Saturday, May 19, 2007

President Bush thinks of another way to end democracy

From The Progressive

With scarcely a mention in the mainstream media, President Bush has ordered up a plan for responding to a catastrophic attack.

Under that plan, he entrusts himself with leading the entire federal government, not just the Executive Branch. And he gives himself the responsibility “for ensuring constitutional government.”

He laid this all out in a document entitled “National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD 51” and “Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-20.”

The White House released it on May 9.

Other than a discussion on Daily Kos led off by a posting by Leo Fender, and a pro-forma notice in a couple of mainstream newspapers, this document has gone unremarked upon.
Well, swell. Next catastrophic attack we won't have to go through all the run-around of slowly having our liberties taken from us, we can just have the president transform into a dictator instantly.

And of course, the decision that the president should transform into a dictator should be made by President Bush without consultation of Congress or, say, altering the Constitution to actually make that legal and all that (hell, what do I know, maybe it already is - I'm sure John Yoo and Alberto Gonzalez think it is.) And certainly the press shouldn't bother to inform the American people about it. Heck, we've got the American Idol final to worry about.

For more on the directive, and the background of such contingency plans that actually started during the Reagan years, here's the Washington Post's article about the directive.

Tomorrow I'll update this post when I have access to my bookshelf with some more information about the shadow government that was run after 9/11 and how Rumsfield (and I think) Cheney participated in shadow gov't drills during the '80s.


In John Dean's Worse than Watergate, he notes that after 9/11 President Bush became the first president in U.S. history to employ an actual secret government. Hours after the attacks on 9/11 Bush and Cheney (primarily Cheney) activated Continuity of Government plans (more on the history of COG plans in a moment) that had been dormant since the end of the Cold War and had never before been used. Dean writes

With little notice, and no announcement, men and women throughout the federal government in Washington - principally career people, plus a few select political appointees - were told shortly after the 9/11 attacks to pack up for a trip. They were forbidden - under the threat of criminal prosecution - from revealing where or why. They were transported by Military District Washington helicopters and buses to one of the two East Coast underground facilities. (The MDW is a unique command that protects the Capital City and provides a ceremonial military prescense at countles events.) This action was taken as a precautionary move, for the White House had no intelligence indicating the terrorists possessed nuclear capabilities. But no chances were being taken; it was the president's responsibility to be sure the executive branch could continue to function after such an attack. What started as a precaution soon became permanent.
The program ran in secret for 6 months before the Washingon Post uncovered it. Deans then notes that

While it is good to know that the executive branch will remain in operation, what kind of executive branch? Congress had not been advised of the extent of the COG operations, yet the Speaker of the House, Representative Denny Hastert (R -Ill), and then president pro tempore of the Senate, Senator Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), are in line ahead of members of a president's cabinet under the very dated presidential succession law.
Furthermore, Dean points out the Legislative and Judicial branches of goverment have their own COG plans, but that they depend on the executive branch to know when to execute them. If the executive was operating under its COG plans, might not have the other branches needed to launch theirs, "or did Bush and Cheney want only the Executive branch and the presidency to survive?" pondered Dean. Dean's overall concern was that if a catastrophe were to occur all that may remain of the US gov't (under the COG plans being operated by Cheney and Bush) would be a "cabal of right-wing zealots."

Dean speculates as to another reason the program may have operated so long without public acknowledgement (which sounds like something out of Dr. Strangelove)

But, of course, the COG program serves another purpose for Bush and Cheney. Operating in secret bunkers, they can hide "right thinking" people not just from terrorist attacks but from a curious public and an inquisitive press. And come an attack, that they could find no room in their shelters for any who disagree with them would be a moot issue - for decades.
Finally, Dean notes that the failure to openly discuss the execution of plan to run a secret shadow executive gov't is undemocratic, and that concern over questions surrounding current presidential succession laws led to the creation of the Commision on Continuity of Goverment (a joint effort of the AEI and the Brookings Institution.) For more on the commission's activities, you can visit their website.

