|Pentagon Has Role in Homeland Crises|
By Quin Hillyer
Wednesday, November 28 2012
Imagine this scenario: Terrorists are emboldened. They have smuggled several shoulder-mounted missiles across the Canadian border, perhaps by boat across the Great Lakes. Small teams convene on nuclear power plants in three different states, fire their missiles and hope for mushroom clouds. No clouds come, but meltdowns do occur at two sites. Meanwhile, a fourth team in yet another location spreads anthrax spores via crop duster. Americans start dying by the thousands, with many more tens of thousands at risk and panic spreading throughout the land.
In such dire circumstances, who ya gonna call? Certainly not Ghostbusters.
And not ordinary National Guardsmen, either, nor FEMA, nor the Coast Guard. None of those groups have the logistical, medical, HAZMAT, communications, equipment and rapid-response capabilities necessary for the life-saving tasks required. Only the military has the capacity to handle such multiple, major disasters. The Bush Administration, originally against serious blowback from the Pentagon bureaucracy, began providing a unique force structure to meet such horrid eventualities. The Obama administration gutted it.
Now Paul McHale is sounding the alarm. McHale – decorated Marine Corps vet; former three-term Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense – wrote a 29-page tract in August for the Heritage Foundation warning that the military’s ability to handle these cataclysmic occurrences now suffers from “an insufficient number of personnel, without the necessary training, possessing very limited operational readiness.”
At a November 18-20 conference in Colorado co-sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the El Pomar Foundation, McHale argued that the U.S. Northern Command, tasked with overseeing military defense of and support of civil authorities for the homeland, “has been denied the resources it needs to respond to a domestic catastrophic event.”
McHale stresses, repeatedly, that such military forces would be lightly armed (if at all), would not be responsible for “the maintenance or restoration of civil order,” would be subject to “intense congressional oversight and intense media scrutiny” and would be fully subject to all restrictions contained in the Posse Comitatus Act forbidding the use of national military forces for domestic law enforcement. They would definitely not replace National Guard troops under the command and control of state governors, but would serve “in coordination with governors,” to “augment” the Guard’s service. In short, civil liberties would be rigorously protected.
“These are highly trained forces that typically execute their missions in personal protective equipment that is even more protective than ‘ordinary’ HAZMAT uniforms,” McHale said in a November 28 interview. “They are specially trained in decontamination of patients and injured personnel, they have rapid-deployment helicopter and other resources and they have communications capabilities designed to interface with first responders in any community.”
To handle such CBRNEs (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive) incidents, the Bush Administration provided for creation of three CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces (CCMRFs), under presidential command and control, as part of the Northern Command. Each CCMRF would feature 5,000 personnel, able either to respond to three separate, simultaneous events or to be “tailored or combined as needed.” By the time G.W. Bush left office, two CCMRFs already were operational.
Following the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) overseen by the Obama team, however, two of the three CCMRF groups were dropped. In doing so, the Obamites ignored warnings from two major, statutorily convened groups of experts. The official QDR Independent Panel, co-chaired by former National Security Advisor Steve Hadley (Bush 43) and former Defense Secretary William Perry (Clinton), complained that the new plan “provides insufficient capacity to defend the homeland.” And the Advisory Panel on Department of Defense Capabilities for Support of Civil Authorities After Certain Incidents, chaired by retired Admiral Steve Abbott, reported that “insufficient forces have been allocated or apportioned to USNORTHCOM, especially for potentially catastrophic CBRNE incidents.” Connecticut’s U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman likewise expressed deep concern.
“These are missions that only the U.S. military can achieve in response to a truly catastrophic threat,” McHale said this week. “Untrained, general-utility forces’ responses will be too slow, and lives will be lost.”
To correct the deficiency, McHale’s Heritage paper recommended five major steps, including elevating homeland defense and civil support to “a first-tier priority within DoD,” strengthening the Northern Command’s force structure and stressing the urgency of “operational capabilities in a crisis environment.”
All such activities, he said in Colorado, should be guided by the wisdom of Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist 8, which strenuously warned against a situation in which “the people are brought to consider the soldiery not only as their protectors but as their superiors.”
That role of protector, however, including within the homeland, is crucial, to handle situations the U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates could involve “hundreds of thousands” of casualties.” In a nation with some 2.9 million active and reserve uniformed personnel, surely another 10,000 can be allocated for domestic, protective missions.
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