The One Percent Doctrine

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Jacket of Ron Suskind’s book,
The One Percent Doctrine



·        Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine as stated in Suskind Book

·        One Percent Doctrine as Purportedly State by Dick Cheney

·        Summary of Book

·        Criticism

o       New York Subway Plot

o       Abu Zubaydah

·        See also

·        References

·        External links

·        Excellent July 2, 2006, Article by John Allen Paulos  [This item is not from Wikipedia]

Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine as
stated by Ron Suskind in his book,
The One Percent Doctrine


"Even if there's just a one percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty. It's not about 'our analysis,' as Cheney said. It's about 'our response.' … Justified or not, fact-based or not, 'our response' is what matters. As to 'evidence,' the bar was set so low that the word itself almost didn't apply."


The One Percent Doctrine as stated by
Dick Cheney (from Wikipedia)

The title comes from an excerpted story from the book itself, in which Vice President Dick Cheney describes the Bush administration's doctrine on dealing with terrorism:

“If there's a one percent 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.”


The One Percent Doctrine (ISBN 0-7432-7109-2) is a nonfiction book by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist[1] Ron Suskind about America's hunt for terrorists since September 11th. On July 24th, 2006, it reached number 3 on the New York Times Best Seller list.[2]

It assesses the ways in which American counter-terrorism agencies are working to combat terrorist groups. In the narrative, Suskind criticizes the Bush administration for formulating its terrorism policies based on political goals rather than geopolitical realities.

The title comes from an excerpted story from the book itself, in which Vice President Dick Cheney describes the Bush administration's doctrine on dealing with terrorism:[3]

“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.”


The One Percent doctrine (also called the Cheney doctrine) was created in November 2001 (no exact date is given) during a briefing given by then-CIA Director George Tenet and an un-named briefer to U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in response to worries that a Pakistani scientist was offering nuclear weapons expertise to Al Qaeda after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack. Responding to the thought that Al Qaeda might want to acquire a nuclear weapon, Cheney observed that the US had to confront a new type of threat, a "low-probability, high-impact event" as he described it.

Suskind makes a distinction between two groups engaged in the fight against terrorism: "the notables", those who talk to us about the threat of terrorism (Bush, Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, et al.), and "the invisibles", those who are fighting terrorists (the CIA analysts, the FBI agents and all the other foot soldiers).[3][4]

The book advances the theory that Abu Zubaydah, a "top operative plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States" as Bush described him, was an insignificant figure.[5]

According to the book, Osama bin Laden apparently wanted Bush reelected in 2004, and therefore issued a video message which, in the US media, was described as “Osama’s endorsement of John Kerry.” Why he wanted Bush in office remains unknown. In the book, unnamed CIA analysts speculate that this can be attributed to the view that the controversial policies Bush advocated would help recruit Jihadists and would cause the image of USA decline globally due to aggressive foreign policy.[6]

The book also mentions a plot to attack the 34th Street-Herald Square subway station in New York City in March 2003. But, 45 days before an al-Qaeda cell, who had monitored surveillance of the station, were to release deadly cyanide gas into the tunnels, Ayman al-Zawahiri and other terrorist leaders scrapped the plan because it wasn't as deadly as 9-11 and therefore wasn't notable enough to compete with the impact of 9-11.


Some of the claims made in Suskind's book have drawn criticism.

New York Subway Plot

Richard Clarke told ABC News he is wary of the report about the New York City subway plot. Clarke stated: "There's reason to be skeptical... Just because something is labeled in an intelligence report does not mean every word in it is true." He said the information describing the plot would have been just one of the hundreds of threats that would have been collected in 2003. According to Clarke, the specificity of the report also made it suspect, stating "Whenever you get reports that are this specific, they are usually made up." Clarke also called into question the notion that Ayman al-Zawahiri called off the attack, adding that he would be too isolated to have that kind of direct control over a plot inside the United States. He also believes the terrorists would have carried out the attack if the plot was as advanced as Suskind reported, stating "Frankly if there was a team in the United States that was ready to do this, they would have done it."[7]

An intelligence official who was briefed at the time that the authorities learned of the threat, and who wished to remain anonymous, told The New York Times that some in the intelligence community had been skeptical of the supposed plot, particularly of the idea that the plot had been called off by Mr. al-Zawahiri. The plot was said to involve the use of a relatively crude device for releasing the chemical gases. "This is a simple cyanide thing, two chemicals mixed together, and it releases cyanide gas..They'd be lucky if they killed everybody on one car — you can do that with a 9-millimeter pistol...None of it has been confirmed in three years, who these guys were, whether they in fact had a weapon, or whether they were able to put together a weapon, whether that weapon has been defined and what it would cause or whether they were even in New York", he told the Times.[8]

