"Stay inside the lines. We don't need to puff this (up). We need (to) be careful as hell about it," the handwritten notes say. "This thing will go away soon and what will keep it alive will be one of us going over the line."
The notes were written by Pentagon political appointee Eric Ruff who left them in a Starbucks coffee shop in Dupont Circle, not far from U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's home.
The notes are genuine, a Pentagon official said. They were compiled for an early morning briefing for Rumsfeld before the Sunday morning talk shows, during which administration officials conducted a flurry of interviews to counter the testimony of Richard Clarke, President George W. Bush's former terrorism czar who left the post in 2003. Rumsfeld appeared on Fox and ABC.
The Starbucks customer who found them gave them to the liberal advocacy group the Center for American Progress, which published them on its Web site Wednesday. Included in the notes was a hand-drawn map to Rumsfeld's house, which is largely blacked out on the Web site for security reasons.
Clarke told the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks that the White House was obsessed with Iraq and ignored warning from him and others that al-Qaida was the real threat to the United States. Bush signed an order Sept. 17 directing the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion of Iraq, the commission staff reported.
The Starbucks notes, printed on paper titled "Eric's Telephone Log" with a notation indicating the points came from a conference call, counseled to "rise above Clark" and "emphasize importance of 9-11 commission and come back to what we have done."
Since the notes were found, however, the White House has decided to allow national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify before the committee under oath. She will provide a direct answer to Clarke's account.
Rice answered Clarke's allegations in media appearances last week but declined to provide sworn public testimony to the panel, saying it set a dangerous precedent for the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government.
One of Clarke's most damaging allegations is that he crafted an anti-terrorism plan -- a National Security Presidential Directive -- to take on al-Qaida in January 2001. The NSPD was not approved until Sept. 4, and neither was it substantially changed in the intervening months, according to Clarke. He has challenged the White House to release both documents to allow for a side-by-side comparison.
The notes address this matter, saying the plan to attack the Taliban existed before Sept. 4.
"The NSPD wasn't signed till Sept. 4 but had an annex going back to July (with) contingency plans to attack Taliban," the notes say.
That point is related to another in the notes. The briefing says commission member Jamie Gorelick, a former general counsel of the Defense Department under President Clinton, was pitting Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage against Rice. Under sworn testimony, Armitage contradicted Rice's claim the White House had a strategy before Sept. 11 that called for military operations against al-Qaida and the Taliban.