by Patrick Martin
9 August 2005
According to a report published Monday
by the Washington Post, the Pentagon has developed its first ever
war plans for operations within the continental United States, in
which terrorist attacks would be used as the justification for
imposing martial law on cities, regions or the entire country.
The front-page article cites sources working at the headquarters of
the military’s Northern Command (Northcom), located in Colorado
Springs, Colorado. The plans themselves are classified, but
“officers who drafted the plans” gave details to Post reporter
Bradley Graham, who was recently given a tour of Northcom
headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base. The article thus appears to
be a deliberate leak conducted for the purpose of accustoming the
American population to the prospect of military rule.
According to Graham,
“the new plans provide for what several senior
officers acknowledged is the likelihood that the military will have
to take charge in some situations, especially when dealing with
mass-casualty attacks that could quickly overwhelm civilian
The Post account declares,
“The war plans represent a historic shift
for the Pentagon, which has been reluctant to become involved in
domestic operations and is legally constrained from engaging in law
A total of 15 potential crisis scenarios are outlined, ranging from
“low-end,” which Graham describes as “relatively modest
crowd-control missions,” to “high-end,” after as many as three
simultaneous catastrophic mass-casualty events, such as a nuclear,
biological or chemical weapons attack.
In each case, the military would deploy a quick-reaction force of as
many as 3,000 troops per attack—i.e., 9,000 total in the worst-case
scenario. More troops could be made available as needed.
The Post quotes a statement by Admiral Timothy J. Keating, head of Northcom:
“In my estimation, [in the event of] a biological, a
chemical or nuclear attack in any of the 50 states, the Department
of Defense is best positioned—of the various eight federal agencies
that would be involved—to take the lead.”
The newspaper describes an unresolved debate among the military
planners on how to integrate the new domestic mission with ongoing
US deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and other foreign conflicts. One
major document of over 1,000 pages, designated CONPLAN 2002,
provides a general overview of air, sea and land operations in both
a post-attack situation and for “prevention and deterrence actions
aimed at intercepting threats before they reach the United States.”
A second document, CONPLAN 0500, details the 15 scenarios and the
actions associated with them.
The Post reports: “CONPLAN 2002 has passed a review by the
Pentagon’s Joint Staff and is due to go soon to Defense Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld and top aides for further study and approval, the
officers said. CONPLAN 0500 is still undergoing final drafting” at Northcom headquarters.
While Northcom was established only in October 2002, its
headquarters staff of 640 is already larger than that of the
Southern Command, which overseas US military operations throughout
Latin America and the Caribbean.
About 1,400 National Guard troops have been formed into a dozen
regional response units, while smaller quick-reaction forces have
been set up in each of the 50 states. Northcom also has the power to
mobilize four active-duty Army battalions, as well as Navy and Coast
Guard ships and air defense fighter jets.
The Pentagon is acutely conscious of the potential political
backlash as its role in future security operations becomes known.
“Military exercises code-named Vital Archer, which
involve troops in lead roles, are shrouded in secrecy. By contrast,
other homeland exercises featuring troops in supporting roles are
Military lawyers have studied the legal implications of such
deployments, which risk coming into conflict with a longstanding
congressional prohibition on the use of the military for domestic
policing, known as posse comitatus. Involving the National Guard,
which is exempt from posse comitatus, could be one solution, Admiral
Keating told the Post. “He cited a potential situation in which
Guard units might begin rounding up people while regular forces
could not,” Graham wrote.
“when it comes to ground forces possibly taking a lead
role in homeland operations, senior Northcom officers remain
reluctant to discuss specifics. Keating said such situations, if
they arise, probably would be temporary, with lead responsibility
passing back to civilian authorities.”
A remarkable phrase: “probably would be temporary.” In other words,
the military takeover might not be temporary, and could become
In his article, Graham describes the Northern Command’s
Intelligence and Fusion Center, which joins military analysts with
law enforcement and counterintelligence specialists from such
civilian agencies as the FBI, the CIA and the Secret Service.”
“A senior supervisor at the facility said the
staff there does no intelligence collection, only analysis. He also
said the military operates under long-standing rules intended to
protect civilian liberties. The rules, for instance, block military
access to intelligence information on political dissent or purely
Again, despite the soothing reassurances about respecting civil
liberties, another phrase leaps out: “intelligence information on
political dissent.” What right do US intelligence agencies have to
collect information on political dissent? Political dissent is not
only perfectly legal, but essential to the functioning of a
The reality is that the military brass is intensely interested in
monitoring political dissent because its domestic operations will be
directed not against a relative handful of Islamic fundamentalist
terrorists—who have not carried out a single operation inside the
United States since September 11, 2001—but against the democratic
rights of the American people.
The plans of Northcom have their origins not in the terrible events
of 9/11, but in longstanding concerns in corporate America about the
political stability of the United States. This is a society
increasingly polarized between the fabulously wealthy elite at the
top, and the vast majority of working people who face an
increasingly difficult struggle to survive. The nightmare of the
American ruling class is the emergence of a mass movement from below
that challenges its political and economic domination.
As long ago as 1984—when Osama bin Laden was still working
hand-in-hand with the CIA in the anti-Soviet guerrilla war in
Afghanistan—the Reagan administration was drawing up similar
contingency plans for military rule. A Marine Corps officer detailed
to the National Security Council drafted plans for Operation Rex
’84, a headquarters exercise that simulated rounding up 300,000
Central American immigrants and likely political opponents of a US
invasion of Nicaragua or El Salvador and jailing them at mothballed
military bases. This officer later became well known to the public:
Lt. Colonel Oliver North, the organizer of the illegal network to
arm the “contra” terrorists in Nicaragua and a principal figure in
the Iran-Contra scandal.
As for the claims that these military plans are driven by genuine
concern over the threat of terrorist attacks, these are belied by
the actual conduct of the American ruling elite since 9/11. The
Bush administration has done everything possible to suppress any
investigation into the circumstances of the attacks on the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon—most likely because its own
negligence, possibly deliberate, would be exposed.
While the Pentagon claims that its plans are a response to the
danger of nuclear, biological or chemical attacks, no serious
practical measures have been taken to forestall such attacks or
minimize their impact. The Bush administration and Congress have
refused even to restrict the movement of rail tank cars loaded with
toxic chemicals through the US capital, though even an accidental
leak, let alone a terrorist attack, would cause mass casualties.
In relation to bioterrorism, the Defense Science Board determined in
a 2000 study that the federal government had only 1 of the 57 drugs,
vaccines and diagnostic tools required to deal with such an attack.
According to a report in the Washington Post August 7, in the five
years since the Pentagon report, only one additional resource has
been developed, bringing the total to 2 out of 57. Drug companies
have simply refused to conduct the research required to find
antidotes to anthrax and other potential toxins, and the
administration has done nothing to compel them.
As for the danger of nuclear or “dirty-bomb” attacks, the Bush
administration and the congressional Republican leadership recently
rammed through a measure loosening restrictions on exports of
radioactive substances, at the behest of a Canadian-based
manufacturer of medical supplies which conducted a well-financed
Evidently, the administration and the corporate elite which it
represents do not take seriously their own warnings about the
imminent threat of terrorist attacks using nuclear, chemical or
biological weapons—at least not when it comes to security measures
that would impact corporate profits.
The anti-terrorism scare has a propaganda purpose: to manipulate the
American people and induce the public to accept drastic inroads
against democratic rights. As the Pentagon planning suggests, the
American working class faces the danger of some form of
military-police dictatorship in the United States.