One former official told CNN that he agreed al-Zawahiri called off the attack but disagreed with Suskind that the terrorists were thwarted within 45 days of carrying it out. Two former officials told CNN the United States was familiar with the design of the gas-dispersal device and had passed the information to state and local officials, but added that the proposed timing of the attack was not as precise as Suskind wrote.[9]

A former CIA official told the New York Daily News that few top U.S. counterterrorism officials knew about the plot and many deny Suskind's claim that a panicky Bush White House sent "alerts through the government." One reason for the lack of alarm, according to the former official, was that soon after discovering Al Qaeda blueprints for a homemade cyanide sprayer, the feds learned Zawahiri had nixed the plot because "it wasn't big enough." The device was also an unreliable weapon of mass destruction. "Cyanide is sexy, but difficult to weaponize...They have fantasies of poisoning a water supply. You can't imagine how difficult that would be. Did they fantasize about a cyanide attack? Most likely", a senior counterterrorism official told the Daily News.[10]

New York Senator Charles Schumer told the Associated Press that while the threat was "serious enough to be taken seriously", the alleged plot was "never corroborated."[11]

Suskind also claims in the book that the al Qaeda's cell that would have carried out the attack is still in the United States. Intelligence sources, however, told CBS News that, as far as they know, there are no terrorist cells operating in the U.S. under the command of Zawahri or bin Laden.[12]

Abu Zubaydah

A counter-terrorism official who asked not to be named told the Washington Times, "A lot of information [in Suskind's book] is simply wrong." One inaccuracy, this official said, is the book's assertion that Abu Zubaydah, whom the CIA captured in Pakistan in 2002, was not a key al Qaeda figure, and was insane. The counter-terrorism official said Zubaydah is "crazy like a fox" and was a senior planner inside al Qaeda who has provided critical information on how Osama bin Laden's group works.[13]

John McLaughlin, former acting CIA director, has also stated, "I totally disagree with the view that the capture of Abu Zubaydah was unimportant. Abu Zubaydah was woven through all of the intelligence prior to 9/11 that signaled a major attack was coming, and his capture yielded a great deal of important information."[14]

Sources with direct knowledge of Zubaydah's interrogation told the New York Daily News that while they concede Zubaydah knew about ideas but not operations and fed the CIA disinformation, he was lucid and difficult to crack. "He was tough and smart", said an agency veteran.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Official Ron Suskind Biography Accessed July 24, 2006.
  2. ^ NY Times Best Seller ListAccessed July 24, 2006.
  3. ^ a b The Untold Story of al-Qaeda's Plot to Attack the Subways In an exclusive book excerpt, author Ron Suskind reveals how officials learned about a cell that came within weeks of striking in New York City with poison gas, Time, June 26, 2006
  4. ^ The One Percent Doctrine By Harry Levins, February 07, 2006
  5. ^ The Myth of Al Qaeda Before 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s group was small and fractious. How Washington helped to build it into a global threat By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, June 30, 2006
  6. ^ CIA: Osama Helped Bush in '04 By Robert Parry,, July 4, 2006
  7. ^ "Questions Surround Alleged al Qaeda Cyanide Plot", ABC news (June 16, 2006). 
  8. ^ AL BAKER and WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM (June 18, 2006). "U.S. Feared Cyanide Attack on New York Subway", The New York Times. 
  9. ^ CNN (June 18, 2006). "Report: Al Qaeda planned N.Y. subway attack". 
  10. ^ a b JAMES GORDON MEEK (July 4, 2006). "Tracking W's war on terror", New York Daily News. 
  11. ^ Associated Press (June 21, 2006). "Senator: NYC subway plot by al-Qaida was real". 
  12. ^ CBS News (June 18, 2006). "Book: Qaeda Planned NY Subway Attack". 
  13. ^ "Inside the Ring", Washington Times (June 23, 2006). 
  14. ^ "Transcript for THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer" (June 20, 2006). 

External links

Retrieved from ""



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Who's Counting? - Cheney's
One Percent Doctrine

John Allen Paulos
July 2, 2006

What ever happened to respect for evidence? Are we to begin
wars on a mere suspicion, or someone’s miscalculation of a
one percent probability? Vice President Cheney feels that if
there's a one percent chance, then act. Strangely, the Bush
administration used a contradictory rule regarding global
warming. Despite near unanimity among scientists on the
fact and causes of global warming, the Bush administration
did not act, apparently because the administration felt there
was not at least a ninety-nine percent probability.

