Daily Archives: December 2, 2008

Pentagon deploying 20,000 combat troops inside the US for domestic security surge

0303_wsbt_guard_troopsThe Pentagon’s plan calls for three rapid-reaction forces to be ready for emergency response by September 2011. The first 4,700-person unit, built around an active-duty combat brigade based at Fort Stewart, Ga., was available as of Oct. 1, said Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., commander of the U.S. Northern Command.

Members of the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team march during their send-off ceremony at Fort Stewart in Georgia. (WSBT photo)

Washington Post | Dec 1, 2008

Pentagon to Detail Troops to Bolster Domestic Security

By Spencer S. Hsu and Ann Scott Tyson

The U.S. military expects to have 20,000 uniformed troops inside the United States by 2011 trained to help state and local officials respond to a nuclear terrorist attack or other domestic catastrophe, according to Pentagon officials.

The long-planned shift in the Defense Department’s role in homeland security was recently backed with funding and troop commitments after years of prodding by Congress and outside experts, defense analysts said.

There are critics of the change, in the military and among civil liberties groups and libertarians who express concern that the new homeland emphasis threatens to strain the military and possibly undermine the Posse Comitatus Act, a 130-year-old federal law restricting the military’s role in domestic law enforcement.

But the Bush administration and some in Congress have pushed for a heightened homeland military role since the middle of this decade, saying the greatest domestic threat is terrorists exploiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, dedicating 20,000 troops to domestic response — a nearly sevenfold increase in five years — “would have been extraordinary to the point of unbelievable,” Paul McHale, assistant defense secretary for homeland defense, said in remarks last month at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But the realization that civilian authorities may be overwhelmed in a catastrophe prompted “a fundamental change in military culture,” he said.

The Pentagon’s plan calls for three rapid-reaction forces to be ready for emergency response by September 2011. The first 4,700-person unit, built around an active-duty combat brigade based at Fort Stewart, Ga., was available as of Oct. 1, said Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., commander of the U.S. Northern Command.

If funding continues, two additional teams will join nearly 80 smaller National Guard and reserve units made up of about 6,000 troops in supporting local and state officials nationwide. All would be trained to respond to a domestic chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive attack, or CBRNE event, as the military calls it.

Military preparations for a domestic weapon-of-mass-destruction attack have been underway since at least 1996, when the Marine Corps activated a 350-member chemical and biological incident response force and later based it in Indian Head, Md., a Washington suburb. Such efforts accelerated after the Sept. 11 attacks, and at the time Iraq was invaded in 2003, a Pentagon joint task force drew on 3,000 civil support personnel across the United States.

In 2005, a new Pentagon homeland defense strategy emphasized “preparing for multiple, simultaneous mass casualty incidents.” National security threats were not limited to adversaries who seek to grind down U.S. combat forces abroad, McHale said, but also include those who “want to inflict such brutality on our society that we give up the fight,” such as by detonating a nuclear bomb in a U.S. city.

In late 2007, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England signed a directive approving more than $556 million over five years to set up the three response teams, known as CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces. Planners assume an incident could lead to thousands of casualties, more than 1 million evacuees and contamination of as many as 3,000 square miles, about the scope of damage Hurricane Katrina caused in 2005.

Last month, McHale said, authorities agreed to begin a $1.8 million pilot project funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency through which civilian authorities in five states could tap military planners to develop disaster response plans. Hawaii, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Washington and West Virginia will each focus on a particular threat — pandemic flu, a terrorist attack, hurricane, earthquake and catastrophic chemical release, respectively — speeding up federal and state emergency planning begun in 2003.

Last Monday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered defense officials to review whether the military, Guard and reserves can respond adequately to domestic disasters.

Gates gave commanders 25 days to propose changes and cost estimates. He cited the work of a congressionally chartered commission, which concluded in January that the Guard and reserve forces are not ready and that they lack equipment and training.

Bert B. Tussing, director of homeland defense and security issues at the U.S. Army War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership, said the new Pentagon approach “breaks the mold” by assigning an active-duty combat brigade to the Northern Command for the first time. Until now, the military required the command to rely on troops requested from other sources.

“This is a genuine recognition that this [job] isn’t something that you want to have a pickup team responsible for,” said Tussing, who has assessed the military’s homeland security strategies.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the libertarian Cato Institute are troubled by what they consider an expansion of executive authority.

