Catastrophe and Counterinsurgency in New Orleans
by Frank Morales, The Shadow
“For years, cities across the nation have been declaring old-style public housing complexes a social experiment gone awry, emptying the buildings and, with a good riddance press of the plunger, blowing them up.”
—Clifford J. Levy, “Storm Forces a Hard Look at Troubled Public Housing‚” New York Times, Nov. 22, 2005
“Vickie Johnston, a 37-year-old New Orleans hairdresser, sneaked into the city a week after the catastrophe only to learn she had lost everything—her clothes, furniture, and irrreplaceables such as correspondence and photos. She voted for Bush twice but feels betrayed by all government. “They knew New Orleans was a fishbowl. They knew,” she said. “Now it’s a toilet bowl. How can they do this to us? Why did they let the water get so high?”
—Washington Post, Sept. 16, 2005
“Louisiana has been joined at the hip throughout its history with US military interests, and the message I want you to take away from today is that we fully support that role.”
—Louisiana Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, Gulf Coast Military Expo, New Orleans, May 6, 2004
The preventable August 29-30 2005 catastrophic drowning of New Orleans and the deaths of some 1,300 people was, to say the least, a case of negligent homicide. Drowned in a sea of indifference, without food and water, 25,000 people waited five days at the Superdome to be rescued after Katrina hit. At this moment, thousands of families are still living the disorienting nightmare of displaced refugees, many trapped in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailers, spewing formaldehyde poison. Unable to pay the cost of their temporary “shelter,” facing the day-to-day fear of eviction, fear of becoming homeless again. Meanwhile, the poor who’ve fought to remain in New Orleans have been forced to endure the demolition of their homes, and the basic right to their private property flagrantly violated. Even the homes of those living in public housing in the poorer sections, many unscathed by the hurricane, are currently the targets of evictions. In short, the displacement continues, a war against the poor grinds on. And yet, we might ask, to what end?
The story of New Orleans, Katrina and its aftermath is a big story. I shall attempt only to sketch an outline of some of its features, raise a few questions. For example, could it be that the “colossal failure” that has typified federal response to Katrina was, in fact, an efficient rendering of and cover for a new military model to catastrophe, a military operation designed to secure and defend oil installations throughout the area? Or, is the unprecedented militarization of New Orleans, under the banner of counter-terrorism, linked inextricably to a domestic counter-insurgency, with American citizens, particularly those who are non-white and poor, as its target? I contend that it is all of these things.
I contend that the “federal response” to Katrina represents an escalation of the tactics of domestic counter-insurgency.
In fact, the unnecessary deaths followed by an unprecedented forcible displacement and scattering of thousands of New Orleans residents, may be seen as an attempt to seize large swaths of the land known as New Orleans in the interests of US elite elements—particularly those wed to the dominant and hyper-militaristic oil barons. In other words, as in Iraq, the human catastrophe of Katrina has all to do with the security of Big Oil. It’s about Big Oil versus the Big Easy.
New Orleans and the Northern Command
Weeks before Hurricane Katrina slammed into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had a premonition about the hurricane season. According to a Sept. 26, 2005 US News and World Report item, it “turns out that some two weeks before Katrina hit the Gulf, [Rumsfeld] signed a ‘severe weather execution order‚’ that let the Northern Command dispatch officials to hurricane sites on its own, without Washington’s OK. Officials report that the order helped speed military response.”
According to “Hurricane Katrina: DOD Disaster Response,” issued on Sept. 19, 2005 by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), “the details of this order, including the extent of the authority it conveyed, have not been made public.” Interestingly, the “execution order‚” emanates from the Pentagon’s Northern Command, located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. It states (in caps): “THIS IS A CDRUSNORTHCOM EXECUTION ORDER (EXORD) DIRECTING MOVEMENT OF TITLE TEN FORCES WITHIN THE JTF-KATRINA JOA.” CDRUSNORTHCOM stands for Commander, United States Northern Command. Funny thing is, though, it is dated “DTG 140900Z SEP 05″—which would seem to be at odds with the report of the earlier “severe weather” order cited above. In any case, other Pentagon directives regarding domestic operations which impact on DoD response to Katrina are more easily pinned down.
