” the cable said.