One Percent Doctrine

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The One Percent Doctrine, also known as the Cheney Doctrine, comes from a statement made by former US Vice President Cheney at a briefing in late November which emphasizes that in the war on terrorism, absence of evidence need not be a barrier to action.


In late November, after the President, Cheney, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice were briefed by CIA director George Tenet on possible Iraqi attempts to purchase WMDs, the Vice President, according to journalist Ron Suskind, responded: '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.' He added: 'It's not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence. It's about our response.' According to Suskind this would serve as 'a standard of action that would frame events and responses from the administration for years to come.' Suskind adds:

This doctrine--the one percent solution--divided what had largely been indivisible in the conduct of American foreign policy: analysis and action. 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. If there was even a one percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction--and there has been a small probability of such an occurrence for some time--the United States must now act as if it were a certainty.[1]

George Tenet's interpretation

In his memoir the former CIA director George Tenet disputes Suskind's interpretation. He identifies the CIA briefers as Rolf Mowatt-Larssen (Suskind's likely source) and Kevin K. He writes that before Cheney uttered his infamous comments, he asked Kevin K if he thought Al Qaeda had a nuclear weapon. According to Tenet, Kevin K. replied that 'they probably do not. But I can't assure you that they don't.' That's when Cheney made the comment: 'If there's a one percent chance that they do, you have to pursue it as if it were true.' Tenet adds:

I am convinced the vice president did not mean to suggest...that we should ignore contrary evidence and that such a policy should be applied to all threats to our national security. On the contrary, the vice president understood instinctively that WMD must be managed differently because the implications were unique--such an attack would change history...There was no question in my mind that he was absolutely right to insist when it came to discussing weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists, conventional risk assessments no longer applied; we must rule out any possibility of terrorists succeeding in their question to obtain such weapons. We could not afford to be surprised.[2]


  1. Ron Suskin, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of It's Enemies Since 9/11 (London: Simon & Schuster, 2006), p.62
  2. George Tenet, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA (London: HarperPress 2007) pp. 264-265