Military Expands Homeland Efforts
Wednesday, July 6, 2005
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 casualties.
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 threats."
"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 both ways."
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.