WASHINGTON — When Donald Rumsfeld arrived back at the Pentagon in 2001, he brought with him a whole host of new ideas about reforming the department — and one particular method he used to convey his thoughts.

A flurry of short memos and tasking orders began to emerge from Rumsfeld’s E-ring office, the whitepapers quickly earning the nickname of “snowflakes.” And most anyone who worked in the building during that time has a snowflake story.

On his website, Rumsfeld describes them thusly: “They quickly became a system of communication with the many employees of DoD, as I would initiate a topic with a short memo to the relevant person, who would in turn provide research, background, or a course of action as necessary. In the digital age it was much easier to keep the originals on file so I could track their progress. They quickly grew in number from mere flurries to a veritable blizzard.”

On Wednesday, George Washington University’s National Security Archive released a collection of the snowflake memos, archived through the Freedom of Information Act. This first tranche of memos, largely from 2001, provide direct insight into how Rumsfeld worked, his priorities leading up to and after the 9/11 attacks, and why those who were buried in the snowflakes still talk about them with a mixture of awe and horror.

As you would expect, the national security Twitter community was quick to dig in:


For more from Rumsfeld’s desk, make sure to visit the National Security Archives website.