Tag Archives: continuity of government

Who’s Minding DC?

In the Event of an Attack, Who’s Minding DC?

Washington’s security would be up to a patchwork of military commands and law-enforcement agencies.

Washingtonian Magazine, October 2013

If an unauthorized plane or a cruise missile sneaked into Washington airspace, the last line of defense would fall to soldiers under the 263rd Army Air and Missile Defense Command, headquartered at an armory at 3111 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The large windowless building has a sign that says AMERICA’S SHIELD, but there’s no perimeter fence and only waist-high Jersey barriers stand at three of its four entrances. The fourth is open to traffic, without even a gate arm to regulate entry.

The reason for the lax security may be that Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard isn’t in DC. It’s in Anderson, South Carolina.

Arrangements for Washington’s air defenses are classified, of course, but according to both published plans and documents I’ve obtained, our protection against rogue attacks has long depended on a shadow world of overlapping commands and jurisdictions that overlay the capital region and extend far beyond it. In the 12 years since American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, the top-level organization responsible for super-emergencies has become more complicated as our national-security apparatus has exploded in size. The Program, as this group is known (short for Program Coordination Division, its name before responsibility shifted from FEMA to the White House), is now a broad interagency network comprising military and civilian functions. One fact about the Program, however, has not changed: There’s no single person who understands it, no one really controls it, and no one is really in charge.

No territory has as many watchers as the area called the National Capital Region (NCR)—originally consisting of the District and the surrounding counties but repeatedly enlarged to cover sensitive sites as far away as Pennsylvania. Fighter jets, on alert 24-7, scramble on the orders of a command center at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, on the Potomac River opposite Reagan National Airport. Bolling reports to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, which in turn answers to the main command in Colorado. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and Park Police helicopters stand ready to intercept “low and slow” movers. Faster-moving threats are the concern of that armory in South Carolina, which oversees antimissile batteries around DC, manned by personnel from North Dakota, Ohio, Florida, and Mississippi who take rotating stints in the NCR.

These lines of command merge at the Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region at Fort Mc-Nair, near the Jefferson Memorial, and ultimately report to the Secretary of Defense. On paper, it all seems perfectly prudent and redundant. In an actual attack, though, the various security forces would implement their contingency plans while officials in the Program’s org chart consulted code-red envelopes and attempted to assert control.

In the case of a terrorist act involving, say, weapons of mass destruction, the Program would go into action, directing the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Energy Department, and a host of others, even as the DC government executed its own “homeland security” plan involving hundreds of federal agencies and police departments.

The best analogy for the Program is Wall Street: a collection of institutions whose common interests supposedly allocate resources efficiently. Five years ago, we got to see how Wall Street handled a crisis. How did that work for you?

William Arkin is a national-security expert, a former Army intelligence officer, and the author of more than a dozen books, including his latest, American Coup: How a Terrified Government Is Destroying the Constitution.

This article appears in the October 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.


Whole-of-Society: When Did I Get Drafted?

“Our global reach is being challenged by both symmetric and asymmetric threats in and across space, cyberspace, land, sea, and air.  Combining appropriate whole-of-government and whole-of-society efforts, we will keep our homelands safe by giving priority to technologies and collaborative interagency processes for anti-access/area denial against potential adversaries, including those who attack from the inside.”

This dense bit of gobbledygook was included in the prepared statement of Gen. Charles H. Jacoby, Jr., the commander of U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) in his testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on March 6.

In addition to the promiscuity associated with characterizing so many threats to America, two elements caught my eye: “whole-of-society efforts” and “appropriate.”

The whole-of-government approach to homeland security, counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency, and nation building has become the routine since 9/11 and is a no-brainer.  No one agency can do it all, and if our government actually worked, agencies other than the Department of Defense would have both the resources and the capabilities to get the military out of so many areas where it has no business being.

But in an inter-networked world, with so many assets residing in the private sector, whole-of-government has morphed into whole-of-society.

The military defines “whole-of-society” as “bringing in a wide range of perspectives by integrating U.S. and nongovernmental agencies, academic institutions, international organizations, and private-sector partners to better execute … operations.”  This includes entities outside of the U.S. Government, including academia, think tanks, non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations, private businesses, and international organizations.  When it comes to disaster relief or humanitarian response, there is a definite advantage for all.

NORTHCOM held its first whole-of-society conference in 2008, examining the lessons from hurricane Katrina and the lack of coordination between the private sector and the government. “When something disastrous happens in America – it’s in all of our interests to know each other before-hand so that we can work better together,” the head of the head of the domestic initiative team at NORTHCOM said.

The February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Report then stated, under a section “Strengthening Interagency Partnerships,” that:

“The Department of Defense supports the Department of Homeland Security, and other federal civilian agencies, as part of a whole-of government, whole-of-nation approach to both domestic security and domestic incident response.  It is essential that DoD improve its capabilities for contributing to civilian-led activities and operations, supporting “unity of effort” in homeland security. The Department continues to work closely with its interagency partners, in particular the Department of Homeland Security, to build capacity vertically from the federal level down to the local level, and horizontally across the federal government. DoD also values its engagement with stakeholders in the private sector, with nonprofit organizations, and with other elements of the public.” (QDR, 2010, p. 70)

A National Defense Intelligence College conference “Intelligence Support to Combating Terrorism” in August 2010 further looked at the counter-terrorism effort, and made recommendations regarding a ‘broader approach to intelligence,’ according to the College’s annual report.

“Specifically, their new framework consisted of building a common counterterrorism identity based on multilateral education (courses, seminars, workshops, etc.) to foster cooperation, engagement, and knowledge/understanding. Additionally, the Fellows recommended avoiding the dramatization of the “terrorism” label. They emphasized that the fight against terrorism requires a “whole-of-society” approach which includes citizen responsibility and minimizes media sensationalism.”

Whole of society has thus become not just a matter of response and unity of effort but also “domestic security” and “citizen responsibility.”

We may have thought that Total Information Awareness and spy-on-your-neighbors programs found their way to the trash bin of history, but in fact such programs are extensive, organized, growing and increasingly intrusive, from homeland security’s ‘see something, say something’ campaign to state-run intelligence fusion centers to moves afoot on the part of the federal government to mandate cyber security rules for the private sector and even more, to take over control and protection of utilities such as electrical power.

Here’s the future as it’s unfolding: While the government wrestles with the private sector and the utilities over their enlistment in the permanent ubiquitous war footing, NORTHCOM is also examining ways to build self-sustaining ‘micro-grids’ on military bases and federal reservations so that if electrical power is lost, the government won’t be affected.  Under continuity of government programs the federal government has built their own emergency cellphone services so that when your telephone system and Internet goes down in a disaster, theirs doesn’t.  Where is the line drawn between the haves and the have-nots, between what is ‘critical’ to the war effort and what isn’t?  With whole-of-society, I guess the answer is there is no line.