For example, on June 27, 2005, when Katrina was just a gleam in Mother Nature’s eye (or the dark soul of some Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency official in the “weather modification” branch), the Pentagon issued, “for official use only,” Department of Defense Directive (DoDD) 3025.dd-M, a 190-page is entitled “Manual for Defense Support of Civil Authorities” (DSCA). It states that United States military “emergency authority” applies “when the use of Military Forces is necessary to prevent loss of life or wanton destruction of property, or to restore governmental functioning and public order…when sudden and unexpected civil disturbances occur,” particularly those “civil disturbances incident to earthquake, fire, flood, or other such calamity…” And further, “if duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation and circumstances preclude obtaining prior authorization by the President,” the military is, from their point of view, legally grounded to intervene, in order to restore “public order.”
The maintenance of “public order” and the obsession to suppress “civil disturbance” is also central to the Pentagon’s “Domestic Operations Manual,” issued by their Center for Law and Military Operations. Chapter Four, entitled, “Military Assistance for Civil Disturbances,” sets forth the legal parameters for conducting missions whose goal is the suppression of so-called “civil disorder.” Page 75 states that “the GARDEN PLOT plan provides the basis for all preparations, deployment, employment, and redeployment of Department of Defense component forces, including National Guard forces called to active federal service, for use in domestic civil disturbance operations, in support of civil authorities as directed by the President.” The manual, originally issued back in August 2001, was updated in 2005 to incorporate current US military Northern Command and “homeland defense” alignments.
That New Orleans was to become identified as a “civil disorder” operation—via a kind of mass media morphing into Los Angeles 1992—was codified by none other than Sen. John Warner (R-VA), head of the Armed Services Committee. His Sept. 14, 2005 communiqué to Donald Rumsfeld affirmed, in its opening sentence, that “the extraordinary damage caused to the Gulf States by Hurricane Katrina…was followed by incidents of public disorder.” As we shall see, Pentagon “emergency authority” was to be applied to the “disordered” City of New Orleans—a counter-insurgency operation with hints of martial law. More recently, the Bush junta has taken further steps toward martial law in its rewrite of the Insurrection Act to now allow for the stationing of troops anywhere in the US without the consent of local authorities, at the whim of the so-called Commander in Chief.
In a September 2, 2005 front-page article entitled, “Troops Begin Combat Operations in New Orleans,” the Army Times expressed this very sentiment. The piece opens with the announcement that “combat operations are underway on the streets ‘to take this city back’ in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.” According to the article, Brig. General Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force stated that, “this place is going to look like Little Somalia.” Jones went on to say that hundreds of armed troops were prepared to “fight the insurgency in the city” by launching a “massive citywide security mission” from a staging area outside the Louisiana Superdome. “We’re going to go out and take this city back.” Leaving no doubt, he said that “this will be a combat operation to get this city under control,” as there were, presumably, “several large areas of the city “in a full state of anarchy.”
Consequently, no sooner had Lake Pontchartrain emptied itself into the lowlands of New Orleans, with a little help labeled “massive incompetence,” that Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and police helicopters filled the sky—”most,” according to Army Times, “with armed soldiers manning the doors.” Armed? Against the flood of suffering humanity below? No, armed ostensibly, as a consequence of the military’s own disseminated reports of having “been shot at by armed civilians,” while “several military helicopters reported being shot at from the ground,” followed by well-disseminated lurid stories of roaming armed gangs, rapes and murders—all, at this point, shown to have been convenient fictions designed to justify the massive police-military build up.
A front-page New York Times report of Sept. 29, 2005, “Fear Exceeded Crime’s Reality in New Orleans,” said that “most [of the] alarming stories that coursed through the city appear to be little more than figments of frightened imaginations.” It stated that New Orleans police superintendent Edwin Compass admitted that he had, in fact, “no official reports to document any murder,” nor “one official report of rape or sexual assault.” In essence, according to the paper of record, “most [of the] shocking statements turned out to be false.”
