Two months had passed since 9/11, and at the highest levels of government, officials were worrying about a second wave of attacks. CIA Director George Tenet was briefing Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the White House Situation Room on the agency's latest concern: intelligence reports suggesting that Osama bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had met with a radical Pakistani nuclear scientist around a campfire in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Absorbing the possibility that al-Qaeda was trying to acquire a nuclear weapon, Cheney remarked that America had to deal with a new type of threat—what he called a "low-probability, high-impact event"—and the U.S. had to do it "in a way we haven't yet defined," writes author Ron Suskind in his new book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11. And then Cheney defined it: "If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response." Suskind writes, "So, now spoken, it stood: a standard of action that would frame events and responses from the Administration for years to come."
In the following excerpt, Suskind describes the government's reaction to information about a different WMD threat: hydrogen cyanide gas. As in the rest of the book, he illuminates the constant interplay and occasional tension between the "invisibles," the men and women in the intelligence and uniformed services actually fighting the war on terrorism, and the "notables," high-level officials who "tell us that everything will be fine, or that we should be very afraid, or both." Suskind, who won the Pulitzer Prize as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, wrote the 2004 best seller The Price of Loyalty, an inside look at the Bush Administration. In The One Percent Doctrine, Suskind finds that the notables and the invisibles have at least one thing in common: a "profound sense of urgency." Time's exclusive excerpt: Read More.