"In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." - Thomas Jefferson
As I detailed in part one of this article, the next president will inherit more than a financial catastrophe when he assumes office. He will also inherit a shadow government - an authoritarian regime that is fully staffed by unelected officials, fully operational, and ready to take over the running of the country at a moment's notice.
This is all part of the government's Continuity of Government (COG) plan, which was laid out in two May 2007 directives issued by President Bush. These directives, which do not need congressional approval, provide that the president (or his appointees) will take control of the government in the event of a "national emergency" - loosely defined to mean "any incident" that disrupts governmental functions or "severely affects the U.S. population." This could mean anything from a terrorist attack to a hurricane. Particularly significant is the absence of a plan to repopulate or reconvene Congress or the Supreme Court, which would give unchecked executive, legislative and judicial power to the executive branch.
For all intents and purposes, with the Constitution effectively suspended and unelected officials in charge, this will place the nation under a military dictatorship. However, a recent article by Christopher Ketcham in Radar magazine suggests that the government's plans don't end with martial law. Indeed, Ketcham believes that the government also has plans to imprison hundreds of thousands of "potentially suspect" Americans in detention camps.
In "The Last Roundup," Ketcham describes a program created by the Department of Homeland Security that relies on a database "of Americans who might be considered potential threats in the event of a national emergency. Sources familiar with the program say that the government's data gathering has been overzealous and probably conducted in violation of federal law and the protection from unreasonable search and seizure granted by the Fourth Amendment."
Referred to by the code name Main Core, this database reportedly contains the names of Americans who, "often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived 'enemies of the state' almost instantaneously." Thus, under Ketcham's scenario, if a terrorist attack occurs, the president will declare a national emergency, activating COG procedures and throwing the country into martial law with the shadow government at the helm. The administration will then round up the "dangerous" Americans listed in Main Core and place them in the internment camps.
While this may sound far-fetched, it is far from improbable. Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security awarded a former Halliburton subsidiary $385 million in 2006 to build a massive system of internment camps on U.S. soil capable of detaining hundreds of thousands of people. According to the government contract, these Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities are being built to prepare for "an emergency influx of immigrants, or to support the rapid development of new programs" in the event of other emergencies such as "natural disasters." In other words, with such fluid language, these detention camps could be used for anyone - including political dissidents.
These camps are not a new development. A government plan was initiated during the Reagan administration that included the creation of top-secret American internment camps in the event of civil unrest. In August 1994, former Representative Henry Gonzalez (D-Texas) acknowledged the existence of civilian detention camps: "The truth is yes - you do have these standby provisions and the plans are here ... whereby you could, in the name of stopping terrorism, evoke the military and arrest Americans and put them in detention camps."
When Representative Jim McDermott (D-Washington) read a story widely circulated in the U.S. press in 2003 titled "Foundations Are in Place for Martial Law in the United States," he became so alarmed at the prospect of detention camps for Americans that he railed against it from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives: "The reason I raise this issue is that I come from a state where in 1941 under executive order by the President, 9661, we rounded up all the Japanese Americans in this country and put them in internment camps. We have set in place the mechanism to do that again and we must not, we cannot sacrifice the Constitution in this rush to war that we are doing in Iraq."
McDermott's fears take on greater urgency with the recent news that military personnel have, for the first time ever, been deployed on American soil. What this means is that the military will now be involved in domestic-police activities. As the Army Times notes, military personnel will be involved in "crowd and traffic control" and will use "nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them." Such nonlethal weapons will include beanbag bullets, shields, batons and Tasers, among other items in modern police arsenals. This is in direct contravention to federal law, specifically the Posse Comitatus Act, the 230-year-old law that bars the use of military personnel for law-enforcement purposes within the U.S.
This brings us back to the dangers posed by this so-called shadow government, which already has the technology (the Main Core database), the structure (internment camps), and the muscle (domestic military force) in place for its authoritarian coup. All that is now required is a trigger.
Given this bleak scenario, one would be justified in wondering whether anything can really be done about these ominous developments. At the very least, COG plans should ensure that constitutional government lives through a crisis. To accomplish this, the planning cannot be left to the executive branch. The executive branch cannot be trusted to restrain its own powers and restore a constitutional government following a national emergency.
COG exists in a nebulous legal realm that Congress can fill if it so desires. Unfortunately, as has so often been the case over the past eight years, Congress has abdicated its constitutional responsibility. However, Congress needs to do its job - which includes safeguarding our constitutional republic. To this end, Congress should create its own COG plans.
As Christopher Ketcham observed, "When COG plans are shrouded in extreme secrecy, effectively unregulated by Congress or the courts, and married to an overreaching surveillance state, even sober observers must weigh whether the protections put in place by the federal government are becoming more dangerous to America than any outside threat."
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book The Change Manifesto is now available in bookstores and online. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Information about The Rutherford Institute is available at Rutherford.org.