Nonetheless, scores of military trucks and “up-armored Humvees” would eventually roll in, along with 50,000 plus Army and Air Force National Guard troops from dozens of states, along with a thousand military troops from the 82nd Airborne Division and 1st and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, not to mention scads of private rent-a-cop, rent-a-soldier outfits, like Blackwater. Alos mobilized were the Naval Reserve Force, the national reserve command for the Navy; the Marine Forces Reserve; the Eighth Coast Guard District, which is the largest Coast Guard district command, covering 26 states; and the 377th Theater Support Command, which is the largest Army Reserve logistical command. In short, by September 7, a week after President Bush declared a state of emergency for Louisiana and NORTHCOM began to deploy the “forward elements” of what was to become Joint Task Force Katrina, the Pentagon had fielded “assets in the affected area [which] included 42,990 National Guard personnel, 17,417 active duty personnel, 20 US ships, 360 helicopters, and 93 fixed wing aircraft.” (CRS report, cited above)
The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, was put in charge of “securing” the New Orleans convention center and moving 25,000 people out of the Superdome, where, unable to escape the floodwaters, they’d been directed (forced) to seek shelter. The only thing these people encountered in the ill-prepared stadium was a suped-up soldiery who viewed them as the enemy. According to Blum, “the most contentious issues were lawlessness in the streets, and particularly a potentially very dangerous volatile situation in the convention center where tens of thousands of people literally occupied that on their own. We had people that were evacuated from hotels, and tourists that were lumped together with some street thugs and some gang members that—it was a potentially very dangerous situation.”
Blum, quoted in a Sept. 3, 2005 DoD news transcript and later in an American Forces Press Service report, stated that in “re-taking” the Superdome, “the Guardsmen encountered absolutely no opposition. Not a shot was fired during the effort, and no Guard soldiers were injured.” Their plan was executed “with great military precision.”
“We waited until we had enough force in place to do an overwhelming force,” Blum blurted, saying he “went in with police powers, 1,000 National Guard military policemen,” and “stormed the convention center, for lack of a better term… Had the Guardsmen gone in with less force, they may have been caught in a fight between the Guard military police and those who didn’t want to be processed or apprehended.”
It should be noted that “apprehending people” is a police function, not a military one. The 1878 Posse Comitatus Act prohibits active-duty forces from conducting law enforcement operations within the US. According to Gen. Blum, that’s not a problem. After all, he said, “National Guard troops reporting for duty in the Gulf region to help maintain security are trained professionals, many who serve as civilian law enforcement officers when not on military duty,” and consequently “bring solid expertise to the mission.” In fact, “military police” are “trained badge-carrying law enforcement officers that discharge their duties when called to active duty.” (AFPS, Sept. 1, 2005)
The very first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense, Paul McHale, agreed with Blum, stating in the same AFPS report, that Posse Comitatus “does not cover National Guard members operating under their state governors control.” After all, notes McHale, this “enables Guard forces, who often come from the communities they are serving, to work side-by-side with law enforcement officials in ways active duty forces simply can’t.”
An eight-page policy statement on the subject of “Defense Support of Civil Authorities” (DSCA), issued on the same day as the aforementioned DoDD 3025.dd-M, notes that “all requests by civil authorities for DSCA shall be evaluated by DoD authorities and approved by the Secretary of Defense.” These “requests by civil authorities,” evaluated as to issues of “legality, lethality, risk, cost, appropriateness, and readiness,” result in the launching of military operations, “in accordance with this Directive (3025.dd-M), the DoD Civil Disturbance Plan (‘GARDEN PLOT’) or any other plans or orders published by the DoD Domestic Crisis Manager.”
