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Monday, September 26, 2005

Corrupted Absolutely 

Courtesy of Zemblan patriot T.C.: In his new Washington Post blog William Arkin, the author of Code Names, has been writing extensively about administration efforts to erode and/or circumvent the posse comitatus laws that prohibit the U.S. military from taking part in civilian law enforcement. On Wednesday he described two classified programs known as "Granite Shadow" and "Power Geyser":
Granite Shadow posits domestic military operations, including intelligence collection and surveillance, unique rules of engagement regarding the use of lethal force, the use of experimental non-lethal weapons, and federal and military control of incident locations that are highly controversial and might border on the illegal . . . .

Both plans seem to live behind a veil of extraordinary secrecy because military forces operating under them have already been given a series of ''special authorities'' by the President and the secretary of defense. These special authorities include, presumably, military roles in civilian law enforcement and abrogation of State's powers in a declared or perceived emergency.

In January, when The New York Times reported on the Power Geyser name from my Code Names website, the Pentagon argued that "It would be irresponsible … to comment on any classified program that may or may not exist."

I can't see how the Defense Department can continue this line of argument post-Katrina. We see the human cost of a system of contingency planning done in complete secret, with a lack of any debate as to what should be the federal government's priorities, emphasis, and rules.
But of course, as we never tire of pointing out, the Bush administration invariably uses its own failures to justify the next power grab: we would have done much better if we weren't handcuffed by rules and regulations and bothersome laws, the argument goes, although we must admit we have never been quite sure which regulations require the President and his team to extend their vacations, play the guitar onstage, take in a performance of Spamalot!, etc., while a major American city is vanishing underwater. Nonetheless, we've heard this line of reasoning from a depressing array of sources lately, and we are pleased to report that Mr. Arkin wastes no time in debunking it:
Warner, Allen, Lieberman, as well as Rumsfeld's spokesman Larry Di Rita, are all wrong. There is nothing that stands in the way of the military rendering emergency assistance, and what is more, if the President had wanted to fly in the 82nd Airborne even without State approval, he could have done so and the military could have taken his order without concern for its directives.

The problem with the response to Katrina was federal government incompetence and inattention, not any regulations or laws. Maybe these calls for changing the law are just a way of avoiding responsibility.

The two Defense Department documents, one a directive entitled Defense Support of Civil Authorities (PDF) and the other, an accompanying 190-page DoD Manual for Defense Support of Civil Authorities (PDF) are dated June 27.

They two documents make clear that the DOD's position is that the military can provide support to civil authorities, and even act as a lead agency in the face of a breakdown of civil command and control (the Allen scenario) in accordance with the National Response Plan and current law . . . .

I doubt that we will see the President or other Congressional leaders claiming this time [i.e., during Hurricane Rita] that the military can't respond quickly and appropriately. That's because this time they are paying attention.
And, from a followup entry one day later:
I am also struck by the irony of National Guard troops overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan while active duty troops are being "mobilized" here. Perhaps even more fundamental restructuring needs to take in the National Guard: Focus it more on State and domestic missions first. Guard units at the State level would organize around disaster response, civil affairs, engineering, transport and military police units, and once state and domestic needs were fulfilled, then "combat" units would be created. This might require the elimination of units likes field artillery and MLRS in the Guard, shifting the burden of specialized combat to the reserves and active military.

Can't be done because the size of the active military has so shrunk that it is dependent on the Guard for mobilization for the big one? Which big one are we talking about? I remember I had a conversation with a senior Defense Department official a few years back when pre-9/11 Rumsfeld cut back B-1 bomber units in the Air Force. I asked how the Pentagon saw generating a sustained long-range bombing campaign, say in a war with China, and he said, well Bill, if you want to have a traditional force structure capable of fighting China then we need a lot bigger military and even more heavy bombers. The bottom line is, we make choices about how to use limited resources even in these times of gargantuan military spending.
One other disturbing item, brought to our attention by reader Don Williams in the comments section of Mr. Arkin's blog:
Peering from space using the government's most covert satellites, a little-known spy agency is turning its cameras toward Hurricane Rita and the destruction it is expected to inflict on the Gulf Coast . . . .

Images the agency captured after Katrina struck included a gas rig that vanished from the sea leaving only bubbles, broken levees and a house in seemingly good condition except it was upside-down.

"And here comes Rita," said Lynne Puetz, who heads the office overseeing North and South America for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

A part of the Defense Department, the agency usually toils behind the scenes to provide the images and analysis of what's happening in other countries, including weapons tests. Among the government's most closely guarded secrets, the quality of pictures from its satellites is believed to far exceed the 1-meter resolution available commercially.

Since the war on terror began, the agency has expanded its mission inside the United States. In the last four weeks, Puetz's Americas Office has been focused heavily on hurricanes.
And what exactly was it focused on before . . . ?

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