In today’s Boston Globe, Charlie Savage reports that the Bush Administration has a new “doomsday” plan.
The Bush administration is writing a new plan to maintain governmental control in the wake of an apocalyptic terrorist attack or overwhelming natural disaster, moving such doomsday planning for the first time from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to officials inside the White House. …
… The policy replaces a Clinton-era “continuity in government” post-disaster plan. The old plan is classified, but security specialists and administration officials said the new policy centralizes control of such planning in the White House and puts a greater emphasis on terrorism spurring the catastrophe.
Here’s the juicy part (emphasis added):
The unexpected arrival of the new policy has received little attention in the mainstream media, but it has prompted discussion among legal specialists, homeland security experts and Internet commentators — including concerns that the policy may be written in such a way that makes it too easy to invoke emergency presidential powers such as martial law.
Savage writes that the new policy was “quietly” signed on May 3, and the unclassified parts of the policy were posted on the White House web site on May 9. The unclassified parts really don’t say that much; it’s mostly definitions of terms and statements of intent. I was struck by this section:
(5) The following NEFs are the foundation for all continuity programs and capabilities and represent the overarching responsibilities of the Federal Government to lead and sustain the Nation during a crisis, and therefore sustaining the following NEFs shall be the primary focus of the Federal Government leadership during and in the aftermath of an emergency that adversely affects the performance of Government Functions:
(a) Ensuring the continued functioning of our form of government under the Constitution, including the functioning of the three separate branches of government;
(b) Providing leadership visible to the Nation and the world and maintaining the trust and confidence of the American people;
(c) Defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and preventing or interdicting attacks against the United States or its people, property, or interests;
(d) Maintaining and fostering effective relationships with foreign nations;
(e) Protecting against threats to the homeland and bringing to justice perpetrators of crimes or attacks against the United States or its people, property, or interests;
(f) Providing rapid and effective response to and recovery from the domestic consequences of an attack or other incident;
(g) Protecting and stabilizing the Nation’s economy and ensuring public confidence in its financial systems; and
(h) Providing for critical Federal Government services that address the national health, safety, and welfare needs of the United States.
They haven’t been doing any of those things so far. I don’t know why they’re waiting for an emergency. Anyhow — there is much worry and speculation about what the classified part of the policy might be. Savage continues:
The conservative commentator Jerome Corsi , for example, wrote in a much-linked online column that the directive looked like a recipe for allowing the office of the presidency to seize “dictatorial powers” because the policy does not discuss consulting Congress about when to invoke emergency powers — or when to turn them off.
In addition, specialists at both the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, and the American Civil Liberties Union said they have taken calls and e-mails from people who are worried about what the new policy may portend.
James Carafano , a homeland security specialist at Heritage, criticized the administration for failing to inform the public that the new policy was coming, and why it was changing.
He said the White House did not recognize that discussion of emergency governmental powers is “a very sensitive issue for a lot of people,” adding that the lack of explanation is “appalling.”
Corsi, who writes for Wing Nut Daily, might be better known to most of us as the co-author (with John O’Neill) of the Swift Boat manifesto Unfit to Command. He played a critical role in getting The Creature re-elected, in other words. And given the careful non-attention to “facts” displayed in Unfit, anything Corsi writes must be taken with a truckful of salt.
That said, I believe this is the column mentioned by Savage. He makes a couple of noteworthy points.
When the president determines a catastrophic emergency has occurred, the president can take over all government functions and direct all private sector activities to ensure we will emerge from the emergency with an “enduring constitutional government.”
Translated into layman’s terms, when the president determines a national emergency has occurred, the president can declare to the office of the presidency powers usually assumed by dictators to direct any and all government and business activities until the emergency is declared over.
Ironically, the directive sees no contradiction in the assumption of dictatorial powers by the president with the goal of maintaining constitutional continuity through an emergency.
Now he notices the “irony”? Bushies have been pissing on the Constitution lo the past six years and four months, and now he notices?
Here’s the other interesting part (emphasis added):
The directive issued May 9 makes no attempt to reconcile the powers created there for the National Continuity Coordinator with the National Emergency Act. As specified by U.S. Code Title 50, Chapter 34, Subchapter II, Section 1621, the National Emergency Act allows that the president may declare a national emergency but requires that such proclamation “shall immediately be transmitted to the Congress and published in the Federal Register.”
A Congressional Research Service study notes that under the National Emergency Act, the president “may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens.”
The CRS study notes that the National Emergency Act sets up congress as a balance empowered to “modify, rescind, or render dormant such delegated emergency authority,” if Congress believes the president has acted inappropriately.
NSPD-51/ HSPD-20 appears to supersede the National Emergency Act by creating the new position of National Continuity Coordinator without any specific act of Congress authorizing the position.
NSPD-51/ HSPD-20 also makes no reference whatsoever to Congress. The language of the May 9 directive appears to negate any a requirement that the president submit to Congress a determination that a national emergency exists, suggesting instead that the powers of the executive order can be implemented without any congressional approval or oversight.
Homeland Security spokesperson Russ Knocke affirmed that the Homeland Security Department will be implementing the requirements of NSPD-51/ HSPD-20 under [Frances] Townsend’s direction.
In other words, in the name of “the continued functioning of our form of government under the Constitution, including the functioning of the three separate branches of government” the President has given himself dictatorial powers whenever he gets in the mood to exercise them, and Congress has been relieved of its power to check him.
BTW, Corsi also claims that “Houston-based KBR, formerly the engineering and construction subsidiary of Halliburton Co., has a contingency contract in place with the Department of Homeland Security to construct detention facilities in the event of a national emergency.” Jeez, the wingnut is starting to sound like one of us. Welcome to the Land of the Shrill.
Savage of the Boston Globe provides us with the White House response to inquiries about the new national security scheme. You won’t guess what it is. Well, OK, you will guess: 9/11: “White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that because of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the American public needs no explanation of such plans.”
[S]ome legal specialists say that the White House should be more specific about its worst-case scenario plans, pointing out two unanswered questions: what circumstances would trigger implementation of the plan and what legal limits the White House recognizes on its own emergency powers. …
… Sharon Bradford Franklin , the senior counsel at the Constitution Project, a bipartisan think-tank that promotes constitutional safeguards, said the policy’s definition “is so broad that it raises serious concerns about when and how this might be used to authorize unchecked executive action.”
When questioned about this, White House spokesperson Johndroe said that the policy had to be loosely worded because there was no way to know what sort of emergency might arise. “I don’t think you want to have anything in the directive that would tie the president’s hands from being able to implement emergency action,” he said.
Don’t presume you know what I want, Mr. Johndroe.