In other words, it’s likely that the decades-old “GARDEN PLOT” operation, mil-speak code for the Pentagon’s long-standing “civil disturbance suppression” apparatus initiated in 1968, was in effect “operational,” on the ground in New Orleans. The June 27, 2005, “Defense Support for Civil Authorities‰ directive (cited above) was authored by Paul McHale, the Pentagon’s first Assistant Secretary for Homeland Defense.
Terrorism Paranoia on the Bayou
McHale is a busy man. It happens that the Assistant Secretary was at the Hilton Hotel in New Orleans on May 10-11, 2005, three months prior to Katrina, attending the second annual “Gulf Coast Military Expo.” The stated theme of the military expo was “how do we make homeland defense and homeland security seamless?” McHale participated in a panel, along with Dr. Stephen Flynn of the Council on Foreign Relations, author of America the Vulnerable: How Our Government is Failing to Protect Us from Terrorism, entitled, “What are the maritime gaps and how do we address them?” Presumably, they sat in on the next panel, entitled, “What are the land gaps and how do we address them?”
One wonders what “land” and “maritime gaps” they were referring to. Surely any discussion related to “gaps” in the “defense” and “security” of the people New Orleans might have stumbled upon the fact that according to Scientific American (Oct. 1, 2o01), National Geographic (October 2004), and various Congressional and federal (including Department of Homeland Security) studies, the drowning of the city was a disaster waiting to happen. So, whose “security” and “defense” were they talking about?
A sampling of other “military expo” conference participants included Maj. Gen. Bennett Landreneau, Louisiana National Guard, who addressed the “role of the Reserves and the Guard in homeland security and homeland defense.” Susan Maraghy, Lockheed Martin VP for Homeland Security, and James Bernazzani, Special Agent in Charge, FBI/New Orleans, were also present. So was Col. Terry J. Ebert, Executive Assistant to the Mayor for Homeland Security and Public Safety, New Orleans. Last but not least, Michael D. Brown, the recently demoted former Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response (better known as FEMA), addressed those assembled as to whether or not “the National Response Plan” was “Up to the Task?” Corporate “expo” sponsors included Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Boeing.
A year earlier, at the inaugural New Orleans “military expo,” in May 2004, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco noted that “in Louisiana we play a critical role in the development and execution of a homeland defense strategy,” given that, “in the Greater New Orleans economy alone, there are 42,000 jobs that are directly connected to the American military, with a $4.5 billion annual impact,” while “the civilian federal government component accounts for 22,000 full-time jobs and an additional $3.2 billion annual impact.” According to the governor, “the oil and gas that comes through our ports and refineries accounts for a huge proportion of the nation’s energy needs,” while “the intersection of road, rail, shipping and airfields represents perhaps the most significant of its kind in our nation today.”
In fact, the governor went on to note that “the Gulf Coast provides the best training areas for the future of homeland defense.” At the end of the day, she stated, “South Louisiana is the gateway to a corridor of 50 million Americans who live in states that are served by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. By any measure, the river system and the Gulf of Mexico are vital to all of us and our futures.” Therefore, she said, “we are hopeful that New Orleans will be named one of our nation’s regional homeland security sites when the decision is made.”
Concluding her statement with a bang, Blanco warned that “international terrorists recently raided oil platforms in the Arabian Gulf.” She added: “Off the shores of the Gulf South, less than 100 miles from where we are sitting today, there are literally hundreds of similar platforms that are exposed. These platforms require constant vigilance to directly protect our nation’s fuel supply… On the subject of national defense I make the argument that Louisiana is strategically positioned to be the major player in the future of homeland security. The natural resources, infrastructure and personnel are already in place… We must resolve to defeat terrorism at home and abroad. And that effort should begin at home.”
The governor may have had a point. A December 2004 Congressional Research Service Report, “Port and Maritime Security,” which delineates the “potential for terrorist attack,” states under the heading of “potential targets” that “terrorists could be expected to target a port that handled a large volume of oil and other goods and that had a densely populated area that tankers passed on their way through a harbor to an unloading terminal,” and that “if terrorists sought major economic damage while minimizing loss of life, they might try the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, or LOOP, the only US deepwater oil port that can handle fully loaded supertankers, 18 miles off the Louisiana coast.”
