COLORADO SPRINGS -- The U.S. military has devised its first-ever war plans for
guarding against and responding to terrorist attacks in the United States, envisioning
15 potential crisis scenarios and anticipating several simultaneous strikes around
the country, according to officers who drafted the plans.
The classified plans, developed here at Northern Command headquarters, outline
a variety of possible roles for quick-reaction forces estimated at as many as
3,000 ground troops per attack, a number that could easily grow depending on
the extent of the damage and the abilities of civilian response teams.
The possible scenarios range from "low end," relatively modest crowd-control
missions to "high-end," full-scale disaster management after catastrophic
attacks such as the release of a deadly biological agent or the explosion of
a radiological device, several officers said.
Some of the worst-case scenarios involve three attacks at the same time, in
keeping with a Pentagon directive earlier this year ordering Northcom, as the
command is called, to plan for multiple simultaneous attacks.
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 enforcement. Indeed, defense officials continue to stress that they intend
for the troops to play largely a supporting role in homeland emergencies, bolstering
police, firefighters and other civilian response groups.
But 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
"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," said Adm. Timothy J. Keating, the head of Northcom, which coordinates
military involvement in homeland security operations.
The plans present the Pentagon with a clearer idea of the kinds and numbers
of troops and the training that may be required to build a more credible homeland
defense force. They come at a time when senior Pentagon officials are engaged
in an internal, year-long review of force levels and weapons systems, attempting
to balance the heightened requirements of homeland defense against the heavy
demands of overseas deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Keating expressed confidence that existing military assets are sufficient to
meet homeland security needs. Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe, Northcom's chief operations
officer, agreed, but he added that "stress points" in some military
capabilities probably would result if troops were called on to deal with multiple
Debate and Analysis
Several people on the staff here and at the Pentagon said in interviews that
the debate and analysis within the U.S. government regarding the extent of the
homeland threat and the resources necessary to guard against it remain far from
The command's plans consist of two main documents. One, designated CONPLAN
2002 and consisting of more than 1,000 pages, is said to be a sort of umbrella
document that draws together previously issued orders for homeland missions
and covers air, sea and land operations. It addresses not only post-attack responses
but also prevention and deterrence actions aimed at intercepting threats before
they reach the United States.
The other, identified as CONPLAN 0500, deals specifically with managing the
consequences of attacks represented by the 15 scenarios.
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
here. (CONPLAN stands for "concept plan" and tends to be an abbreviated
version of an OPLAN, or "operations plan," which specifies forces
and timelines for movement into a combat zone.)
The plans, like much else about Northcom, mark a new venture by a U.S. military
establishment still trying to find its comfort level with the idea of a greater
homeland defense role after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Military officers and civilian Pentagon policymakers say they recognize, on
one hand, that the armed forces have much to offer not only in numbers of troops
but also in experience managing crises and responding to emergencies. On the
other hand, they worry that too much involvement in homeland missions would
diminish the military's ability to deal with threats abroad.
The Pentagon's new homeland defense strategy, issued in June, emphasized in
boldface type that "domestic security is primarily a civilian law enforcement
function." Still, it noted the possibility that ground troops might be
sent into action on U.S. soil to counter security threats and deal with major
"For the Pentagon to acknowledge that it would have to respond to catastrophic
attack and needs a plan was a big step," said James Carafano, who follows
homeland security issues for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington
William M. Arkin, a defense specialist who has reported on Northcom's war planning,
said the evolution of the Pentagon's thinking reflects the recognition of an
obvious gap in civilian resources.
Since Northcom's inception in October 2002, its headquarters staff has grown
to about 640 members, making it larger than the Southern Command, which oversees
operations in Latin America, but smaller than the regional commands for Europe,
the Middle East and the Pacific. A brief tour late last month of Northcom's
operations center at Peterson Air Force Base found officers monitoring not only
aircraft and ship traffic around the United States but also the Discovery space
shuttle mission, the National Scout Jamboree in Virginia, several border surveillance
operations and a few forest firefighting efforts.
Pentagon authorities have rejected the idea of creating large standing units
dedicated to homeland missions. Instead, they favor a "dual-use" approach,
drawing on a common pool of troops trained both for homeland and overseas assignments.
Particular reliance is being placed on the National Guard, which is expanding
a network of 22-member civil support teams to all states and forming about a
dozen 120-member regional response units. Congress last year also gave the Guard
expanded authority under Title 32 of the U.S. Code to perform such homeland
missions as securing power plants and other critical facilities.
But the Northcom commander can quickly call on active-duty forces as well.
On top of previous powers to send fighter jets into the air, Keating earlier
this year gained the authority to dispatch Navy and Coast Guard ships to deal
with suspected threats off U.S. coasts. He also has immediate access to four
active-duty Army battalions based around the country, officers here said.
Nonetheless, 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.
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 widely publicized.
Civil liberties groups have warned that the military's expanded involvement
in homeland defense could bump up against the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which
restricts the use of troops in domestic law enforcement. But Pentagon authorities
have told Congress they see no need to change the law.
According to military lawyers here, the dispatch of ground troops would most
likely be justified on the basis of the president's authority under Article
2 of the Constitution to serve as commander in chief and protect the nation.
The Posse Comitatus Act exempts actions authorized by the Constitution.
"That would be the place we would start from" in making the legal
case, said Col. John Gereski, a senior Northcom lawyer.
But Gereski also said he knew of no court test of this legal argument, and
Keating left the door open to seeking an amendment of the Posse Comitatus Act.
One potentially tricky area, the admiral said, involves National Guard officers
who are put in command of task forces that include active-duty as well as Guard
units -- an approach first used last year at the Group of Eight summit in Georgia.
Guard troops, acting under state control, are exempt from Posse Comitatus prohibitions.
"It could be a challenge for the commander who's a Guardsman, if we end
up in a fairly complex, dynamic scenario," Keating said. He cited a potential
situation in which Guard units might begin rounding up people while regular
forces could not.
The command's sensitivity to legal issues, Gereski said, is reflected in the
unusually large number of lawyers on staff here -- 14 compared with 10 or fewer
at other commands. One lawyer serves full time at the command's Combined 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 criminal activity.
Even so, the center's lawyer is called on periodically to rule on the appropriateness
of some kinds of information-sharing. Asked how frequently such cases arise,
the supervisor recalled two in the previous 10 days, but he declined to provide
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