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US Northern Command and Hurricane Rita

Michel Chossudovsky | September 24 2005

There are indications that the Bush Administration is preparing to enact far-reaching emergency procedures in response to Hurricane Rita, which could potentially lead the country into a situation of Martial Law.

Following his visit to Texas on September 23, President Bush traveled together with DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff to The Peterson Air Force Base, at the headquarters of US Northern Command in Colorado Springs.

He spent the night of September 23 at Colorado Springs and was at US NorthCom headquarters on the morning of the 24th of September, when Hurricane Rita hits the Texas-Louisiana coastline.

Headed by Navy Admiral Timothy Keating, US NorthCom is slated to play a central role in relation to the Hurricane Rita emergency.
A Joint Task Force Rita has been created under the jurisdiction of NorthCom. Operating out of austin Texas, in liason with NorthCom in Colorado, it is under the command of Army Lt. Gen. Robert Clark. A "standing joint force headquarters" has been established in Austin, Texas.( http://www.dod.mil/news/Sep2005/20050923_2830.html 0.

Created in 2002, NorthCom oversees the land, sea and air defense not only the US but of the entire North American continent, including Mexico and Canada.

In the wake of 9/11, its mandate directly responds and relates to the "threat of terrorist attacks": its stated objective is to "defend the Homeland".

The presence of the President and Commander in Chief at US Northern Command Headquarters is of crucial significance. The federal emergency procedures are being coordinated out of a military base, rather than from the White House, in liaison with the various departments and agencies of the (civilian) federal government in Washington, D.C.

The purpose of the Commander in Chief's visit to US NorthCom was not revealed. At a Press conference prior to his departure for Colorado Springs, Bush told reporters that there was no particular reason for his trip to the Peterson Air Force Base:

"'[ I will be ] staying out of the way of the folks at NORTHCOM. See, NORTHCOM is the main entity that interfaces, that uses federal assets, federal troops to interface with local and state government. I just want to sit back and watch them run the show.'... 'I heard that things get pretty boring at Cheyenne Mountain [NORTHCOM Command Center] in 'the calm before the storm,'" Bush said. 'So I'm going to bring my guitar to help the troops pass the time. I just learned "When the Levee Breaks" and I'm hoping one of the guys or gals on night shift plays harmonica..'. 'NorthCom is the main entity that interfaces that, uses federal assets, federal troops to interface with federal and state government. I want to watch that relationship'"

Media reports, quoting official statements, have failed to address the implications of President Bush's presence at US NorthCom, where high level meetings are being held:

"Bush 'will monitor the storm and initial response Friday night and Saturday morning from the military's Northern Command headquarters in Colorado. He suggested much of the indecisiveness that impeded the Katrina response at all levels of government have been addressed.'" (Frontrunner, 23 Sept 2005)

"A spokesman says his Colorado Springs visit will 'give him a better grasp of federal preparations for the storm'".

"This will give him a first-hand look at the Northern Command and how the military is assisting in federal government response efforts to Hurricane Rita,"

The Militarisation of Disaster Relief

The response to the national disaster is not being coordinated by the civilian government out of Texas, but from a remote location and in accordance with military criteria. US Northern Command Headquarters will directly control the movement of military personnel and hardware in the Gulf of Mexico. As in ther case of Katrina, it will override the actions of civilian bodies.

On the 21st of September, a major deployment of military personnel and hardware was ordered in anticipation of the disaster. Troops have been deployed on the eastern Texas coastline:

"Amphibious vessels carrying 1000 Marines and equipment were taking up position in the Gulf of Mexico, ready to move in the moment the storm has passed through. More than 5000 Texas National Guardsmen were also on emergency standby."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ordered NorthCom and "the myriad forces" under its jurisdiction "to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency and homeland security". There is no indication, from official or media sources of Secretary Rumsfeld role in the emergency planning out of Peterson Air Force base. According to the DoD Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England "have no public or media events on their schedules" from the 22nd to the 24th of September.

The emergency procedures will be closely coordinated by US Northern Command out of the Peterson Air Force Base, together with Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff is also at Northern Command together with President Bush and other senior officials.

What is unfolding is a national rather than a regional emergency scenario, under the control of Northern Command. Moreover, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a total of 42 states and Washington, D.C. have enacted emergency procedures, even though they were not directly affected.

Northern Command would, as part of its mandate in the case of a national emergency, oversee a number of civilian functions:

In addition to defending the nation, U.S. Northern Command provides defense support of civil authorities in accordance with U.S. laws and as directed by the President or Secretary of Defense. Military assistance is always in support of a lead federal agency, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Military civil support includes domestic disaster relief operations that occur during fires, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes. Support also includes counter-drug operations and consequence management assistance, such as would occur after a terrorist event employing a weapon of mass destruction.

Generally, an emergency must exceed the management capabilities of local, state and federal agencies before U.S. Northern Command becomes involved. In providing civil support, the command operates through subordinate Joint Task Forces. (See US Northcom website at http://www.northcom.mil/index.cfm?fuseaction=s.who_civil ).

President Bush had stated barely a week ago Rita that "the Government and the US military needed broader authority to help handle major domestic crises such as hurricanes."

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff subsequently classified Hurricane Rita as an "incident of national significance," which justifies the activation of a so-called "National Response Plan"(NRP).

The latter is characterized by a comprehensive framework. The period of time during which the NRP would be in operation would extend far beyond the emergency period in the disaster area. In all likelihood, the NRP would modify the functions of civilian government:

The National Response Plan (NRP) is effective upon issuance with a phased implementation process during the first year. During the first 120 days of this implementation process, the Initial NRP (INRP), Federal Response Plan (FRP), U.S. Government Domestic Terrorism Concept of Operations Plan (CONPLAN), and Federal Radiological Emergency Response Plan (FRERP) remain in effect. (For further details, consult the complete document at http://www.dhs.gov/interweb/assetlibrary/NRPbaseplan.pdf

Homeland Security

The entire Homeland Security Construct is based on the "war on terrorism". The procedures are not intended to deal with natural disasters. In this context, the national disaster could provide a justification for a greater role of the Military in civilian affairs, exerted through Northern Command. This role would extend beyond the implementation of relief efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

The NRP involves concrete provisions which describe the role of the Military in the case of a national emergency. Under the Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA), the Military could assist civilian bodies in law enforcement activities, thereby leading to the derogation of the Posse Comitatus Act.

Although the preliminary reports are incomplete, the civilian response capabilities seem to exhibit serious shortcomings, as some 2 million people flee Southern Texas and Louisiana including the Houston Metropolitan area, which has a population of some 4.7 million people.

We are not, however, dealing with a situation of political inertia, Quite the opposite. The military has taken control of the emergency procedures.

The scale of military involvement is far greater than that observed in the case of hurricane Katrina.

"Northcom had six naval ships and twenty-six helicopters on standby to assist the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with damage assessment, search and rescue and medical evacuation. Military communications teams were ready to assist with satellite telephones and radios. Officials predicted that Hurricane Rita would destroy almost 5,700 homes in Texas and cause $ 8.2 billion of damage." (London Times, 24 September 2005)

Northern Command, rather than the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is already slated to play a central role in overseeing the emergency operation, namely the military will intervene directly in civilian affairs under procedures which have already been carefully laid out in a number of official documents.

President Bush is the Commander in Chief and what is unfolding at the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs is the planning behind closed doors of a major military operation on US soil.

Moreover, this operation is being launched on the same day as major antiwar demonstrations across America.


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