What’s more, the Gulf Coast region also houses the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve, 700 million barrels of oil stored under 500 salt domes. It’s also the location of many refineries and distribution points for tankers, barges, and pipelines. According to a New York Times report, “the question of ensuring a secure energy supply has taken on added significance in the last year, as terrorist groups have taken aim at petroleum installations in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and political turmoil has struck two other large oil exporters, Nigeria and Venezuela. China’s growing appetite for oil has only added to the jitters about the global oil supply.” (Dec. 7, 2004, “Topping Off the Biggest Gas Tank.”)
One attendee at the aforementioned “military expo” might have been especially jittery. Col. Terry Ebbert, USMC (Ret), who during the onslaught of Katrina was the director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security, is also the former security director of the Strategic Petroleum Reserves.
The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port is, according to their website, a limited liability company “whose primary business is offloading foreign crude oil from tankers, storing crude oil, and transporting crude oil via connecting pipelines to refineries throughout the Gulf Coast and Midwest.” Some of those oil pipelines cross into New Orleans proper. Is it paranoid to suggest that “terrorists” might consider taking out some of LOOP’s oil terminals and pipelines? Apparently, those expert in “counter-terrorism” don’t think so.
Katrina and 9-11
Accordingly, on Sept. 20, 2005, less than three weeks following Katrina, President Bush appointed Frances Fragos Townsend, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, to lead his administration’s “investigation” into the federal response to the hurricane. Bush’s choice to head such an investigation into “what went wrong” indicates the “counter-terrorist” lens through which the elite view the “consequence management” that is post-Katrina New Orleans. Could it be that the federal response, far from being a “failure,” fits precisely within the context of a finely drawn and deftly executed counter-terror, counter-insurgent operation, executed behind a “natural” catastrophe, a catastrophe which was bound (if not expected) to happen?
The notion gains weight when one examines the curriculum vitae of Frances Fragos Townsend. According to a Dec. 6, 2004 US News & World Report article entitled “A Skilled Survivor,” “it is Townsend who has led the government’s response to numerous terrorism-related threats and crises, first as a national security advisor for counterterrorism, then as President Bush’s new advisor for homeland security.” One area in which he responded was in the area of domestic spying. This past June 2005, President Bush “embracing nearly all of the recommendations of a blue-ribbon intelligence commission,” announced the creation of “a national security service within the FBI to specialize in intelligence as part of a shake up of the nation‚s disparate spy agencies.” (AP, June 29, 2005) The measure, designed to allow for CIA domestic operations via the FBI, is, as the BBC (June 30, 2005) put it, “a domestic spy service.” The AP report notes that the decision to set up such a homeland spy apparatus was made after a three-month review of the commission’s recommendations, “by the National Security Council’s homeland security advisor, Frances Fragos Townsend.”
Townsend, a native New Yorker from Long Island, began her career as a prosecutor, eventually working out of the US Attorney’s office in Manhattan, where she prosecuted corporate and mob cases for Rudy Giuliani. Later, she spent 13 years at the Justice Department in Washington DC, becoming a close confidant and trusted advisor to Janet Reno during the Clinton years. In 1998, at the behest of Reno and former FBI Director Louis Freeh, she took a job at Justice as head of the powerful Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. The OIPR enforces a controversial statute known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), under which the FBI or other agencies can obtain special wiretaps and other search and surveillance warrants to presumably track spies and terrorists.
As we’ve come to learn post-9-11, the Bureau was not always good at sharing what it knew, especially with those who might wish to prevent a crime. The USNews.com report cited above noted that “both the Government Accountability Office and the 9-11 Commission have blamed the OIPR in part for the government’s intelligence failures before the [9-11] terrorist attacks.”
