March 31, 2008 -- by Peter Dale Scott
In August 2007, Congressman Peter DeFazio, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the House that he and the rest of his Committee had been barred from reviewing parts of National Security Presidential Directive 51, the White House supersecret plans to implement so-called "Continuity of Government" in the event of a mass terror attack or natural disaster. (1)
Norm Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, commented, "I cannot think of one good reason" for denial. Ornstein added, "I find it inexplicable and probably reflective of the usual, knee-jerk overextension of executive power that we see from this White House." (2)
The story, ignored by the mainstream press, involved more than the usual tussle between the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. Government. What was at stake was a contest between Congress's constitutional powers of oversight, and a set of policy plans that could be used to suspend or modify the constitution.
There is nothing wrong with disaster planning per se. Like all governments, the U.S. government must develop plans for the worst contingencies. But Congress has a right to be concerned about Continuity of Government (COG) plans refined by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld over the past quarter century, which journalists have described as involving suspension of the constitution. (3)
In the 1980s, a secret group of planners inside and outside the government were assigned, by an Executive Order, to develop a response to a nuclear attack in which the U.S. government had been decapitated, forcing an alternative to the constitutional rules of succession. Two of these planners were Dick Cheney, then a Congressman, and Donald Rumsfeld, then a private citizen and CEO of the G.D. Searle drug company.
"One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack.It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them," said one of the COG planners in the 1980s, who spoke to James Mann (The Rise of the Vulcans, 141-42). James Bamford reported the same remark in his book Pretext for War (p. 74).
After the end of the Cold War, the urgency of coming up with plans faded. The COG nuclear planning project "has less than six months to live," reported Tim Weiner of the New York Times. (April 17, 1994). Mann and Bamford concluded, wrongly, that all the COG planning of the Reagan era had been abandoned.
In fact, Reagan's Executive Order 12656, issued in 1988, remained in effect. The order states that Continuity of Government procedures are called for in the event of "any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological emergency, or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States." (4)
Under Clinton, some parts of the planning, presumably military, were continued by a group including Rumsfeld and others whose roster (according to Andrew Cockburn) was "filled almost exclusively with Republican hawks." Cockburn quotes one participant, a former Pentagon official, who said "They'd meet, do the exercise, but also sit around and castigate the Clinton administration in the most extreme way." (5)
According to the 9/11 Commission Report (p. 326; cf. p. 38), "Contingency plans for the continuity of government" were implemented on September 11, 2001. (6) But what measures were invoked remains unclear.
Some clues may be supplied by COG's past history. COG planning in the 1980s was handled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its controversial director, Louis Giuffrida. According to a Miami Herald article by Alfonso Chardy on July 5, 1987, Giuffrida's plans included "suspension of the Constitution," along with detailed arrangements for the declaration of martial law. (7)
Those suspicious of what COG means today have pointed to a number of post 9/11 steps to facilitate the implementation of martial law, including the creation of a new military command (NORTHCOM) for the continental United States. They note also Homeland Security's strategic plan Endgame, whose stated goal is the creation of detention camps designed to "remove all removable aliens," including "potential terrorists."
Then in 2007 National Security Presidential Directive 51 (NSPD 51), issued by the White House, empowered the President to personally ensure "continuity of government" in the event of any "catastrophic emergency." (8) According to the Washington Post (May 10, 2007), this directive "formalizes a shift of authority," from the Department of Homeland Security to the White House, in establishing " a shadow government" after an emergency. (9) Congress has yet to hold a single hearing on NSPD 51. (10)
NSPD 51 contains "classified Continuity Annexes" which shall "be protected from unauthorized disclosure." Congressman DeFazio twice requested to see these Annexes, the second time in a letter cosigned by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Carney. It was these requests that the White House denied.
Without full disclosure, such suspicions will only fester and distract from the real issue: the role of Congress in constitutional government. In the event of national emergency, Congress must be at the heart of the defense of democratic government and American territory. It is reasonable for the citizenry to ask, "
How do Continuity of Government plans preserve and protect the role of the popularly chosen branch of government?" The answer is, we simply don't know.
DeFazio's inability to get access to the NSPD Annexes is less than reassuring. If members of the Homeland Security Committee cannot enforce their right to read secret plans of the Executive Branch, then the systems of checks and balances established by the U.S. Constitution would seem to be failing.
To put it another way, if the White House is successful in frustrating DeFazio, then Continuity of Government planning has arguably already superseded the Constitution as a higher authority.
Will Congress insist on its right of review COG planning? The answer to this question will depend on discussion in the blogosphere, the degree of pressure exerted by the electorate on their representatives, and the questions asked the men and women who would be president.
Peter Dale Scott is the author of The Road to 9/11.
2. Jeff Kosseff, The Oregonian, July 20, 2007.
3. Scott, The Road to 9/11, 183-87; citing Ross Gelbspan, Break-ins, Death Threats, and the FBI: The Covert War against the Central America Movement (Boston: South End Press, 1991), 184; Alfonso Chardy, Miami Herald, July 5, 1987.