Domestic emergency deployment may be “just the first example of a series of expansions in presidential and military authority,” or even an increase in domestic surveillance, said Anna Christensen of the ACLU’s National Security Project. And Cato Vice President Gene Healy warned of “a creeping militarization” of homeland security.

“There’s a notion that whenever there’s an important problem, that the thing to do is to call in the boys in green,” Healy said, “and that’s at odds with our long-standing tradition of being wary of the use of standing armies to keep the peace.”

McHale stressed that the response units will be subject to the act, that only 8 percent of their personnel will be responsible for security and that their duties will be to protect the force, not other law enforcement. For decades, the military has assigned larger units to respond to civil disturbances, such as during the Los Angeles riot in 1992.

U.S. forces are already under heavy strain, however. The first reaction force is built around the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, which returned in April after 15 months in Iraq. The team includes operations, aviation and medical task forces that are to be ready to deploy at home or overseas within 48 hours, with units specializing in chemical decontamination, bomb disposal, emergency care and logistics.

The one-year domestic mission, however, does not replace the brigade’s next scheduled combat deployment in 2010. The brigade may get additional time in the United States to rest and regroup, compared with other combat units, but it may also face more training and operational requirements depending on its homeland security assignments.

Renuart said the Pentagon is accounting for the strain of fighting two wars, and the need for troops to spend time with their families. “We want to make sure the parameters are right for Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. The 1st Brigade’s soldiers “will have some very aggressive training, but will also be home for much of that.”

Although some Pentagon leaders initially expected to build the next two response units around combat teams, they are likely to be drawn mainly from reserves and the National Guard, such as the 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade from South Carolina, which returned in May after more than a year in Afghanistan.

Now that Pentagon strategy gives new priority to homeland security and calls for heavier reliance on the Guard and reserves, McHale said, Washington has to figure out how to pay for it.

“It’s one thing to decide upon a course of action, and it’s something else to make it happen,” he said. “It’s time to put our money where our mouth is.”

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Obama promises a “New Dawn”

obama_new-dawn_logo

Irish Times | Dec 2, 2008

DENIS STAUNTON in Washington

PRESIDENT-ELECT Barack Obama has promised a new dawn of American leadership that would rely less on military power and more on diplomatic action and moral example. Announcing his national security team in Chicago yesterday, Mr Obama said that the foreign policy challenges his administration faces offer an opportunity to restore America’s standing in the world.

“We will strengthen our capacity to defeat our enemies and support our friends. We will renew old alliances and forge new and enduring partnerships,” he said.

“We will show the world once more that America is relentless in defence of our people, steady in advancing our interests, and committed to the ideals that shine as a beacon to the world: democracy and justice; opportunity and unyielding hope – because American values are America’s greatest export to the world.”

Mr Obama’s appointments, led by Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, represent the most diverse national security team in history, with three women and two African-Americans, as well as at least one Republican.

Eric Holder will be the first African-American attorney general and Arizona governor Janet Napolitano will be the first woman to take charge at the Department of Homeland Security. Ms Napolitano is a strong supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, and Mr Holder is charged with cleaning up a justice department tarnished by its support for questionable initiatives under the Bush administration.

“Let me be clear: the attorney general serves the American people, and I have every expectation that Eric will protect our people, uphold the public trust and adhere to our Constitution,” Mr Obama said.

The president-elect played down differences of opinion between members of his team on everything from the Iraq war to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I assembled this team because I am a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions,” he said.

“I think that’s how the best decisions are made. One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in group-think and everybody agrees with everything and there’s no discussion and there are no dissenting views. So I am going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House.”

He insisted that he would be determining policy from the White House and that all the members of his team agreed on the need to refocus US foreign policy.

“To succeed, we must pursue a new strategy that skilfully uses, balances, and integrates all elements of American power: our military and diplomacy; our intelligence and law enforcement; our economy and the power of our moral example. The team that we have assembled here today is uniquely suited to do just that,” he said.

Outgoing secretary of state Condoleezza Rice said she would not be offering any advice to Mrs Clinton but praised Mr Obama’s selection of her successor.

