Tag Archives: NORTHCOM

Ardent Sentry 12: Homeland Defense Not So Ardent to Say Much

This Wednesday, May 2nd, U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) kicks off its annual Ardent Sentry exercise, one of the largest homeland defense events, combining military support for disasters and counter-terrorism.

Ardent Sentries no doubt, those post 9/11 war planners in Colorado Springs, but they are awfully shy ones.  While the United States openly picks a fight with China through significant force structure changes in the Pacific and military exercises galore; while the U.S. tinkers with its Persian Gulf readiness and posture preparing for war with Iran, back home, Ardent Sentry 2012 (AS 12) is portrayed as a hurricane disaster preparedness drill so as to not antagonize the American public.

The first Ardent Sentry exercise was held in 2004, and like previous year’s exercises, this one is complex and multi-faceted, with both unclassified and Top Secret compartmented portions, including the increasingly secret and quiet activities with Mexican authorities.

The central activity of AS 12 is a large-scale command post exercise (CPX) focusing on NORTHCOM battlestaff preparedness and practice of war plans.  But the Joint Staff sanctioned “Tier I” event also includes:

  • Positive Response 12-1, a Joint Chiefs of Staff highly classified regular mobilization and planning exercise.
  • Canada Command exercises Staunch Maple 2012 (SM 12) and Frontier Sentinel (FS 12).  Canada Command is the new post 9/11 Canadian command equivalent to NORTHCOM.
  • Vigilant Guard-Oregon (VG-OR), one of a series of four annual National Guard exercises that this year will be regional and tactically focused, practicing the ‘Dual Status Commander’ program, the unheralded erosion of State control over state militias.
  • Nuclear Weapons Accident/Incident Exercise (NUWAIX) supported by Defense Threat Reduction Agency and focused on Air Force Global Strike Command accident response and emergency military contingencies at Minot AFB, North Dakota.
  • Amalgam Mako, a maritime mining exercise run concurrently with the Canadian Frontier Sentinel in northeast waters off Nova Scotia and extending to Connecticut.
  • Arctic Edge 12 (AE 12), a Joint Task Force Alaska exercise focused on military contingencies in Alaska and the Arctic, a region recently folded into NORTHCOM’s battlefield.
  • A Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio force protection and counter-terrorism exercise, including  scenarios “ranging from simulated terrorist attacks to a natural disaster with mass casualties.”

As part of Ardent Sentry, something called Task Force 51 (Fifth Army, U.S. Army North) will also exercise with Mexican security authorities, ostensibly practicing hurricane preparedness – on the border.  In the Texas-based scenario, a hurricane first makes landfall near Brownsville, blows back out to the Gulf and then hits the upper Texas coast, wreaking major damage to infrastructure.  Incident command posts will operate in Houston and San Antonio and in Alexandria, La, and include the Civil Air Patrol.  With its new Advanced Digital Reconnaissance Systems (ADRS), CAP is now an intelligence collector for homeland defense; everyone into the act!

Meanwhile, ARNORTH liaison officers posted to Mexican IV Military Region and the 8th Military Zone will skulk about with their Mexican counterparts.

Though Ardent Sentry is coinciding with National Level Exercise 2012 (NLE 2012), the Department of Homeland Security sponsored preparedness exercise involving interagency, State, and local agencies, it is decidedly not a part of NLE 12.  AS 12 is also not a sanctioned National Exercise Program (NEP) recognized event, and as such, NORTHCOM decides interagency participation.

In the official press release from NORTHCOM and NORAD announcing Ardent Sentry 2012, the combined commands merely say that the exercise will focus on “Defense Support of Civil Authorities, May 2 – 9, 2012.”

Field training events, it says, will take place in North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Alaska, Connecticut and Nova Scotia and involve United States and Canadian military units.  The Vigilant Guard exercise – not named in the press release – is described as “the Oregon National Guard will work with state and local officials to respond to numerous weather-related and security events.”  The Amalgam Mako/Frontier Sentinel exercise – also unnamed – is described as merely involving “a security related event.”

Nowhere in the press release is there mention of Mexico, even though the NORTHCOM commander told Congress in March that Ardent Sentry 12 would be the first time the U.S. and Mexico participated in the joint exercise.

Terrorist attacks, “red” shipping approaching the east coast, border control, support to State and local police, domestic intelligence collection, destruction of critical infrastructure, activation of the mobile command center: NORTHCOM seems incapable of any kind of transparency.  You could, of course, watch it all on ENN, the Exercise News Network, where the Joint Coalition Warfighting Center will produce simulated commercial press (video, audio, and print) response to the events, honing the ability to communicate with a simulated American public.

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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.