Now about the history of the COG plans. In James Mann's group biography of the Bush administration's key advisors, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, Mann writes of the COG plans

At least once a year during the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfield vanished. Cheney was still working diligenty on Capitol Hill, and Rumsfield remained a hard-driving busines executive in Chicago. Yet for three or four days at a time, no one in Congress knew where Cheney was, nor could anyone at Rumfield's offices locate him. Even their wives were in the dark; they were handed only a mysteriuos Washington phone number through which they might relay messages in case of emergencies.

After leaving their day jobs, Cheney and Rumsfield usually made their way to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. From there, in the middle of the night, each man, joined by a team of forty to sixty federal officials and a single member of Ronald Reagan's cabinet, separately slipped away to some remote location in the United States, such as a discarded military base or an underground bunker. A convoy of lead-lined trucks carrying sophisticated communications equipment and other gear made its way to the same location.

Rumsfield and Cheney were principal figures in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Under it, the administration furtively carried out detailed planning excercises to establish a new American "president" and his staff, outside and beyond the specifications of the U.S. Constitution, in order to keep the federal goverment running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Over the years a few details abou the existence of this Reagan-era effort have come to light, but not the way it worked or the central roles played by Cheney and Rumsfield.
Mann then notes that the aforementioned activities detailed by Dean were the fruition of this clandestine program and, like Dean, he points out that Cheney failed to acknowledge his previous participation in these COG drills.

He then explains that the program basically established a line of succession of "presidents" consisting of members of Reagan's cabinet who would be available to be flown out to different secret locations. In the case of an attack, 3 seperate teams would be flown to one of these locations ... each team would have a potential "president" and a team leader like Cheney or Rumsfield along with him who would act as a sort of Chief of Staff.

What counted was not experience in foreign policy, but simply that the cabinet member was available to fly out of Washington with the team. It seems fair to conclude that some of these American "presidents" would have served as mere figureheads for their more experienced chiefs of staff, such as Cheney or Rumsfield. Still cabinet members were the ones who would issue orders (or in whose name the orders would be issued.)
Pay attention to the above passage. We'll return to that in a bit.

The problem that this program was extralegal and extraconstitutional - that it established a process for designating a new American president that is nowhere authorized in the U.S. Constitution or federal law - is not merely a criticism manufactured by a law professor or an opponent of the Reagan administration. Rather, this problem was inherent in the Reagan-era program and was indeed part of the very rationale for the exercises.
The point of the excercises was to figure out a way to convince the world and the American public that Mr. X was now US President. The idea that was surfaced was for the "president" to order a US submarine to surface, a sign that he was in charge of military forces. This is a standard by which the US gov't uses to determine whether to deal or not with a foreign leader after some sort of coup has taken place.

Mann continues by noting that "Reagan's secret program set aside ... constitutional and statutory requirements under some circumstances; it established its own process for creating a new American president, ignoring the hierarchy of presidential succession established by law." One official who was questioned admitted that one of the questions considered was whether reconvene Congress or not, and that it was decided that "it would be easier to operate without them" Mann is careful here to state that there is no indication that Cheney or Rumsfield were privy to this level of the program's planning.

When George H.W. Bush became president, "members of the secret Reagan program rejoiced, because the senior Bush had been closely involved with the efforts from the start, wouldn't have to be initiated into the intricacies of the program and probably wouldn't reevaluate it." The program did continue, even after the Cold War ended. At this point the rationale was switched, and the program became contingent on the assumption of a terrorist inspired nuclear attack rather than a Soviet one. The program was abandoned during the Clinton administration which considered the scenario unlikely.

Now is the point you should recall the passage I suggested remembering.