Related

A Reality Check on D.C. Checkpoints

Neighborhood Checkpoint

D.C. police stop a vehicle at a checkpoint in the Trinidad neighborhood Saturday, June 7, 2008 in Washington. Police set up a Neighborhood Safety Zone to force people prove they have the right to be there. AP Photo by Jose Luis Magana

Washington Post | Nov 30, 2008

In June, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, his attorney general and the D.C. police announced the introduction of a military-style checkpoint program under which police stop drivers and allow only those with a police-approved “legitimate reason” to continue on the public roadway. This strategy is sorely in need of a reality check — or three.

Reality check No. 1: Let’s say that you are driving home, exhausted from work, lugging groceries and carrying your child in the back seat. Lights, police and roadblocks await you. Your car is stopped, an armed police officer comes over and you must roll down your window. Your child begins crying. You must now prove to the police officer’s satisfaction that you have the right to drive on your own block.

Visiting a friend? You are driving lawfully down the street when you find yourself blocked by police cars. The police suddenly approach your car, flashlight shining. Your license plate number is written down. The officer demands to know who you are, where you are going, what your purpose for driving is, and the name, address and phone number of your friend. He tells you that your reason for driving is not “legitimate”; now you cannot drive past the roadblock.

William Robinson, a retired schoolteacher, coach and 50-year resident of Trinidad, told me that former students simply stopped visiting him during the checkpoints. They turned around because they didn’t want to have to answer to the police for just a social call. Robinson is among the plaintiffs suing to end the checkpoint program, which was endorsed in October by the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia and is on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. According to Robinson, the checkpoints stigmatize the whole community: “It’s like living under martial law in a police state.”

Reality check No. 2: One might say that the checkpoint is an unfortunate inconvenience but that at least it is a way to reduce violent crime. A worthwhile trade-off of constitutional rights for security, so the argument goes. But that is not the case.

According to statistics that the D.C. police have filed with the court, comparing the initial Trinidad checkpoint period to the week immediately preceding it, violent crimes increased 100 percent, as did nonviolent crimes, during the checkpoint period. Also, the number of violent crimes committed during the checkpoint period in the police-designated “neighborhood safety zone” was 10 percent greater than the average for the nine weeks immediately preceding it and more than 40 percent greater than the average for the preceding seven weeks. Shootings surged elsewhere in the city while police were mobilized (or more accurately, immobilized) to stop lawful drivers at Trinidad checkpoints. The June checkpoints in Trinidad were suddenly halted after a night during which nine people were shot in other parts of the city. D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier has referred to some of her policing tactics, including the All Hands on Deck police deployment program, as primarily a public relations tactic. “Absolutely, it’s a public relations stunt — and it works!” she told a Post reporter in August.

Reality check No. 3: Eight years ago, the Supreme Court stated, “Without drawing the line at roadblocks designed primarily to serve the general interest in crime control, the Fourth Amendment would do little to prevent such intrusions from becoming a routine part of American life.” Both the federal and local courts of this jurisdiction have described as unconstitutional attempts to impose crime control checkpoints on the public — even without interrogation components or the refusal of passage. Seventeen years ago, a D.C. court ruled that the District’s crime “deterrence rationale” for roadblocks was “antithetical to the Fourth Amendment.”

The District is engaged in a dangerous and unprecedented expansion of police power. If the police could use the existence of crime to justify the suspension of constitutional protections, there would be no Constitution left to speak of.

The District needs more than photo-opportunity responses to problems, and its residents deserve respect for their most basic rights. Common sense and the Constitution demand no less.

— Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Washington

The writer, a constitutional rights attorney and co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice, is representing the plaintiffs suing to end the checkpoint program.

Ky. law requires Homeland Security to credit God

Associated Press | Nov 28, 2008

LEXINGTON, Ky. — A lawmaker says the state’s Homeland Security office should be crediting God with keeping the state safe.

State Rep. Tom Riner, a Southern Baptist minister who was instrumental in establishing that requirement in 2006, disapproves of the fact that Homeland Security doesn’t currently mention God in its mission statement or on its Web site.

The law passed under former Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who prominently credited God in annual reports to state leaders. But Gov. Steve Beshear’s administration didn’t credit God in its 2008 Homeland Security report issued last month.

“We certainly expect it to be there, of course,” Riner, D-Louisville, told the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The law that organized the Homeland Security office first lists Homeland Security’s duty to recognize that government itself can’t secure the state without God, even before mentioning other duties, which include distributing millions of dollars in federal grants and analyzing possible threats.

