Tag: NSPD 51

Silent coup?

Back in September, I blogged about the new Northern Command, which oversees deployment of an Army Brigade Combat Team inside the US — putting active American troops on the homeland for the first time since 1878 (other than during national emergency).

The recent post was a somewhat paranoid followup to one I wrote on July 4, 2007, about NSPD 51. That White House security directive asserts presidential leadership of government during catastrophic emergency. By the standards of the directive, the US arguably had two such emergencies during the Bush years (9/11 and Hurricane Katrina). Potentially, it creates a broad threat to ordinary democratic rule.

Apparently, even some Bush administration officials are worried about these moves — and others. Thomas A. Schweich’s op-ed in the December 21 Washington Post warned of a “silent military coup” against the US government. Schweich recently served as Bush’s ambassador for counter-narcotics in Afghanistan and deputy assistant secretary of State for international law enforcement affairs, so he had a front row seat to the disturbing trends he outlines.

So, what specifically worries Schweich?

In addition to the NorthCom deployment, Schweich points to Defense undermining State Department training efforts in Afghanistan, the military tribunals in Guantanamo, militarized anti-drug efforts in Latin America, and increased military involvement in domestic surveillance. He’s very worried about the placement of military officials at the top of intelligence agencies. Schweich notes Barack Obama’s risky choice for National Security Advisor, retired 4 star general James Jones. Behind the scenes, notes ambassador Schweich, the military has effectively vetoed numerous foreign policy choices and shaped enormous budget choices. He is almost offended that Defense gets billions of dollars to accomplish what other agencies are asked to do for mere tens of millions.

It’s an interesting piece that probably went unnoticed during the holidays.

I should also note that other conservatives, including Professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, worry about militarism in America.

Bill Clinton’s White House effectively outsourced a number of key decisions to the Pentagon — rejection of the ICC, the land mine ban and CTBT, for example. It will be interesting to see if Obama’s administration can reclaim civilian governance of foreign policy.


For What It’s Worth

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

—- Buffalo Springfield, 1967

The Army Times reported on September 8 that the Army has a brand new mission — and potential battleground: American soil.

The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle, helping restore essential services and escorting supply convoys.

Now they’re training for the same mission — with a twist — at home.

Beginning Oct. 1 for 12 months, the 1st BCT will be under the day-to-day control of U.S. Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command, as an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks.

…They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack.

Apparently, outside of a specific national emergency, this is the first such deployment since the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

The Army Times reports that this is the first time an active unit has been given NorthCom as a dedicated command and that the mission is permanent. Another brigade will replace the 1st BCT when it completes its tour.

Is tour the right word when deployed at home?

If you recall my July 4, 2007, post on “National Continuity Policy” (and NSPD 51), then you might understand why this bothers me and why I began this post with some lines from an old Buffalo Springfield song.

“I don’t know what America’s overall plan is — I just know that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there are soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines that are standing by to come and help if they’re called,” [1st BCT commander Col. Roger] Cloutier said.



Happy fourth: worried edition

Today is a day that the United States of America celebrates its independence. The Declaration of Independence, which was dated July 4, 1776, contains some of the most familiar political language in world history:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Those last clauses are kind of interesting because people seldom think about the circumstances that might cause a government to be replaced whole cloth.

In an era of overt political “regime change,” perhaps this idea should receive more attention.

Setting aside the question of Iraq, the Bush administration has spent some time since 9/11 thinking about the unthinkable: a necessary transformation of the U.S. government in response to a catastrophic emergency.

On May 9, the White House and Department of Homeland Security released Presidential Directives on National Security (NSPD 51) and Homeland Security (HSPD-20) that dealt explicitly with “National Continuity Policy” to “enhance the credibility of our national security posture and enable a more rapid and effective response to and recovery from a national emergency.”

Some parts of the directives are classified, but the public portion identifies a number of “national essential functions” (NEFs) and declares simply that “The President shall lead the activities of the Federal Government for ensuring constitutional government” after a “catastrophic emergency.”

On the internet, you can find critics who equate this order with a declaration of “martial law.” One blogger on DailyKos said it provided the Bush administration with a “lever that could well be used to end democracy in the United States.”

Part of the problem is that the definition of “catastrophic emergency” would seem to extend even to 9/11-scale attacks or Katrina-level natural disasters.

We’ve had two of those events in less than six years.

Before your pulse starts racing, I would note that the first NEF is “Ensuring the continued functioning of our form of government under the Constitution, including the functioning of the three separate branches of government” and that “each branch of the Federal Government is responsible for its own continuity program.”

Nonetheless, the document is kind of scary in that it allows for the possibility of fundamental change in American democracy 231 years after the “Declaration of Independence.”

Has anyone here read Annihilation from Within; The Ultimate Threat to Nations? by former Defense undersecretary Fred Iklé? The Financial Times review last November explained one of its core points:

Mr Iklé’s apocalyptic fears focus less on radical Islamists or a nuclear-armed North Korea and more on the danger of a would-be tyrant seizing power by annihilating his government from within, possibly through the use of weapons of mass destruction that would be blamed on others.

One weakness of Iklé’s book is that it does not really reveal much that a country can do in advance to preclude these events from happening. Then again, the neoconservative does not predict this scenario fo rthe U.S. The FT again

He does not see the US as vulnerable to such a coup because of the “powerful influence of its body politic and the hallowed position of the constitution” – but there are likely candidates in the semi-dictatorial regimes of central Asia, the Middle East, or even Russia.

Of course, the conspiracy-minded might note that the author was writing before NSPD 51.

Do we live in a new world?


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