Cheney was the dominant figure on September 11. It was he who urged the president to fly to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, which had secure communications facilities. It was he who ordered that House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other congressional leaders be taken out of town to one of the Eisenhower-era bunkers built for use if America was under attack. In subsequent interviews explaining his actions on September 11, the vice president spoke blandly about the importance of ensuring presidential succession in a crisis. He never mentioned the clandestine exercises he and Donald Rumsfield, accompanied by scores of civil servants, had occasionally sneaked out of Washington in the middle of the night to practice, for several days at a time, how to run America during a nuclear war.
Ok, the passages I quoted from Dean already address the democratic issues this clandestine program raise, the following passage will raise a different one. This is actually the point to recall the passage about the clandestine team leaders being the real force behind the COG "presidents".

While Cheney was by nature uncommunicative, there was also political forces at work to keep him mute. Inside the White House, a number of powerful people - staff members like Karl Rove, Bush'a political advisor, and Karen Hughes, the communications director - spent their days ensuring that the president got full public attention and credit for being in charge of the battle against terrorism. After Cheney apeared on television on the Sunday after September 11 and gave an extraordinarily detailed, coherent account both of the events of that day and of the administration's emerging response, the vice president virtually disappeared from the airwaves for months. There were delicate suggestions that in the early days of the crisis he might have overshadowed the president.

Still, out of public view, Cheney was omnipresent, even when he was off in an undisclosed location and was participating in the administration's meetings only with his image and voice piped in on Secvid, the secure video teleconferencing system. It was Cheney's specter that hovered over the administration's policy deliberations, its internal wrangling, is decision making. Other administration officials could handle the TV interviews, the show business. But over virtually every foreign policy action the Bush administration took, whether on terrorism or Afghanistan, the Middle East or Iraq, there always loomed the ghost of this balding, white-haired slightly pudgy, bespectacled man of deeply conservative views who took government seriously and worked as the consummate inside operator.
So what it sounds like is that after 9/11 we were presented with a Potemkin president, while V.P. Cheney was running things from the shadows. Might be a decent idea to rewatch Frontline: The Dark Side which details how

After 9/11, Vice President Richard Cheney seized the initiative. He pushed to expand executive power, transform America's intelligence agencies and bring the war on terror to Iraq. But first he had to take on George Tenet's CIA for control over intelligence
Update 2:

I'm adding a comment I made in this post at Glenn Greenwald's blog about the fear-mongering and bigotry that is being directed towards American Muslims by the right-wing to sum the implications of this new directive.

I've been saying that the Yoo theory of an unitary executive is like Article 48 of the Weimar Republic's constitution, but with a lower threshold for the abrogation of the rule of law. By Article 48, the parliament had to vote to give Hitler dictator powers, which is what happened after the Reichstag fire.

The new emergency directive, in the context of the Yoo theory, is like the Reichstag fire situation, except Congress wouldn't even get the option to decide in the case of an emergency to make the President the dictator ... he'd just automatically assume that mantle for himself.

I really think we are in dangerous territory here. Another domestic terrorist attack on US soil and I think that would mark the end of American democracy.

Update 3:

Ok, you've just read the above update. Keep that in mind while you read this passage I will quote from the linked post by Greenwald

For a country that has been primed to view Muslims, including American Muslims, as a mortal threat, and which has come to embrace policies of torture and arbitrary, indefinite detention as ordinary and normal -- really to lose any moral or political limits of any kind -- another terrorist attack or even general instability can easily generate all sorts of excesses, as can a new president who campaigns on an ethos of eroding still further our moral and legal limits. Exactly that has happened many times in the history of our country alone. The mix of mindless anti-Muslim hysteria and an open embrace of torture and limitless detention is truly toxic, and yet that has become the central, defining trait of the base of the Republican Party.
It is at this point that I would also point out that KBR (a subsidiary of Halliburton) already has a contingency contract to build mass "detention centers" in the case of a declared emergency. Is there really any doubt that in the case of a domestic terrorist attack that Muslims and Mexicans will start being rounded up and put into such camps ... oops, I mean detention centers.

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