USNORTHCOM General Would Deploy Troops On U.S. Soil During Domestic Emergency
Published on 2007-11-17 00:00:00
"If he were to choose to declare a national emergency, then clearly we at USNORTHCOM would be able to operate in that environment, in response to direct orders from the secretary of defense," Gen. Victor E. "Gene" Renuart told WND at his Peterson Air Force Base headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"But, I'm not sure that would ever be a routine event, and certainly it would be a minority event," he added in an interview conducted during a simulation of a multi-pronged terrorist attack.
As WND reported earlier this year, President Bush appears to have positioned the U.S. military and the National Guard, acting under presidential authority, to intervene in a wide range of domestic incidents that could occur anywhere in North America.
USNORTHCOM was established in 2002 with responsibility for a "homeland defense" area that includes the U.S., Canada, Mexico, parts of the Caribbean and waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans contiguous to the U.S.
WND asked Renuart to comment on the new constitutional ground created by USNORTHCOM's mission to have Department of Defense involvement in domestic emergencies.
"I think first, the Constitution is a pretty good document, and the founders and the writers of that document understood the real challenge to the democracy they envisioned of having too active a role for the federal military in law enforcement," he answered.
"And so, equally visionary was the establishment of the National Guard under the control of the state governors, who can give them, then, the law enforcement authority that those governors may need," Renuart added.
"As we see a situation develop that may require some additional support to law enforcement agencies, the governors have the ability to take advantage of the trained Guardsmen at the state level," Renuart continued. "This really frees us to do those supporting things that probably are the best use of the military in the homeland.
Standing on a cliff
In the NORAD/USNORTHCOM exercise in October – which included simulating simultaneous "dirty bombs" in Guam, Phoenix and Portland, Ore. – civilian authorities appeared to be in command.
"In the scenario we have in Oregon, the governor of Oregon is in charge of the response for his state," Renuart agreed. "The same is the case in Arizona."
"But it's a little bit like a cliff," he continued. "We don't want any state standing on a cliff with nobody to catch them if they fall. Or, we don't want them to try to climb a mountain without somebody to help them along the way."
Renuart added it's also not in the state's interest "to feel that their elected officials have failed."
"So in our case, we work very closely with our friends in DHS and FEMA, and the state emergency operations directors, to ensure that as they begin to respond and begin to see the need for more capacity (and that) they do that in a systematic way that allows for the states' National Guards to support the effort."
Renuart pointed out all of this is done through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, or EMAC, a state-to-state mutual aid agreement designed to provide material and personnel resources to states or territories affected by emergency situations or disasters.
"As the need continues to grow in an emergency situation," Renuart expanded, "then DOD military, if military is the best capability, is available. Our goal at USNORTHCOM is to make sure the Department of Defense military is in a position to respond. That keeps the governor as the principal responsible official in the state." Military response
WND asked Renuart how the current simulation scenario would change if the game play determined that the dirty bombs were detonated by a foreign terrorist organization.
"First, there is the local response to help the victims and to reconstitute," Renuart replied. "Certainly that is, and maybe should always be, the state's responsibility."
The issue of determining the source of the event and how to respond to it is a national issue, the general stated.
"And certainly, if it is a very localized event, for instance, in the case of the Oklahoma City bombing, you had a law enforcement activity that was able to follow that through to arrests," he said.
"If the event were attributable to an attack either by a nation-state or an entity outside of our country, then the president certainly has the ability, as we have done in the past, to use the military to respond to those perpetrators, should that be the most appropriate," Renuart stressed.
"I think we have to be careful that we don't immediately jump from a dirty bomb to (raising the question of) what is the military doing within the bounds of our country," the general said. "I think we have a good apparatus to balance that. And we go through those decision pieces in the course of this exercise."
The NORAD-USNORTHCOM response would vary depending on the nature of the emergency – a terrorist attack, for instance, versus an earthquake or a hurricane.
"We have created a capacity in the response to an event that is very robust," Renuart said. "But, the response to an event is different than the response of a nation to an attack. We need to be very clear that we maintain those differences."
During the course of an event, there could by a number of decision points at which a local emergency could become a matter for the federal government.
In May, a NORAD-USNORTHCOM exercise called Ardent Sentry simulated a 10-kiliton nuclear explosion in Indianapolis.
"In that case, the area affected was more than a single state could deal with, and the plume that resulted from that detonation, at least the modeling, carried it through two states, so you now have a regional effect," Renuart pointed out.
