Civilians would oversee military operation in U.S.

Homeland Security chief addresses terror scenario

August 09, 2005|By Nicole Gaouette | Nicole Gaouette,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday that, if the military were deployed inside the United States in response to a terrorist attack, his department - not the Pentagon - would exercise overall control.

"The Department of Homeland Security has the responsibility under the president's directives to coordinate the entirety of the response to a terrorist act here in the United States," Chertoff said on CNN, responding to news reports that the Pentagon has drawn up plans for military action.

According to yesterday's Washington Post, the Defense Department has classified plans for the role it might play in scenarios that range from crowd control to dealing with a radiological or biological attack.

The report said the Pentagon planning encompassed 15 possible scenarios. In an attempt to prepare for multiple strikes, such as the July 7 bombings in London, some scenarios envisioned coordinating responses to as many as three different attacks occurring simultaneously, the article said.

The article raised concern about possible plans for declaring martial law because the military is forbidden to take part in domestic law enforcement under the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. Some analysts questioned whether the plans signaled a historic shift for the Pentagon.

But Article 2 of the Constitution, which designates the president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and charges him with protecting the nation, theoretically allows him to deploy troops inside the United States. Actions authorized by the Constitution do not fall under the Posse Comitatus Act.

The use of military troops under civilian authority in times of emergency has a long history, such as in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Security specialists outside the government said the plans did not appear to be a substantive break with past practice.

"The responsibility is at the local level, and the state and federal assets that come are in support," said James A. Carafano, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank. "In 9/11 [New York Mayor Rudolph W.] Giuliani was the guy in charge."

Chertoff acknowledged that, while civilian control would be maintained, there would be a vital role for the military in any major attack.

"Obviously the Department of Defense has certain capabilities, including the ability to put a lot of hospitals and a lot of personnel in the field, which would be critical if we had a truly mass event," Chertoff said on CNN's The Situation Room.

He added that the National Response Plan, created to help the federal government and its various agencies deal with domestic emergencies, relies on a team approach that gives different agencies leading roles depending on the type of problem.

Throughout any homeland emergency, Homeland Security would play the role of quarterback, organizing and directing the response, Carafano said.

Pentagon officials have said that in any emergency where the military was deployed, it would work in a support role to back up local and state authorities.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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