WASHINGTON – Just hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld suggested privately the possibility of using military force against not only the Al Qaeda terrorist network but also nations that harbor terrorists, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.
From a central command post inside the Pentagon, Rumsfeld was pressing for information and pushing aides to consider what kind of evidence the United States needed to justify a military response, said Rumsfeld's spokeswoman, Victoria Clarke, who was with him there much of that day.
He also instructed aides to start considering the types of military action that could be taken, she said.
Clarke said she recalled Rumsfeld and others with him in the command center saying they needed to consider the dimensions of a possible U.S. military response -- possibly to include those who harbor terrorists, as well as the terrorists themselves.
So far the only U.S. military attacks have been against Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda ran terrorist training camps under the protection of the Taliban regime. Those attacks were launched Oct. 7.
CBS News reported Wednesday evening that Rumsfeld told aides that day to draw up plans for striking Iraq and asked whether available intelligence information was "good enough" to justify such strikes.
Clarke, who noted that she was not with Rumsfeld in the National Military Command Center the entire day, said she had no recollection -- from her own notes or from memory -- of Rumsfeld's mentioning Iraq.
From inside the command center, which was filled with smoke from the attack but not materially damaged, Rumsfeld and civilian and military aides communicated with other government leaders.
CBS cited notes taken by unidentified Rumsfeld aides inside the command center after the American Airlines jet slammed into the southwest side of the Pentagon, killing 125 Pentagon workers and all 64 people onboard the plane.
Intelligence information reaching Rumsfeld pointed toward Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network as masterminding the four suicide hijackings, according to the CBS report. At 2:40 p.m., barely five hours after the plane hit the Pentagon, the notes quote Rumsfeld as saying he wanted "best info fast. Judge whether good enough to hit S.H." -- an apparent reference to Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president -- "at same time. Not only UBL" -- the initials used to identify bin Laden.
In the months since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has searched for but not found an Iraqi connection. President Bush is considering the possibility of military action to overthrow Saddam, calling him an international menace with ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons.