by Marc Ambinder
April 11, 2011
The White House is prepared for
But the rest of the government is not
prepared for what comes next.
On the morning of
September 11, 2001, after terrorists
toppled the World Trade Center towers, rammed a jet into the Pentagon, and
were thought to be in control of an unknown number of additional planes, the
National Security Council ordered the government to act as if the apocalypse
A series of secret orders, known collectively as
Continuity of Government, or
COG, zipped across the government’s classified computer and phone
On cue, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Alternate National Warning
Center in Olney, Md., sent emergency action alerts. The 1st
Helicopter Squadron (code-named “Mussel”) swooped down to the National Mall
from Andrews Air Force Base, grabbed congressional leaders, and rushed them
Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center
in Bluemont, Va.
The Secret Service spirited first lady Laura
Bush to a bunker beneath one of its buildings. An Army helicopter on standby
at Davison Army Airfield, about 15 miles from the Pentagon, whisked the
deputy Defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, to an enormous hardened bunker
(code-named “Marconi”) deep within the
Raven Rock Mountain Complex near Maryland’s
border with Pennsylvania.
But 50 years of secret contingency planning, most of it drawn up with a
U.S.-Soviet Union nuclear war in mind, had not anticipated a threat like the
one that came on 9/11. No one had updated continuity-of-government plans for
the Pax Americana. Communication nodes malfunctioned, leaving
President Bush, who was in Florida, out of touch with the military and the
White House at key points during the day.
Hotlines, conference-call systems, and telephone
circuits with built-in preemption capability - the key connections between
all the moving parts - were unreliable.
The government couldn’t find Cabinet members; they and their security
details were clueless about where to go. The Presidential Emergency
Operations Center, or
PEOC, three stories beneath the East Wing of the White
House, was not always in contact with the president when it needed to be.
For a time, the emergency center could not reach Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld, who was assisting with the rescue operations at the
Pentagon, even though an officer or two from the Pentagon Communication
Agency accompanied his personal protection detail.
That day did not cause an existential crisis for American government. The
evacuation of key leaders from Washington worked well enough. But the
problem was distilled by a furious phone call from
Bush to PEOC at 10:08
a.m. demanding to know what the hell was going on. Fact is, the people there
didn’t really know and weren’t equipped to find out.
Eventually, officials realized they had a major national-security threat
that was independent of terrorism: Any major catastrophe in Washington could
bring down the federal government, blurring chains of command and separating
decision makers from intelligence.
And if something truly catastrophic happened,
they acknowledged, they would have no idea how to reconstitute government
PREPARING FOR THE
September 11, riding in a routine springtime motorcade in
Washington, Bush had tried to make a telephone call from his limousine.
Static. He couldn’t get a signal.
When he arrived at the White House, he pointed
to Joseph Hagin, his deputy chief of staff for operations - the man
responsible for making the president go - and motioned him over.
In no uncertain terms, Bush told Hagin that the
president should be able to make a telephone call to anyone at any time.
“He essentially said to me, ‘We need to fix
this and fix it quickly.’ He asked, ‘What would we do if something
really serious happened and this didn’t work?’ ”
For the next seven years, Hagin led an extremely
secret, multibillion-dollar effort to reconstitute the nation’s doomsday
plans. He has never before given a formal interview on the subject.
Hagin had not finished the job by September 11. The day after, at a National
Security Council meeting, Bush was “irate,” as one aide put it, about the
failure in communication that caused the breakdown in the chain of command.
To this day, senior members of the NSC do not know whether Bush gave Vice
President Dick Cheney the authority to order planes shot down, as
(Bush later said he did, in a conversation
between the two before 10 a.m., but no evidence exists, and many members of
the administration suspect that Bush gave Cheney no such blessing, though
none would say so on the record.)
The 9/11 commission, which was established to
prepare a full account of the circumstances surrounding the terrorist
attacks, including the government’s preparedness and response, noted only
that the president’s and vice president’s recollections did not necessarily
jibe with the notes taken by others who were with both men that morning.
After the attacks, Hagin refocused his work to head off this sort of
communications dysfunction in the next crisis. The goal: Move information to
the president immediately - anywhere, regardless of place or time - about
threats to the homeland. If the president couldn’t be reached, the Defense
secretary had to be available to make decisions.
The president could delegate his authority to
the vice president - but Bush wanted to have the option to do so or not,
something that aides got the strong impression he had not had on September
11 when Cheney jumped in decisively. No one blamed Cheney, who was steeped
in Reagan-era continuity planning, but they recognized that the legitimacy
of the presidency was at stake if the vice president had to improvise.
What if the president needed to decide on a
nuclear attack but couldn’t be reached?
“[Bush] said to me, ‘We need to fix this and
fix it quickly.’ ”
- Joseph Hagin, former White House deputy
chief of staff for operations
“We worked quickly to reduce the time it
took to get the president ready to make a call for Noble Eagle events,”
a former Bush administration official told National Journal, referring
to the combat air-patrol canopy over Washington.
If a plane were to violate the air-defense zone,
the president would receive instant briefings and could be connected to the
National Military Command Center within minutes.
Officials updated the technology of the
nuclear-launch briefcase, the so-called football, and revised its
accompanying folders to include contingency responses to a range of
The U.S. Northern Command, or
Northcom, was launched in 2003 to oversee the
defense of the country’s interior; it also took responsibility for the
combat air patrols over Washington and for several units that perform
classified missions related to homeland defense. Northcom, headquartered at
the District of Columbia’s Fort McNair, was given shoot-down authority for
airplanes across the country.
Working with the Energy Department, Northcom monitors a real-time radiation
map of the Washington metropolitan area; almost every day, a department
helicopter flies over sensitive areas to determine if the background levels
Karl Horst, the commanding general of Joint
Force Headquarters for the National Capital Region, told National Journal
Northcom is responsible for the antimissile batteries around Washington
and for evacuating the government in catastrophic circumstances - by air, by
ground, and by sea.
A classified Concept of Operations plan known as
3600 spells out these functions.
For spiriting officials away, the government has more than a half-dozen
command posts built into airplanes and more than a dozen transportable
systems on the ground.
Plans call for potentially stashing officials on
submarines, aircraft carriers, and offshore bases - even in friendly foreign
countries. Budget requests boosted the Secret Service’s budget by several
hundred million dollars for emergency capabilities.
The military established a second alternate
command center on a base near the White House and a third bunker at the
It took several years and several hundred billion dollars to modernize the
communications links between the president, the Cabinet, the military, and
the bunkers - known informally as “the sites.” A number of redundant
networks were put in place, run by a little-known agency called the National
Located in the Homeland Security Department, it
manages a variety of secret projects, including one called SRAS, or Special
Routing Arrangement Service, which gives government officials priority use
of our communications systems in emergencies and acts as a hub to transmit
emergency war orders. The National Security Council and the White House
Military Office also manage a system of interlinked and redundant
communications bunkers across the country that allow the president to
communicate directly with, say, the director of the CIA or the FBI, wherever
Hagin’s team modernized presidential relocation facilities, including the
White House’s PEOC and the Raven Rock bunker that served as Cheney’s
Officials reopened several closed bunkers and
constructed new ones in Colorado and Florida. Altogether, about a dozen
formal presidential relocation facilities are stocked with six months’ worth
of supplies. National Journal discovered a secret Defense Department agency
responsible for COG acquisitions - the folks who make sure the bunkers have
toilet paper. (The National Security Council asked NJ not to reveal its name
because doing so would jeopardize the cover programs associated with other
The agency operates out of a nondescript office
building in Maryland.
It took two years to equip the president’s limousine with reliable, secure
voice links to Royal Crown, the White House’s switchboard for classified
communications. In 2004, Air Force One finally received teleconferencing
capability - and live TV. The White House Communications Agency upgraded its
Washington-area infrastructure and spent several years reconciling
interoperability issues with the Secret Service.
The communications agency surveyed major telecom
carriers and found that one had much more capacity than the others; everyone
got new phones. (National Journal was asked not to disclose the carrier.)
Many of the assets that
FEMA uses to mitigate and respond to disasters have
classified functions that kick in when COG plans are executed. The number of
programs is secret, but the government has secure facilities at every
Cabinet headquarters and relocation site that contain protected vaults
stocked with bright red binders. The binders spell out the COG plans for the
The security officers who guard the vaults and
safes are paid by their departments, but they actually report to the White
House Military Office.
Presidential helicopters are a weak link in the chain of command.
HMX-1 squadron, based in Quantico, Va., has at least 17
working helicopters. The reality is that a large number are used for spare parts.
The copters are 30 years old, and President Obama killed a follow-on program
because it was more than $1 billion over budget.
Back when Bush was on board, the helicopters
experienced two power failures and one communications breakdown. Designed
for 14 passengers, many of the choppers seat only 10 because of bulky
emergency communication equipment and countermeasures. (The Secret Service,
which supervises presidential COG programs, declined to comment, and the
Marine Corps referred requests for comment to the White House.)
A White House official said that
a reasonably priced alternative and that it is on track.
The secret COG apparatus is huge: One former government official with
knowledge of the budget estimates that continuity-of-government programs
have cost $20 billion over the past 10 years. When Obama took office, he
asked for a full accounting.
A six-month study concluded that although the
COG expansion made it much likelier that the president and the Cabinet
members could be safely hidden and protected, the plans did not sufficiently
address what happened next - when Cabinet secretaries had to figure out how
to respond to a paralyzing
influenza pandemic, for example.
Would state governments follow federal
Would private companies allow the
executive branch to take over their operations and carry out orders?
Who had the telephone numbers of the
superintendents of major school districts so that the president
could call and personally request that a system be shut down if a
state refused to do so?
Obama has kept the COG infrastructure intact for
now. According to administration officials, he has also pushed to link its
functions with the rest of the government’s catastrophe planning.
Last year, the administration held what it
called the biggest continuity-of-government exercise since September 11; top
White House officials were evacuated, as were members of the Cabinet and
their senior aides.
“The goal was to see how we could all get
off-site and still communicate,” a senior official said. Obama
participated from the White House Situation Room.
An annual tabletop exercise called Eagle
Horizon, which envisions multiple simultaneous catastrophes, included more
participants in 2010 than any other exercise of its kind before, according
to a FEMA official.
Hagin said he did not intend to criticize the Obama administration, and he
informed the NSC about his cooperation with National Journal. But he also
told NJ that he observes a sense of drift in all branches of government as
the passage of time since September 11 draws focus from emergency
He worries that COG programs, which have large
but classified budgets, face pressure to slash spending.
“The continuity-of-government programs took
on an urgency [on September 11] that they certainly had not held since
the fall of the Berlin Wall and possibly at any time since the Cuban
missile crisis,” Hagin told National Journal.
No matter the cost, the Bush administration was
determined to take them seriously.
It was forced to.
SEPARATION OF POWERS
Decapitation attacks from terrorists or natural disasters that could
paralyze Washington are low-probability, high-impact events. It’s hard to
protect against them, let alone figure out how to pay for those protections.
Resources are finite. When a military asset is
deployed as a backup communication system to another backup communication
system on the chance that an improbable event might happen, that asset is
not available to support troops in actual combat. These are legitimate
trade-offs that should be debated.
Yet, by definition, very few people have a bird’s-eye view of the COG
programs from which to debate them. And because they are enmeshed in
questions about the Constitution and the separation of powers, Congress has
very little oversight for them. The National Security Council controls these
“Special Access Programs,” and virtually everything about them is orally
briefed to a few select members of Congress.
Not even the chairs of the Homeland Security
committees are privy to all the details. Consequently, almost no debate
about COG takes place - how much it costs and what assumptions govern its
implementation. And it is not even clear which branch of government should
have authority over continuity of government.
In 2007, Bush issued a homeland-security presidential directive that
consolidated COG functions in the White House because FEMA was having
trouble interacting with the Defense Department on crucial, classified
issues. That directive also established, in public, the dual assumptions
that guided Bush’s planning.
The branches, led by the executive, would work
together to prepare for catastrophes, but the executive branch would
exercise unilateral authority to make sure that eight “national essential
functions” - from “providing leadership visible to the nation and the world”
to stabilizing the economy - continued to operate throughout a major
Read one way, the directive implies that, in an emergency, the executive
branch has the authority to ignore Congress and the judiciary if it wants
to. The body of law that governs national emergencies can certainly be
interpreted that way.
Many statutes and unclassified orders expand the
authority of the military to carry out executive functions that amount to
martial law (contravening the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which restricts
what the military can do on American soil).
The directives even spell out what happens if someone lower in the line of
succession takes advantage of uncertainty to assume presidential authority.
Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt, allows the
military to establish operational zones inside the United States during
emergencies. Nixon’s Executive Order 11490 allows for the emergency “control
of enemies and other aliens” within U.S. borders - and for the Securities
and Exchange Commission to shut down the stock markets.
National Emergencies Act in 1976 gives the
president broad powers that the Army believes allow the commander in chief
“regulate the operation of private
enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the
lives of United States citizens,” according to a 2010 Army legal
document obtained by National Journal.
Then there’s the
Insurrection Act, which gives
the president the power to use the military to forcibly contain “civil
The rules of engagement are classified but
“restrictive in nature,” according to the Army document. An “execute order”
issued by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2009 lays out some
scenarios in which the military can use force, even without permission from
higher authorities - usually when no federal law-enforcement officials are
available, and lives and property are in imminent danger.
The military can even make arrests under those circumstances, under
Title 10, Section 374 (b) 2 of the U.S. code
permits the Defense Department to provide technological and personnel
support to law-enforcement agencies. Under Title 18 of the code, the
attorney general can request significant military assistance for containing
and mitigating civil disturbances.
Other laws permit emergency quarantines, too.
The most sensitive parts of continuity of government - the ones that expand
executive power most conspicuously - are very closely held. They’ve been
completely revised, according to several officials who have read them, for
an era when state governments feel confident exercising their own power and
when some Americans are predisposed to suspect martial-law scenarios.
Classified executive orders spell out a range of
powers the president can assume in the event of an incident of national
significance. (Since 1958, one of these documents has provided for the
suspension of habeas corpus for citizens on “security” lists at the time of
According to people who have seen them, the COG plans include draft
presidential emergency-action directives, or
PEADs, under which White House
lawyers can fill in the blanks - in the case of “x,” the president may do
“y.” But it’s unclear whether, during an emergency, these orders would be
recognized by the federal agency or officials they’re directed to, or by
state governments, or even by the American people.
The Bush-era COG plans were based on the
commonsense premise that no post-disaster government would be legitimate
unless people perceived it to be a valid expression of their will and the
constitutional balancing of powers among the branches. The Bush White House
encouraged the federal branches to plan together.
The COG plans also include, however, directives for scenarios in which one
or two branches of government cannot function.
“As we would go through functions, we would
realize, ‘Oh shit, that’s going to be a challenge because Congress can’t
constitute a quorum,’ ” one of Hagin’s colleagues said.
“So our plans were written from an
operational concern about our ability to perform their role, and what
flows from the executive branch in those situations is the scenario
where they can’t [perform].”
COG planners are particularly worried about how to reconstruct a government
whose authority people will respect. That wasn’t a problem when President
Truman first confronted the prospect of a nuclear doomsday.
During his presidency, military officers wrote
plans for a post-crisis government that the public would almost certainly
have accepted as legitimate. People of that era did not conceive of a
six-decade-long diminution of trust in the presidency - or in all large
institutions. They did not consider the idea that a malfunctioning Congress
could affect the way Americans respond to emergency powers because no one
would be able to check the president.
Back then, functions mattered more than
personality. That is, if the president were killed, it would be sufficient
that his successor (whoever that might be) could press the right buttons to
launch nuclear weapons.
By September 11, 2001, that 1940s-era system was inadequate because the
world had calmed down. The idea that terrorists could decapitate the
government was within the realm of imagination, but it was not something
that preoccupied Washington.
CIA Director Leon Panetta, who was President
Clinton’s chief of staff, told National Journal that he recalls being
introduced to the bunker facilities underneath the White House and
participating in a few exercises, but says he had no cause to spend much
time on continuity-of-government scenarios.
Meanwhile, the plans themselves were relics. Most were minor revisions to
the Eisenhower administration’s Code of Emergency Federal Regulations
Those secret documents emphasized fixing
immediate problems like food shortages and rioting rather than ensuring that
legitimate elected officials could solve problems and mitigate the potential
for an extended crisis.
“I feel very confident that we can
reconstitute the legislative process.”
- Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer
Presidential Succession Act of 1947 spells
out procedures to ensure that constitutional government endures, but it is
full of holes.