4. The provisions of Executive Order 12656 of November 18, 1988, appear at 53 FR 47491, 3 CFR, 1988 Comp., p. 585, "Executive Order 12656-Assignment of Emergency Preparedness Responsibilities,". The Washington Post (Gellman and Schmidt, "Shadow Government Is at Work in Secret," March 1, 2002) later claimed, incorrectly, that Executive Order 12656 dealt only with "a nuclear attack."
5. Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy (New York: Scribner, 2007), 88)
6. 9/11 Commission Report, 326, cf. 38; Scott, Road to 9/11, 220-29.
7. Alfonso Chardy, "Reagan Aides and the `Secret' Government," Miami Herald, July 5, 1987.
9. Spencer S. Hsu, "Bush Changes Continuity Plan: Administration, Not DHS, Would Run Shadow Government," Washington Post, May 10, 2007,
10. Lewis Seiler and Dan Hamburg, San Francisco Chronicle (February 4, 2008).
eyes only - top secret - iraq - dia - defense intelligence agency - bloodbath false-flag terror, strategy of tension - bologna - madrid - train - bomb demello
Continuity of Government ("COG") measures were implemented on 9/11. For example, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, at page 38:
"At 9:59, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Military Office joined the conference and stated he had just talked to Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The White House requested (1) the implementation of continuity of government measures, (2) fighter escorts for Air Force One, and (3) a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, D.C."Likewise, page 326 of the Report states:
"The secretary of defense directed the nation's armed forces to Defense Condition 3, an increased state of military readiness. For the first time in history, all nonemergency civilian aircraft in the United States were grounded, stranding tens of thousands of passengers across the country. Contingency plans for the continuity of government and the evacuation of leaders had been implemented."See also footnotes cited therein and this webpage.
You might assume that the COG measures ceased soon after 9/11. However, CNN reports that -- 6 months later --
Because Bush has decided to leave the operation in place, agencies including the White House and top civilian Cabinet departments have rotated personnel involved, and are discussing ways to staff such a contingency operation under the assumption it will be in place indefinitely, this official said.Similarly, the Washington Post stated in March 2002 that "the shadow government has evolved into an indefinite precaution." The same article goes on to state:
"... assessment of terrorist risks persuaded the White House to remake the program as a permanent feature of 'the new reality, based on what the threat looks like,' a senior decisionmaker said."Implementation of COG Was Kept Hidden from Congress
As a CBS article makes clear, virtually none of the Congressional leadership knew that the COG had been implemented or was still in existence as of March 2002:
Key congressional leaders say they didn’t know President Bush had established a “shadow government,” moving dozens of senior civilian managers to secret underground locations outside Washington to ensure that the federal government could survive a devastating terrorist attack on the nation's capital, The Washington Post says in its Saturday editions.Similarly, the above-cited CNN article states :
Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) told the Post he had not been informed by the White House about the role, location or even the existence of the shadow government that the administration began to deploy the morning of the Sept. 11 hijackings.
An aide to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said he was also unaware of the administration's move.
Among Congress's GOP leadership, aides to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), second in line to succeed the president if he became incapacitated, and to Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) said they were not sure whether they knew.
Aides to Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) said he had not been told. As Senate president pro tempore, he is in line to become president after the House speaker.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Friday he can't say much about the plan.
"We have not been informed at all about the role of the shadow government or its whereabouts or what particular responsibilities they have and when they would kick in, but we look forward to work with the administration to get additional information on that."
Indeed, a few months ago - in summer 2007 - Congressman Peter DeFazio, on the Homeland Security Committee (and so with proper security access to be briefed on COG issues), inquired about continuity of government plans, and was refused access. Indeed, DeFazio told Congress that the entire Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress has been denied access to the plans by the White House (video; or here is the transcript). DeFazio concluded: "Maybe the people who think there’s a conspiracy out there are right”.
How They Might Have Maintained COG to the Present
But could the White House have maintained COG operations to the present day? One hint may be contained in the above-cited CNN article:
Concerns that al Qaeda could have gained access to a crude nuclear device "were a major factor" in the president's decision, the official said. "The threat of some form of catastrophic event is the trigger," this official said.
This same official went on to say that the U.S. had no confirmation -- "and no solid evidence" -- that al Qaeda had such a nuclear device and also acknowledged that the "consensus" among top U.S. officials was that the prospect was "quite low."
Still, the officials said Bush and other top White House officials including Cheney were adamant that the government take precautions designed to make sure government functions ranging from civil defense to transportation and agricultural production could be managed in the event Washington was the target of a major strike.
It is well-documented that the administration has been crying wolf about looming terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda ever since 9/11. By claiming that Washington is the target of a major strike, the Neocons may have been able to maintain the COG and the "shadow government" continuously ever since 9/11.
While I have no direct evidence that the COG is still in effect, the fact that key players have said that the measures would be permanent, the continuous exaggeration by the administration of major terrorist threats, and the circumstantial evidence that the COG measures are still in effect all argue for their continued existence.
If they are still in effect, it could help explain why things have been so dysfunctional in the United States recently. Indeed, COG measures can thoroughly destroy the Constitutional form of American government.