14 January 2021 Blogs

A Rare Look Behind the Scenes of Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon

Digital National Security Archive publishes thousands of declassified “Snowflakes” from the former US Secretary of Defense.

“Snowflakes” is the term given to the missives that became the trademark form of daily communication from Donald Rumsfeld, the controversial US Secretary of Defense under President George W. Bush. ProQuest and the National Security Archive have recently published a new collection of these declassified, mostly never-before-seen memos.

The material in this set offers an unprecedented look into nearly everything that came across Rumsfeld’s desk, including communications and coordination with the highest levels of government during a dynamic period of US history that continues to influence global politics today. Where available, staff responses to Rumsfeld’s instructions and queries are also incorporated into the collection.

The materials in Donald Rumsfeld’s Snowflakes, Part I: The Pentagon and U.S. Foreign Policy, 2001-2003 were obtained by the National Security Archive after litigation with the Department of Defense under the Freedom of Information Act (with pro bono assistance from the law firm of Skadden Arps).

These documents were featured prominently in The Washington Post’s massive 2019 exposé on the Afghanistan war, “The Afghanistan Papers.”

The first references to “Snowflakes” appeared in media accounts in early 2001 and the memos soon gained almost mythical status. Occasional leaks to The Washington Post and other outlets gave readers glimpses into their contents, but the first significant set did not appear until the publication of Rumsfeld’s memoir, Known and Unknown, in 2011.

The wide variety of “Snowflakes” highlighted in this collection follow the US’s response to the September 11, 2001 attacks and the ensuing global war on terror. Readers will find material that was circulated in the Pentagon in the days following 9/11, handwritten notes from the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, documents from the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the Secretary’s communications with the CIA, records regarding legal controversies surrounding Guantanamo, all leading up to and through the invasion and occupation of Iraq in early 2003.

A partial listing of topics covered by the declassified “Snowflakes” includes:

  • Day-to-day operations of the Pentagon
  • Efforts to reorganize the Defense Department
  • Modernization of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • “Jointness” or the move toward cross service cooperation in all aspects of the military
  • The military budgeting process and efforts to rein in defense spending
  • Military planning, procurement, and expenditures
  • The September 11, 2001 attacks
  • The Global War on Terrorism
  • The Afghanistan conflict
  • Justification for the Iraq War, the invasion and reconstruction
  • Nuclear issues – weapons, proliferation, safety
  • Decision making on military wages, benefits, tours of duty and veterans issues
  • Military intelligence
  • Defense Department relations with the CIA and Homeland Security
  • Rumsfeld’s relations with the State Department and National Security Council
  • U.S. relations with NATO
  • U.S. military relations with Russia, former Soviet republics and other countries
  • Rumsfeld’s interactions with the news media, Congress and the public
  • Guantanamo detainees, interrogation and torture
  • Concerns about the International Criminal Court and U.S. liability for war crimes
  • The hunt for Osama bin Laden and other terrorists
  • The Joint Strike Fighter program
  • The emergency landing of a U.S. EP-3 at Hainan Island in 2001

Spanning 20,975 pages, Donald Rumsfeld’s Snowflakes, Part I: The Pentagon and U.S. Foreign Policy, 2001-2003 provides researchers with an unparalleled, hour-by-hour account of the office of the Secretary of Defense during the first term of the George W. Bush Administration, from 2001 to 2003. The collection complements a growing collection of Archive documents on the era of 9/11, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Part II, which covers later years of Rumsfeld’s tenure from 2004 to 2006 will be published in 2021. It is part of the Digital National Security Archive (DNSA).

Previous, related DNSA publications include U.S. Intelligence Community After 9/11, Targeting Iraq, Part 1: Planning, Invasion, and Occupation, 1997-2004 , Terrorism and U.S Policy, 1968-2002 and U.S. Intelligence on Weapons of Mass Destruction: From World War II to Iraq.

Learn more about ProQuest's Global Challenges initiative.