Sgt. Jeremy McClellan, foreground,
and other Army troops helped provide security in Washington before and
during the president's inauguration in January.
A new Pentagon strategy for securing the U.S. homeland calls for expanded U.S.
military activity not only in the air and sea -- where the armed forces have historically
guarded approaches to the country -- but also on the ground and in other less
traditional, potentially more problematic areas such as intelligence sharing with
civilian law enforcement.
The strategy is outlined in a 40-page document, approved last month, that marks
the Pentagon's first attempt since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to present
a comprehensive plan for defending the U.S. homeland.
The document argues that a more "active, layered" defense is needed
and says that U.S. forces must be ready to deal not just with a single terrorist
strike but also with "multiple, simultaneous" attacks involving mass
The document does not ask for new legal authority to use military forces on
U.S. soil, but it raises the likelihood that U.S. combat troops will take action
in the event that civilian and National Guard forces are overwhelmed. At the
same time, the document stresses that primary responsibility for domestic security
continues to rest with civilian agencies.
"The role of the military within domestic American society, both by law
and by history, has been carefully constrained, and there is nothing in our
strategy that would move away from that historic principle," said Paul
McHale, the Pentagon's assistant secretary for homeland defense.
Still, some of the provisions appear likely to draw concern from civil liberties
groups that have warned against a growing military involvement in homeland missions
and an erosion of long-established barriers to military surveillance and combat
operations in the United States.
The document acknowledges, for instance, plans to team military intelligence
analysts with civilian law enforcement to identify and track suspected terrorists.
It also recognizes an expanded role for the National Guard in preparing to deal
with the aftermath of terrorist attacks. And it asserts the president's authority
to deploy ground combat forces on U.S. territory "to intercept and defeat
"It's a mixed message," said Timothy H. Edgar, a national security
specialist with the American Civil Liberties Union. "I do see language
in the document acknowledging limits on military involvement, but that seems
at odds with other parts of the document. They seem to be trying to have it
The document, titled "Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support,"
was signed June 24 by acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and is
now a basis for organizing troops, developing weapons and assigning missions.
It was released late last week without the sort of formal news conference or
background briefing that often accompanies major defense policy statements.
McHale, in an interview, said the new strategy represents a major shift from
a reactive mind-set that existed before the 2001 attacks. The emphasis since,
he said, has been on pressing U.S. defenses outward to spot and eliminate threats
before they reach U.S. territory.
"The strategy's implementation hinges on an active, layered defense in
depth that is designed to defeat the most dangerous challenges early, at a safe
distance, before they are allowed to mature," the document says.
The assumption of the need to prepare for multiple, simultaneous terrorist
attacks, McHale explained, marks a change from previous planning scenarios that
had envisioned single strikes. The change is based on what McHale called a "recurring
pattern" of attacks around the world by al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
Under the new strategy, U.S. air and naval forces will continue to improve
efforts to scan and patrol approaches to the United States. Some of the moves
began immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks. But maritime efforts have lagged
airspace measures, and even U.S. air defenses will require further improvementsto
deal with potential attacks by low-flying cruise missiles and pilotless aircraft,
the document notes.
The strategy draws a distinction between the "lead" role that the
Pentagon intends to play in bolstering these long-established air and sea missions
and the "support" role still envisioned for U.S. land operations.
Legal barriers to sending the armed forces into U.S. streets have existed for
more than a century under the Posse Comitatus Act. Enacted in 1878, the law
was prompted by the perceived misuse of federal troops after the Civil War to
supervise elections in the former Confederate states. Over the years, the law
has come to reflect a more general reluctance to involve the military in domestic
law enforcement, although its provisions have been amended from time to time
to allow some exceptions, including a military role in putting down insurrections,
in assisting in drug interdiction work, and in providing equipment, training
Along with civil liberties groups, many senior Pentagon officials have tended
to be wary of seeing troops operate on U.S. soil. Military commanders argue
that their personnel are not specifically trained in domestic security, and
they worry that homeland tasks could lead to serious political problems.
Still, the Pentagon has established new administrative structures in recent
years in recognition of a growing military contribution to homeland defense.
It set up the Northern Command in 2002 to oversee military operations in the
United States. It created a new assistant secretary for homeland defense. And
it designated a one-star general on the Joint Chiefs of Staff to work on the
Additionally, the National Guard has been building small "civil support
teams" to provide emergency assistance in the wake of a chemical, biological,
nuclear or high-explosive attack. By the end of 2007, 55 of the 22-person teams
are due -- at least one for each state and U.S. territory.
The new strategy notes that the Guard "is particularly well suited for
civil support missions" because it is "forward deployed in 3,200 communities,"
exercises routinely with local law enforcement and is accustomed to dealing
with communities in times of crisis. Indeed, Guard leaders have welcomed an
expanded homeland security role.
But they have also argued for allowing the Guard to retain its overseas combat
missions, concerned that a sole focus on civil support would undermine the Guard's
ability to serve as a strategic reserve and to fight in future wars.
The new strategy calls for the development of larger sets of "modular
reaction forces" to be staffed by the Guard for dealing with the aftermath
of mass-casualty attacks. Officials said the composition of these forces is
under discussion as part of this year's Quadrennial Defense Review, a Pentagon-wide
reassessment of missions, weapons and forces.
But the homeland defense strategy also explicitly rejects the idea of dedicating
these additional Guard forces to the civil support mission, saying they will
remain "dual mission in nature."
In the area of intelligence, the strategy speaks of developing "a cadre"
of Pentagon terrorism specialists and of deploying "a number of them"
to "interagency centers" for homeland defense and counterterrorism
-- a reference to new teaming arrangements with the FBI and other domestic law
enforcement agencies. The document notes that this represents a significant
departure from the Cold War when Pentagon analysts worked mostly with the State
Department and the intelligence community to combat the Soviet Union.
"The move toward a domestic intelligence capability by the military is
troubling," said Gene Healy, a senior editor at the Cato Institute, a nonprofit
libertarian policy research group in Washington.
"The last time the military got heavily involved in domestic surveillance,
during the Vietnam War era, military intelligence kept thousands of files on
Americans guilty of nothing more than opposing the war," Healy said. "I
don't think we want to go down that road again."