Too Easy

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.”

Savage continues,

[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.

14 thoughts on “Too Easy

  1. Issues of constitution and democracy aside, there is no sense at all in setting up a scenario in which our country had to rely on the George W. Bush misadministration for competent leadership in the face of disaster. Disaster is dubya’s middle name.

  2. I caught Corsi a couple of Friday’s ago on Washington Journal with Brian Lamb. I was irked enough to do a search and read a bit trying to find the particulars of the document. After becoming clear on who Corsi was and what he had done in the past, and finding that many presidents have signed similar provisions I chalked it up to more or less same dookey, different day.

    But I had not realized that there were unclassified sections, and one again, I have to wonder where the boogey man is and how psychotic is he?

  3. I’d like to point out that President Bush also arrogates to himself the power to take control of the National Guard without the consent of the state governors, each of whom formerly controlled his own state’s NG militia. That is, posse comitatus is no longer operative in the John Yoo world of the unitary executive.

    I will not be surprised if a national security emergency, requiring mobilization of the NG under Federal control, bursts on us just before the 2008 elections.

    Paranoid? I hope so. But Mr Bush and his hench have consistently amazed me by their boldness in carrying out actions and policies that would have seemed like paranoid conspiracy theories under any previous Administration. Secret Prisons. Torture. Gitmo. The end of habeus corpus! A permanent Global War on Terror. A war of agression against Iraq, with the goal of parking the US military permanently on top of Iraq’s oil fields. Wiretaps carried out in defiance of the FISA. A political purge of the US Attorney cadre, with special attention paid to those USAs investigating crimes committed by Republicans.

  4. Even the Romans under the republic allowed for a dictator, but they were voted their powers by the Senate and then had to have them re-voted after six months. After 2500 years it still seems like a better plan than what Bush would institute.

  5. DoubleCinco — Yeah, it’s possible this is a perfectly reasonable policy. But the fact that there is no apparent provision for Congress to either apply oversight over even be consulted is worrisome. Theoretically Bush has given himself authority to declare himself dictator in case of emergency — which is something he can define at his discretion — and with only vague provision made for restoring “normal.”

    It’s also worrisome that he thought this up only after Democrats took over Congress.

  6. Today our daily briefing should read

    “Bush determined to strike inside US”

    From the massive voter suppression of Tampa voters in 2000 through six plus years of extra constitutional incompetence, we have a destabilized world from the policies of this lunatic administration.

    Instead of being Christians and bringing our compassion and resources to impoverished billions, these petty narcissistic navel gazing autocrats set about to feed us a steady diet of fear, fear and more fear.

    During the Cold War, the US government had a Secret Emergency Relocation Center at the Greenbrier with a Five Star Fallout Shelter for the entire. But then again, Ike had just spent the prime of his life defeating tyranny.

    But now that our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over, it remains unclear what will shake us free from the shackles of stupidity and immorality.

    Stayed tuned for the creature feature. Seriously though, most of the progressosphere is suffering from outrage fatigue, and we are promissed only bloody months and a fulfillment of our destiny as seen through the eyes of psychopaths.

    Well at least it’s nice out and the town pool is open. I think I’ll go for a swim.

  7. Corsi…might be better known to most of us as the co-author of the Swift Boat manifesto Unfit to Command. He played a critical role in getting The Creature re-elected.

    Exactly, Corsi was on my local winger station. The guy introduced him proudly as having been a SBVT author. It made me sick, and now he’s concerned? If he started every article with a mea culpa, I might listen.


    That’s a post I wrote about this directive when Progressive magazine noted its virtual black out in the media several weeks ago. Savage’s column is definitely the best so far, but I would recommend reading the link I’ve provided, because what many people don’t realize or remember is that Cheney/Bush ran a shadow federal gov’t for 6 months after 9/11 without informing Congress or the Supreme Court (which could have then implemented their own COG plans) until it was uncovered by the Wa.Post.

    What’s more, Cheney was basically just running the drills he had learned from a clandestine Reagan-era COG program he and Rumsfield used to particpate in. The entire purpose of the excercises were to figure out a way to extralegally and extraconstitutionally establish a new “president” in case of a nuclear strike. When James Mann questioned one of the architects of the program about the plans, the administrator admitted that one of the questions pondered by the program was whether to reconvene Congress or not … they decided that it would be easier to get along without Congress.

    I think it goes without saying that we should be having a national discussion about the President issuing an Executive order that would appear to make him dictator in case of some vaguely defined emerency.

    Let’s put this in perspective, shall we? Hitler became dictator by invoking Article 48 of the Weimar Republic Constitution, by which Parliament had to vote to give him the power to abrogate the rule of law.

    Bush just issued a directive (and please keep in mind he’s already operating under the Yoo theory of a Unitary President/Executive/King/Emperor) that would allow him to assume the mantle of the federal gov’t ON HIS SAY SO without even the consent of Congress, which Yoo has already asserted can not bind the President’s power to act in the name of national security. The directive is like icing on the cake. We should already be up in arms (figuratively speaking) about the type of authoritarian precedent we are setting.

  9. Oh, and Corsi is right about KBR having contingency contracts to build “detention facilities” i.e. concentration camps in case a national “emergency” is declared. Dave Neiwert covered that a good while ago. It’s pretty much a give if that there’s a domestic terrorist attack Mexicans, Muslims, and just perhaps some dissident “liberals” are going to end up in there.

  10. Seriously though, most of the progressosphere is suffering from outrage fatigue

    A big amen to that! It’s a relentless barrage of one outrage after another. Bush has trampled on America so much that we can’t even keep track of all the outrages. I’m just hoping for the next 600 days to pass quickly so we can get rid of this clown who has no sense of what America is.

    Greeks and Romans were strongly possessed of the spirit of liberty,
    but not the principles, for at the time that they were determined
    not to be slaves themselves, they employed their power to enslave
    the rest of mankind.” — Thomas Paine

  11. In other words (to paraphrase a prior administration), he’ll “have to destroy the Constitution to save it.”

    Makes ME feel all warm and fuzzy.

  12. Actually, I think Bush and his gang have been working on this “emergency” takeover since their first day in office. Please see A Pretext For War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies by James Bamford, Doubleday, 2004 (chapters 3, 4, and 5). Katrina has, of course, changed some of what is described in the book as it relates to the NORAD command center in Colorado. But, perhaps, the changes have made it easier to employ the mountain fortress in the Continuity of Government role envisioned in Bamford’s book.

  13. One thing that concerns me is that Bush is not ACTING like a lame-duck president whose numbers have descended from the gutter to the sewer. If he was a popular president completing a popular second term, with a VP candidate well groomed for a run for president, I could understand undertaking long-term plans, like committing to an indefinate (or infinate) occupation of Iraq.

    None of the Republian candidates looks to me (and I am biased) like they could beat a Democratic nominee. So why does Bush look to me (and I am paranoid, but not nescessarily wrong) like he expects he has 6 more years???

    Here’s the 64 thousand dollar question. When and how can this plan be challenged in the courts, prior to implementation????

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