In the scenario imagined by the statute - no
president, no vice president, no speaker of the House, and no president pro
tempore of the Senate - the secretary of State becomes president either
until the end of the current president’s term in office or until someone
higher in the chain of command suddenly reappears or recovers from injuries
and is able to discharge the powers of office.
(After the secretary of
State, the chain of succession proceeds through the Cabinet, based on when
the departments were created.)
Imagine that some lower officeholder takes power for a time, and then the
vice president recovers from an injury. As soon as the VP wants, he or she
can “bump” the acting president - or not, if the VP doesn’t want to.
Constitutional scholars don’t like this
provision because it provides incentives for all sorts of mischief (someone
could be bumped just as a particular piece of legislation needed the
president’s signature) and relies on the assumption that national leaders
are willing to completely surrender the attachments of their political party
and their personal agenda.
Another problem is that, in a catastrophic emergency, the people who need to
know who is in charge might not be able to find this out immediately. In
particular, the Secret Service and the officials who execute lawful orders
from the National Command Authority (which is another name for the commander
in chief’s executive powers) might be paralyzed by a communications
breakdown, despite all the systems.
If confusion persists about who’s alive and
who’s dead - and if, for example, the Defense secretary and the chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff are out of the country or incommunicado - the
confusion could be deadly.
Maybe the secretary of Defense, if he doesn’t have contact with anyone above
him in the chain of command, assumes that he is the acting president. Maybe
the vice president will do the same if he can’t reach the president, or if
the Secret Service doesn’t know whether the president is alive.
These are extremely unlikely scenarios, but what
happens if two people act as if they’re in control?
The PEADs provide Cabinet secretaries, White House aides, and other senior
officials with what amount to checklists:
Have you called here?
waited for “x” amount of time?
Are you sure that FEMA hasn’t done “y”?
After they answer the questions, the checklists
then empower the officials to temporarily assume certain presidential
authority to make sure that the government can function.
The directives even
spell out what happens if someone lower in the line of succession takes
advantage of uncertainty to assume presidential authority. The documents are written, essentially, to deal
with possible coups d’état.
These scenarios are improbable, but the confusion around them is not.
Confusion played out for real in 1981 during the attempted assassination of
President Reagan. In the chaos after the president was shot, Secretary of
State Alexander Haig declared that he was in charge. The secretary had
apparently forgotten that the vice president, the speaker of the House, and
the president pro tempore of the Senate were above him in the line of
(Haig later insisted that he meant to say that
he was in charge of just the White House and its immediate executive
functions until Vice President George H.W. Bush could return to Washington.)
Reagan’s “biscuit” - his nuclear-command code-verification card - remained
in the custody of the FBI for a period of time after the shooting, even
though Bush was connected to the National Military Command Center at all
times. There was no abrogation of the National Command Authority, and yet
the American people were treated to scenes that seemed to show an executive
branch out of control.
Possibilities like these keep planners up at night. Hagin and others believe
that an alive, alert, in-touch elected president of the United States will
have an enormous calming effect on the American people during a major
But in an age where some people seem to doubt
the legitimacy of presidents even before they take office (Bush lost the
popular vote in 2000, and a quarter of Americans still think that Obama was
not born in the United States), it’s hardly clear that the public would
accept Vice President Joe Biden or Speaker John Boehner as chief executive.
Norman Ornstein of the
Institute and other scholars believe that a government run by someone who is
unelected or someone without a Congress to provide a check wouldn’t be seen
as legitimate even if the levers of government worked.
WHOLE OF GOVERNMENT
In the end, continuity of government relies as much on the other two
branches of government as on the executive.
But the different habits and prerogatives of
each are difficult to bridge. Virtually every former and current official
contacted by National Journal is confident that the executive branch is well
prepared to handle almost anything. But they said that Congress and the
judicial branch might not be.
Hagin says he did what he could. He furnished the House speaker with a plane
containing secure communications, and he offered to help pay for judiciary’s
separate and unrelated “marshal’s office” - which protects Supreme Court
justices when they are outside the District as well as federal judges across
the country - to modernize its COG plans.
for justices and the Court itself is handled by this marshal’s office, which
did not return a phone call seeking comment.)
