The National Security Archive on Wednesday released a large cache of memos written by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and it’s a doozy.
The tranche of documents referred to as “snowflakes” — since they were short one-page, and often single-sentence memos — is upwards of 900 pages, with more to come each month following a successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
There is an estimated 59,000 pages or so in the archive still waiting to be released.
This morning, I went through hundreds of pages and picked out some of what I thought were the most interesting ones. Here they are.
On Feb. 27, 2001, Rumsfeld questioned the use of “Homeland Defense,” which I assume is in reference to the then-nonexistent Department of Homeland Security. This memo is pretty weird since DHS wasn’t created until Nov. 25, 2002, and this memo was many months before the Sept. 11 attacks.
That same day, Rumsfeld asked to see the upcoming advertising campaign for the Army, dubbed “Army of One.” He wanted to know “precisely what is going on,” which is exactly what just about everyone else wanted to know in response to this terrible marketing campaign.
In June 2001, Rumsfeld complained that people were using acronyms and initials that he didn’t understand. He didn’t want to hear them anymore.
In the Department of Defense, that’s a tall order.
It turns out that the Department of Defense, like pretty much every other organization or business in the world, can’t figure out how to work conference calls.
Here’s crotchety old Rumsfeld complaining that he needs to get his newspapers delivered earlier.
One day before the Sept. 11 attacks, Rumsfeld complains about redundancy and bureaucracy within the Department of Defense. “Is this really necessary?” he asks. We of course, know the answer.
Rumsfeld pens a memo saying that he only wants to do interviews when he’s sitting down.
A little bit more than a month after the Sept. 11th attacks, Rumsfeld asks for an official timeline of events.
On Oct. 19, Rumsfeld seems pissed that Gen. Peter Pace, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, came in late for a meeting. “We should remove their nameplate from the table [if they show up late],” he wrote.
Rumsfeld shares this memo to make sure everyone stops pronouncing Islam and Muslim incorrectly.
Rumsfeld complains that a spokesman for the Northern Alliance, which US Special Forces and CIA officers were supporting after the Oct. 7 invasion, was a “clean cut little weenie who obviously has never been in Afghanistan.”
He suggested that he be given a muzzle after being critical of the US on television.
On. Nov. 1, 2001, Rumsfeld writes that Democratic operative James Carville “has volunteered to help in the information war,” which seems to mean he is willing to go on TV and pass along Bush administration talking points.
On Nov. 12, 2001, Rumsfeld wrote a memo to Army Gen. Tommy Franks, telling him that he should consider radio and leaflet drops along the Afghan-Pakistan border in order to “cork the bottle” of Al Qaeda and Taliban forces that were escaping the battlefield for sanctuary in Pakistan.
About a month later, Franks would refuse to commit additional troops to Tora Bora — where Osama bin Laden was believed to be at the time — and many Al Qaeda leaders and Bin Laden would escape, which journalist Peter Bergen characterized as one of the “greatest military blunders in recent U.S. history.”
On Nov. 20, 2001, Rumsfeld asked whether military recruitment was on the rise after the invasion of Afghanistan, which kicked off on Oct. 7.
On Nov. 26, 2001, almost two months after U.S. Special Forces and CIA officers had gone into Afghanistan, Rumsfeld requested a listing of the languages spoken, by percentage, of the people of Afghanistan.
Looking at this now, this memo seems to highlight the lack of knowledge the U.S. had about Afghanistan and what it was really getting into.
A few days later, Rumsfeld would start complaining about his calendar and how he couldn’t get things to work. His frustration with Microsoft Outlook is understood by pretty much everyone.
On Nov. 29, 2001, Rumsfeld wrote a memo saying that he was “unhappy with the career bureaucrats” at the Office of Secretary of Defense. You and me both, buddy.
On Nov. 29, 2001, Rumsfeld asked for a proposal on how to “institutionalize the influence campaign.” The Pentagon created an office called The Office of Strategic Influence shortly after the Sept. 11th attacks, which was focused on getting the foreign press to cover pro-U.S. military puff stories. It was disbanded in Feb. 2002.
The New York Times reported in 2008 that so-called “military analysts” — mainly retired generals — were secretly given talking points, private tours, and briefings by the Pentagon so that they would pass along Bush administration messaging to the American people.
On Dec. 3, 2001, Rumsfeld penned a memo to Paul Wolfowitz, expressing his concerns about “making the case” on what would come after Afghanistan.
In Dec. 2001, Rumsfeld wondered in two memos whether he had uttered “Afghanistan” during his confirmation hearing. He also wanted to know whether former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara [during The Vietnam War] had said “Vietnam” during his.
Again, these memos are striking to read now, considering the War in Afghanistan continues to this day, and is now twice as long as U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
Neither Defense Secretary mentioned those respective countries during their hearings.
On Dec. 17, 2001, Rumsfeld actually wrote the phrase “when the war on terrorism is over.”
On Dec. 29, 2001, about a year-and-a-half before the Iraq invasion, Rumsfeld asked about the Kurds in Iraq’s north, and how well they were armed.
Also that day, Rumsfeld said the Pentagon should probably think about doing a “transformational war game” for Iraq in Feb. 2002.
The U.S. military did run a large-scale war game in mid-2002 called Millennium Challenge, in which it fought a nameless adversary that was similar to the government of Iran. The general playing as the “red team” enemy forces was able to destroy much of the American fleet within the opening salvo, before he was forced to stick to the pre-set script that the U.S. military couldn’t lose.
“This was a simulation. So the Pentagon miraculously reconstituted its sunken fleet and attacked again,” wrote The New York Times.
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