The US News report notes that “Townsend developed a unique perspective on al-Qaeda because of her close personal friendship with a legendary FBI agent and al-Qaeda expert named John O’Neill, who, having retired from the bureau, lost his life on Sept.11, 2001, just days after starting his job as security chief at the World Trade Center.” In fact, O’Neill was forced out of the Bureau by those who resented his zeal in tracking al-Qaeda operatives. He reportedly told Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, authors of the book Forbidden Truth: US-Taliban Oil Diplomacy and the Failed Hunt for Bin Laden (2002), that “the main obstacles to investigate Islamic terrorism were US oil corporate interests, and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it.” It is unclear whether or not Townsend’s “unique perspective” facilitated the obstruction of O’Neill’s investigation, eventual departure and subsequent silencing on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
What is known however is that on Sept. 11, 2005, a week or so before she was given her new post-Katrina assignment, Townsend was a featured speaker at the Monmouth County 9-11 Memorial Dedication program in New Jersey along with Lewis M. Eisenberg, past chairman (1995-2002) of the Port Authority of NY & NJ. One can rest assured that her remarks were both informed and timely; after all, as former FBI chief Robert Mueller noted, “Fran is a true professional, with extensive experience in addressing terrorism. As such, she brings experienced leadership to the war on terror.” (USNews.com, Dec. 6, 2004)
The question is though, what is the relationship between a “counter-terror expert” investigating these matters and the rehabilitation, nurture and care for a million displaced people? What is a counter-terrorism czar doing in New Orleans anyway? What does an NSC insider bring to the table, which the poor are not even allowed to sit at? Is the lens through which Ms. Townsend views her current assignment vis a vis the Gulf Coast the most constructive one? Or more ominously, is her placement meant to secure a post Katrina geo-political strategy for the region that places counter-terror/counter-insurgent requirements ahead of the needs of the former residents’ requirements for land, housing, employment and funds for the reconstruction of their communities? Given the racist “spin” being cast regarding the fitness of the displaced to be guaranteed a right of return‚ is it possible that Katrina facilitated an elite counter-insurgency/displacement operation targeting the people of New Orleans, particularly poor people of color.
Concurrent with focusing her attention on New Orleans, Townsend lead a National Security Council “policy review” dealing with “the road ahead” for “the war on terror.” Citing “a drift in overall terrorism policy,” the Bush administration, according to the Washington Post (May 29, 2005), “launched a high-level internal review of its efforts to battle international terrorism, aimed at moving away from a policy that has stressed efforts to capture and kill al-Qaeda leaders since Sept. 11, 2001, and toward what a senior official called a broader ‘strategy against violent extremism.'” According to the Post, she said “that the review is needed to take into account the ‘ripple effect’ from years of operations targeting al-Qaeda leaders… ‘Naturally, the enemy has adapted,’ she said. ‘As you capture a Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an Abu Faraj al-Libbi raises up. Nature abhors a vacuum.”
In other words, forget about the Osama, let’s criminalize dissenting thought—so-called extremism—instead. To this end, Townsend envisions a “US [that] is expected to look beyond Al Qaeda” to develop a “strategic approach to defeat violent extremism,” in order to “prevent the spread of Islamic jihad.”
Especially we might surmise, at home—in, say, cities like New Orleans, whose people might prove susceptible to “extreme” notions that question the priority of protecting oil infrastructure through a hyper-militarization of the region over the human rights of the citizenry.
Finally, we ought to take note of a Sept. 15, 2004 document, “for official use only,” issued by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), entitled, “How Terrorists Might Exploit a Hurricane.” A speculative “thought experiment” authored by something called the “analytic red cell program” of the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection sector of the DHS, the document analyzes “threats, impact and vulnerabilities” during the “entire hurricane lifecycle.” Noting that “a splinter terrorist cell” of “persons pursuing a political agenda” might “be more likely to exploit a hurricane on site,” it recommends increased security procedures (e.g. identification checks) at evacuation centers and shelters—while advising the “first responder community” to ‘increase identification procedures to prevent imposters from gaining unauthorized access to targets.” Among those who took part in the Red Cell’s “alternative assessment” which was “intended to provoke thought and stimulate discussion,” was the Central Intelligence Agency.