Ornstein has long complained about the American political system’s inability
to conceive of the questions that would arise if many members of Congress
were killed - or if Congress were unable to function at all.
Then there’s the problem of constitutional succession. The president pro
tempore of the Senate, who is customarily the longest-serving - and oldest -
member of the majority party, is fourth in line to the presidency. The
majority leader of the Senate, who is much more familiar with the policy
decisions that would need to be made in an emergency, is nowhere in the line
Had a decapitation strike taken out Bush, Cheney, and the speaker of the
House in 2001, the octogenarian Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., would have become
president, and his staff could have taken over the government.
Currently, 86-year-old Sen. Daniel Inouye,
D-Hawaii, fills that post. Senior officials in the Bush and Obama
administrations say they have privately expressed concern to Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid about the role of the president pro tempore. Reid has not
been responsive, these officials say. The majority leader’s office declined
to comment, but a simple Senate rules change could fix this quirk.
The Constitution itself is another problem. When a senator dies, the
appropriate state government usually acts quickly to appoint a successor,
but House seats remain vacant until a special election is held. After a
crisis, the Senate could reconstitute itself much more quickly than the
House could. If a catastrophe happened to wipe out most of Congress
tomorrow, Democrats would quickly be running Capitol Hill again.
The Republicans’ control of the House - if the
lower chamber were able to function at all - would be wiped away. According
to several congressional officials, members and their staffs pay little
attention to the subject of continuity.
But Terrance Gainer, the Senate sergeant-at-arms
and the former head of the U.S. Capitol Police, insists that the legislative
branch’s continuity-of-government planning is robust and dynamic.
“The notion that we aren’t prepared speaks
highly of the classified system that we have in place,” he said. The
plans are “well formed and well rehearsed,” Gainer said.
“Whether something happens to one building
on Capitol Hill, whether Washington, D.C., as a whole isn’t available to
us, whether it is something more catastrophic… I feel very confident
that we can reconstitute the legislative process.”
Gainer is briefed on COG planning at least once
every two weeks, he says, as is Phillip D. Morse, his counterpart at the
Capitol Police, which is responsible for the Capitol complex and the
security of the House of Representatives.
Their teams have rehearsed such nuances as how
to physically deliver legislation if the president is somewhere else.
“Our main goal is to make sure that Congress
can do substantive, meaningful legislation,” Gainer said.
Others briefed on Congress’s plans are
One official privy to recent congressional COG
plans said that members have never been subject to a call-tree exercise,
which is the staple of continuity planning.
“No one has ever sat down from a secure site
and tried to call every member of Congress in their districts to see the
response rate,” the official said. “I know it takes time to do this, and
I know that it’s not in the nature of Congress to be closed and
secretive about these things, but we have to do them.”
Speaker Boehner has asked his chief of staff,
Barry Jackson, who became familiar with COG plans as an official in the Bush
White House, to assess congressional readiness, a senior Republican aide
In Ornstein’s assessment, the legislature’s
continuity-of-government planning is,
“a classic case of avoiding short-term
discomfort to insure against small chance of devastating long-term
“The farther we get away from September 11,” Hagin said, “the more
memories start to fade. No president, current or future, should want to
be in a position to struggle to communicate effectively because the
technology was not there in a critical national emergency. We learned
that the hard way, and we suffered through a time with an inadequate
On the night of 9/11, members of Congress
memorably gathered on the Capitol steps to sing “God Bless America.”
It was a sign to all that the Republic was
strong. But what if there is no Congress to gather and give that sign? The
legislative branch lags behind the executive branch in considering that
The legitimacy of what the government
does in a crisis is at stake.
Doomsday Lingo - A Guide
by Marc Ambinder
April 8, 2011
The secret world of Continuity of Government
planning has its own vocabulary and history. Acronyms are often meant to
obscure, rather than elucidate.
Here’s a brief primer:
NSPD 51/HSPD-20 - The National Security
and Homeland Security Presidential Directives that replace the
Clinton-era directive on the national continuity policy. The
directive pulls critical COG functions into the WHMO and contains
COG - Continuity of
Government - six or more discrete classified programs designed to
safeguard the National Command Authority - the president and/or his
successors - during an attack and allow senior government officials
to communicate with each other to ensure that essential government
functions can be performed. The plans are so highly classified that
they are only revealed to Congressional leaders and a few chairs and
ranking members of relevant committees.