"In that case, you may or may not choose to have a federal lead on the situation," he continued. "Or, you may choose to have some portion of it become a federal response. Or, you may choose to have two states coordinate with each other, but with federal support to each."
He concluded: "So, there's a lot of ways as this thing grows from city, to state, to regional, that present decision points along the way that we just have to be deliberate about."
Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the first catastrophic emergency USNORTHCOM helped manage.
"Certainly, there have been a lot of smaller size events that the command has been involved in, but that's really the first one that went across the borders of two or three states and became a regional event," Renuart said.
USNORTHCOM also assisted the state of Californiain managing the wildfires that recently hit Southern California.
WND noted that in the press conference ending the third summit meeting of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America Aug. 21 in Canada, President Bush affirmed the U.S. government was negotiating a package of military aid to assist Mexico in combating drug trafficking.
WND asked if USNORTHCOM would play a role in the aid package.
"We have a great partner relationship with the military in Mexico," Renuart responded. "Mexico is taking increasing advantage of some of our professional schooling opportunities."
Bush has indicated support for a package of aid to Mexico that could substantially improve the country's capacity to deal with narco-terrorists, identified by President Calderon as a serious strategic threat.
Reuart said the proposal is evolving as it progresses through Congress.
"I believe we would clearly have a principal role in coordinating with the Mexican military on the kinds of things that they would need in a package like we described," the general said.
"More importantly, we have to ask what kinds of training might be beneficial to Mexico," he added. "We would work with them to try to enable that through our existing IMET system and the like."
IMET, or the International Military Education & Training program, is a component of the Department of Defense that provides low-cost security training on a grant basis to friendly nation.
"Mexico is an interesting country in this regard," Reuart said, because it fuses under its military functions the U.S. separates into different agencies, such as Border Patrol, Customs, Drug Enforcement and Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
"From our perspective, there is caution to insure that we don't trip across the border into those law enforcement areas," Renuart emphasized. "But again, I'll go back to this great interagency community that we have right here resident."
The general said he has the assistance of a group of about 16 lawyers, who examine decisions from 16 different angles.
"But, equally, our partner agencies know where they should take the lead and where we should take the lead," he said.
WND asked Renuart about the role of USNORTHCOM under the National Security Presidential Directive 51 and the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20, which the president signed in May.
WND reportedNSPD-51 and HSPD-20 appear to expand the president's emergency powers by allowing him to self-declare a national emergency and take over the management of all levels of government, including state, local, territorial and tribal.
"One important point, that is not so much a position, but a personal view, is that I think that for us, the military in NORTHCOM in particular, we should be careful not to engage in the legal-political questions in this regard," Renuart began.
"The key for us is do we have the authorities we need on any particular day to provide the support that the nation would ask of us," he continued. "Our involvement at USNORTHCOM would be at the specific direction of the secretary of defense, on orders from the president."
Regardless of how the issue settles, he said, "I know we have the authorities or can get the authorities to accomplish our mission."
WND also asked about the possibility that USNORTHCOM could become involved in border security issues, especially on the southern border with Mexico.
"Let me make two points on this," Renuart answered. "First, the avenues through which illicit traffic can travel make no distinction between money, weapons, narcotics, people or terrorists; so we have to assume that any of those avenues across the border could also be used by terrorists to travel through to gain access to the homeland."
All borders, he said – north, south, east, and west – pose challenges with regard to preventing individuals or small groups from crossing.
"So, we continue to work with our partners in Customs and Border Protection, and we partner with the National Guard in the various states," he said. "Both these agencies have an on-going counter-narcotics mission which gives me comfort in combating the narcotics trade."
USNORTHCOM would be involved if the mission were to combat the flow of any other dangerous people, such as terrorists, he explained.
"Working with the Coast Guard, especially in our ports and our naval approaches to the country, it's a huge, huge challenge, one we have to continue to work on," Renuart said.
"But, again, our partners are eager for us to participate, and we are very conscious of the constitutional limitations here, but we've created a pretty transparent relationship; so that if something pops up in our intelligence network that we think is not really our role, then the problem goes to the appropriate partner agency."
Renuart stressed that the partner agency relationships have built considerable confidence in the nation's ability to respond appropriately.
"Conversely, if one of our partner agencies has something that pops up in their assessment process that they think has a homeland defense impact, it comes straight to us," he said. "And so, we are working hard to preserve the confidence of our partner agencies, so they don't feel that we somehow compromise their ability to get the job done, but they feel we are value added, when needed."