The religious language was tucked into a floor amendment by Riner and passed the General Assembly overwhelmingly. It lists the office’s initial duty as “stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the Commonwealth.”

Included in the law is a requirement that the office must post a plaque at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center with an 88-word statement that begins, “The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”

Thomas Preston, Gov. Beshear’s Homeland Security chief, said he is not interested in stepping into a religious debate.

“I will not try to supplant almighty God,” Preston said. “All I do is try to obey the dictates of the Kentucky General Assembly. I really don’t know what their motivation was for this. They obviously felt strongly about it.”

Riner said crediting God with helping ensure the state’s safety is appropriate.

“This is recognition that government alone cannot guarantee the perfect safety of the people of Kentucky,” Riner said. “Government itself, apart from God, cannot close the security gap. The job is too big for government.”

But state Sen. Kathy Stein, D-Lexington, a frequent critic of mixing religion and government, said requiring the department to credit God takes away from Homeland Security’s mission.

“It’s very sad to me that we do this sort of thing,” Stein said. “It takes away from the seriousness of the public discussion over security, and it clearly hurts the credibility of this office if it’s supposed to be depending on God, first and foremost.”

Obama urged to prepare for germ warfare

Panel warns biological attack likely by 2013

AP | Dec 1, 2008

By PAMELA HESS

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States can expect a terrorist attack using nuclear or more likely biological weapons before 2013, reports a bipartisan commission in a study being briefed Tuesday to Vice President-elect Joe Biden. It suggests the Obama administration bolster efforts to counter and prepare for germ warfare by terrorists.

“Our margin of safety is shrinking, not growing,” states the report, obtained by The Associated Press. It is scheduled to be publicly released Wednesday.

The commission is also encouraging the new White House to appoint one official on the National Security Council to exclusively coordinate U.S. intelligence and foreign policy on combating the spread of nuclear and biological weapons.

The report of the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, led by former Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and Jim Talent of Missouri, acknowledges that terrorist groups still lack the needed scientific and technical ability to make weapons out of pathogens or nuclear bombs. But it warns that gap can be easily overcome, if terrorists find scientists willing to share or sell their know-how.

“The United States should be less concerned that terrorists will become biologists and far more concerned that biologists will become terrorists,” the report states.

The commission believes biological weapons are more likely to be obtained and used before nuclear or radioactive weapons because nuclear facilities are more carefully guarded. Civilian laboratories with potentially dangerous pathogens abound, however, and could easily be compromised.

“The biological threat is greater than the nuclear; the acquisition of deadly pathogens, and their weaponization and dissemination in aerosol form, would entail fewer technical hurdles than the theft or production of weapons-grade uranium or plutonium and its assembly into an improvised nuclear device,” states the report.

It notes that the U.S. government’s counterproliferation activities have been geared toward preventing nuclear terrorism. The commission recommends the prevention of biological terrorism be made a higher priority.

Study chairman Graham said anthrax remains the most likely biological weapon. However, he told the AP that contagious diseases — like the flu strain that killed 40 million at the beginning of the 20th century — are looming threats. That virus has been recreated in scientific labs, and there remains no inoculation to protect against it if is stolen and released.

Graham said the threat of a terrorist attack using nuclear or biological weapons is growing “not because we have not done positive things but because adversaries are moving at an even faster pace to increase their access” to those materials.

He noted last week’s rampage by a small group of gunmen in Mumbai.

“If those people had had access to a biological or nuclear weapon they would have multiplied by orders of magnitude the deaths they could have inflicted,” he said.

Al-Qaida remains the only terrorist group judged to be actively intent on conducting a nuclear attack against the United States, the report notes. It is not yet capable of building such a weapon and has yet to obtain one. But that could change if a nuclear weapons engineer or scientist were recruited to al-Qaida’s cause, the report warns.

The report says the potential nexus of terrorism, nuclear and biological weapons is especially acute in Pakistan.

“Were one to map terrorism and weapons of mass destruction today, all roads would intersect in Pakistan,” the report states.

In fact, commission members were forced to cancel their trip to Pakistan this fall. The Islamabad Marriott Hotel that commission members were to stay in was blown up by terrorist bombs just hours before they were to check in.

“We think time is not our ally. The (United States) needs to move with a sense of urgency,” Graham said.