Go to war? One percent probability required. Address global
climate change, a far greater threat to mankind than Iraq was?
 Greater than ninety-nine percent probability is required.

Doesn’t this contradiction indicate that probabilities are really
not the measure, but that both actions and inaction within the
Bush administration are being determined by pure ideology?


Professor of mathematics at Temple University, John
Allen Paulos is the author of best-selling books including
"Innumeracy" and "A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market."
His "Who's Counting?" column on appear
 the first weekend of every month.

In his heralded new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," Ron Suskind writes that Vice President Dick Cheney forcefully stated that the war on terror empowered the Bush administration to act without the need for evidence or extensive analysis.

Suskind describes the Cheney doctrine as follows: "Even if there's just a 1 percent chance of the unimaginable coming due, act as if it is a certainty. It's not about 'our analysis,' as Cheney said. It's about 'our response.' … Justified or not, fact-based or not, 'our response' is what matters. As to 'evidence,' the bar was set so low that the word itself almost didn't apply."

There is a complex interplay between an act's possible consequences, evidence, and the probabilities involved. And sometimes, of course, the probability justifying action of some sort is even less than 1 percent. Vaccines are routinely given, for example, even for diseases whose risk of being contracted is much less than 1 percent.

That being granted, the simplistic doctrine of "if at least 1 percent, then act" is especially frightening in international conflicts, not least because the number of threats misconstrued (by someone or other) to meet the 1 percent threshold is huge and the consequences of military action are so terrible and irrevocable.


One Percent Rule in Other Contexts

Imagine what would happen in various everyday situations were the Cheney doctrine to be applied. A young man is in a bar and another man gives him a hard stare. If the young Cheneyite feels threatened and believes the probability to be at least 1 percent that the other man will shoot him, then he has a right to preemptively shoot him in "self-defense."

Or an older woman visits her Cheneyite doctor who, finding that the woman has suffered from a sore throat and fatigue for months, orders that she be put on chemotherapy since the likelihood of cancer is in his opinion at least 1 percent. Further tests, he might argue, would take too long.

A Cheneyite gambler would be a casino's dream. The chance of rolling a 12 with a pair of dice, for example, is 1/36, almost 3 percent, and hence would justify the gambler betting his house on rolling a 12.

And what about a Cheneyite scientist, hard as that may be to conceive? If this scientist decided that the "evidence" for some crackpot scientific theory suggested to him that its probability were at least 1 percent, the scientist would feel comfortable touting it as a reasonable alternative to established theory.

Needless to say, standards for action or decision are generally far more stringent. For a conventional scientist running a statistical test of a hypothesis the threshold is usually 95 percent, not 1 percent. More precisely, if the scientist runs the test, and obtains, based on the tentative assumption of the hypothesis, an outcome having a probability of less than 5 percent, then he or she generally rejects the hypothesis.

And certainly in criminal trials the statistical burden is much greater; it's beyond a reasonable doubt (that is, an indeterminate, but very high probability), not 1 percent. In civil cases the probability standard is lower, but still nowhere near 1 percent.

Suspicion Enough

The substitution of mere suspicion for evidence seems to color the thinking of many -- on Iraq (as the Suskind book amply documents), on fiscal policy and on science as well. From stem cells to creation science, from illegal wiretaps to war planning, if it feels good and accords with ideology, then it's the right thing to do. Real men don't need evidence or probability.

Nor do they need consistency. A companion to the Cheney 1 percent action doctrine (if the probability is at least 1 percent, act) is the administration's non-action doctrine (if the probability is less than 99 percent, then don't act). This latter doctrine is generally invoked in discussions of global warming, where it seems absolute certainty is required to justify any significant action. Ideology determines which of these two inconsistent doctrines to invoke.

Of course, these attitudes and variations of these doctrines are very widespread throughout society, and it's sometimes very difficult to decide whether to act or not. In fact, it's an interesting exercise to come up with other situations leading to rules of the form, "if the probability is X percent, then act." Surprisingly many of the everyday rules guiding us can be put into this form.

A trivial example is provided by elections where X percent is 50 percent, but let me end with a somewhat unusual and counterintuitive example, which involves an idealization of the dating process. Say that a woman has reason to believe she will have up to N sequential suitors during her dating life and wants to maximize her chances of choosing the "best" one. The optimal strategy she should follow is to reject the first 37 percent of her suitors and then accept the next one who is better than all his predecessors.

Whether the issue is war, science, or a myriad of other issues, probability and evidence should play a critical role.


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