ECG - an effort,
originated by the
George H.W. Bush administration, to
link up the continuity plans of all three branches of government and
ensure that all can function properly. The goal of ECG is to
preserve constitutional democracy. Very little is known about ECG
plans, or whether ECG is merely a concept that informs certain COG
COP - Continuity of
the Presidency - a subcomponent of COG, COP plans, when executed,
trigger a surge of communication and security resources to protect
the sitting president's ability to function as the Commander in
The Mountain - the colloquial term for
Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center
in Bluemont, Virginia. Mount Weather is widely known (but still not
officially acknowledged) to be a major relocation facility for
members of Congress, the Cabinet and the President.
FEMA operates an overt emergency
operations center on the premises. There's also a gift shop.
The Rock - the colloquial term term for
the enormous complex of bunkers and
communication towers at Raven Rock, near Waynesboro, PA., It's
the home to the Alternate Military Command Center and a presidential
bunker, among other tenants.
PRFs - Presidential
Relocation Facilities, a.k.a, secret underground bunkers. There are
a dozen in operation today.
Presidential Emergency Action Directives - executive orders that
grant or more precisely define presidential powers when a state of
emergency is declared pursuant to the National Emergencies Act of
1950. Most are classified.
COOP continuity of
operations - Since 2005, federal agencies performing "primary
mission essential functions (PMEFs)," have submitted extensive
internal contingency plans to FEMA and the White House. Twice a
year, agencies like the FBI run COOP drills, where headquarters
functions are relocated to an alternative site and procedures are
Defense Mobilization Systems Planning
Activity - established in 1982 to provide a "legit" cover for the
National Programs Office, which ran more than a dozen Reagan era COG
plans, most of which were kept from Congress, and some of which were
probably illegal. In 1994, the Clinton administration shut this
apparatus down and transferred core COG functions to FEMA and the
Defense Information Systems Agency.
Sensitive Support Operations - the
official DoD term for special circumstances when units that don't
exist perform emergency or continuity functions that you're not
supposed to know about, like Joint Special Operations Command
support to the Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Classified guidelines
describe how said authorities do not violate the
Posse Comitatus Act, which
prohibits the military from directly supporting law enforcement
CONPLAN - Concept
of Operation Plan - basically, a plan.
OPLAN - what CONPLANS are called when
people are actually doing them
EXORDs - execute orders, temporary and
standing, that provide specific authorities under specific
CONPLAN 2202-05 - the classified plan
that is operationalized when an enemy force invades or indigenously
appears on American soil.
CONPLAN 3500 series - Classified plans
relating to CBRNE mitigation inside the United States.
CONPLAN 3501-09 - a 500 page
unclassified operational plan that explains the various ways that
the Defense Department can support civilian agencies and provides
for the chain of command and legal authorities to do so.
CONPLAN 3502-07 - A classified plan,
informally known as GARDEN PLOT, that describes the way the military
will support civilian law enforcement agencies and the National
Guard during "civil disturbances," or riots.
GARDEN PLOT was activated in 1992
to quell the violence after the Rodney King verdict. The President
can trigger this plan when the National Guard is no longer
sufficient to contain a civil disturbance or after the executive
agent has given the rioters an ultimatum to disperse..
3600 series - Classified NORTHCOM plans that delegate the Joint
Force Headquarters National Capital Region's roles and
responsibilities before, during and after a major emergency in the
NCR, including counter-terrorism, COG, hardening of the White House
complex and WMD consequence management.
CONPLAN 0300 series - Classified Joint
Chiefs of Staff plans involving counter-terrorism and support to
domestic law enforcement agencies. The unclassified nickname for
this series is
POWER GEYSER; the sub-plans have an
extra word added to them, like POWER GEYSER CUP or POWER GEYSER
CONPLAN 0400 series - Classified JCS
plans dealing with domestic counter-proliferation and
nuclear/radiological consequence management. The unclassified
nickname for these plans is GRANITE SHADOW.
Cover groups - In researching this
story, National Journal identified three Defense Department field
activities whose anodyne names obscure their purpose as accounting
mechanisms for COG funding and operations. The National Security
Staff and the Department of Defense requested that NJ not disclose
the names, locations or functions of these entities.