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What would the government do after a WMD attack? We have no idea.

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Garrett Graff reports in the Washington Post:

If North Korea launches a nuclear-armed ballistic missile, one of the only things we know for sure about what will happen next is that the news will race around the world on classified networks using the designation reserved for the Pentagon’s highest-level alert, an “OPREP-3 PINNACLE NUCFLASH,” which signals a possible imminent nuclear war. After that, though, we know surprisingly little about what might unfold — particularly if a surprise attack managed to cripple Washington. (As Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) pointed out last month, North Koreans wouldn’t necessarily have to fire an intercontinental missile; they could always smuggle a nuke into the country, even if they probably wouldn’t hide it in a bale of marijuana, as he proposed.)

For three generations, government officials have carefully planned, war-gamed and thought through exactly what nuclear war would entail, and how to protect and rebuild the country in the event of an attack on the capital or elsewhere. They’ve considered which critical documents should be saved before others (the Declaration of Independence first, the Constitution second) and precisely who and how many officials from each agency and department should be evacuated — literally creating “A” teams, “B” teams and “C” teams who would be plucked by helicopters from dozens of designated landing zones around Washington, such as the Pentagon and the athletic fields of American University, and whisked to mountain bunkers near the capital.

Over the years, the government has secretly invested billions of dollars in a complicated set of plans that came to be known as “continuity of government” (COG) and “continuity of operations” (COOP) — an entire apparatus, almost completely unknown to the general public, for when the Doomsday Clock hits midnight. In Philadelphia, a specially trained team of park rangers even stood ready during the Cold War to evacuate the Liberty Bell into the mountains of Appalachia if the Soviets attacked. We know many of these details thanks to records declassified in recent years as the Cold War abated.

But new versions of these plans exist, and we know precious little about them. What we do know raises troubling questions about who would command the country in a moment of crisis — questions that, left unanswered, threaten to undermine the carefully laid-out plans. The government has long held that even hinting at the plans could aid the enemy, but in a democratic society, we should have a much better understanding of what our leaders intend to do in our name after an attack by weapons of mass destruction. The legitimacy of our republican system is based on the consent of the governed — and now, before a catastrophe ever happens, is precisely when we should debate what Armageddon’s aftermath might look like.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

Today, the most important category of these plans, known as “Enduring Constitutional Government,” remains entirely classified, hidden even from members of Congress. The White House will describe it only as “a cooperative effort among the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, coordinated by the President, to preserve the capability to execute constitutional responsibilities in a catastrophic emergency.” It’s clear from a close reading of available executive orders, as well as interviews I’ve conducted and vague public hints from officials since the 1990s, that ECG policies don’t necessarily preserve peacetime constitutional precedents, instead focusing on establishing a streamlined process to ensure that the nation’s constitutional traditions could be reestablished over time. In other words, ECG programs are aimed at preserving the spirit of the Constitution, not the letter of it. That might mean vast expansions of executive power, limits on traditional civil liberties such as habeas corpus and even the declaration of some type of martial law, as two former senior officials hinted in interviews after 9/11.

Moreover, the plans probably vest an incredible amount of authority in a small group of people whose identities will be unveiled to the nation only after the worst has happened. We do know at least one of these figures, though: The man who updated these plans after Sept. 11, 2001, George W. Bush’s deputy White House chief of staff, Joe Hagin, today holds the same role in the Trump White House.

Doomsday plans have always assumed that the president will die in the opening moments of an attack, so during the Reagan years, a secret program called the Presidential Successor Support System was designed to whisk former high-level officials, such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, from their private lives and install them as White House chiefs-of-staff-in-waiting. According to my research and interviews, the goal of the program was to ensure that a neophyte presidential successor — say, the agriculture secretary — would have an experienced staff already in place when he or she arrived at the bunker. Do such programs exist today? Might we, after a NUCFLASH alert, find someone like former chiefs of staff Andy Card or Denis McDonough waiting in a bunker for President Betsy DeVos or President Ben Carson?

There are a troubling number of scenarios in which we wouldn’t know who the rightful president would be if Washington was attacked. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 May 2017 at 11:29 am

Posted in Government

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