FEMA and Martial Law
The media spin of “massive incompetence” in the face of catastrophe aside, Michael Brown’s FEMA, the disgraced disaster agency recently swallowed up by the Department of Homeland Security, was quite busy orchestrating its role in the counter-insurgent war against the people of New Orleans. This should come as no surprise. FEMA was set up to do just this sort of thing. An unconstitutional construct with secret budgets, FEMA was created by Executive Order 12148 in 1979 and given the authority to organize and lead the government’s response to national emergencies, both natural disasters and “man-made” ones.
In 1982, FEMA issued a joint paper with the Department of Defense entitled “The Civil/Military Alliance in Emergency Management” which specified then-President Reagan’s policies on “emergency mobilization preparedness,” mil-speak for mass round-ups. This was about the time that Oliver North, then assigned to the National Security Council, started serving as NSC liaison to FEMA. According to the Miami Herald, (July 5, 1987, “Reagan Aides and the Secret Government” by Alfonso Chardy) “from 1982 to 1984, North assisted FEMA, the US government’s chief national crisis-management unit, in revising contingency plans for dealing with nuclear war, insurrection or massive military mobilization.”
In this era, FEMA and the DoD staged a number of so-called “readiness exercises” geared to effectuate the “evacuation” and detention of large numbers of people in case of massive civil unrest or national emergencies. According to scholar Diana Reynolds in “The Rise of the National Security State: FEMA and the NSC” (Covert Action Quarterly, 1990), it was during this period that “FEMA and DoD began a continuing tradition of biannual joint exercises to test civilian mobilization, civil security emergency and counter-terrorism plans using such names as ‘Proud Saber/Rex 82’ and ‘Rex-84/Night Train.'” These exercises, according to Reynolds, “anticipated civil disturbances, major demonstrations and strikes that would affect continuity of government and/or resource mobilization. To fight subversive activities, there was authorization for the military to implement government ordered movements of civilian populations at state and regional levels, the arrest of certain unidentified segments of the population, and the imposition of martial law.”
One exercise, code-named “Rex84-Alpha,” included a joint operation that rehearsed a round-up of tens of thousands of Central American refugees in the US, in the event of a US invasion of the region. The “exercise” bears a striking similarity to the current Department of Homeland Security’s Endgame program, a “removal and detention” operation which has resulted in the detaining of many thousands so-called illegal immigrants.
Another chilling scenario, set forth in a June 30, 1982 memo obtained by the Miami Herald (cited above), called for the rounding up and detention of 21 million “American Negroes” and the imposition of “martial law in case of a national uprising by black militants.” The head of FEMA during this period, Louis Giuffrida, fresh out of Army Combat Command, was an old crony of Reagan’s from their days together in California, where they kick-started SWAT (militarized police) and Œcivil disorder suppression‚ training at the California Specialized Training Institute. Giuffrida, obsessed with domestic counter-insurgency methodologies and ideologies, once stated that, “martial rule comes into existence upon a determination (not a declaration) by the senior military commander that the civil government must be replaced because it is no longer functioning anyway,” adding that, “martial rule is limited only by the principle of necessary force.” (Guardian, NY Jan. 16, 1991)
Accordingly, long before the federal government and most aid organizations had arrived on the scene in New Orleans, FEMA had already contracted with Blackwater USA, a Christian fundamentalist-linked, for-hire mercenary outfit active in Iraq, to provide the “necessary force”—more specifically, to “provide 164 armed guards for FEMA reconstruction projects in Louisiana,” according to journalist Jeremy Scahill, writing in The Nation (Oct. 10, 2005). According to Scahill, the “contract was announced just days after Homeland Security Department spokesperson Russ Knock told the Washington Post he knew of no federal plans to hire Blackwater or other private security firms,” stating that they already had enough personnel “to meet the demands of public safety” in New Orleans. Obviously he lied.
So, while FEMA was unwilling to move expeditiously to the tasks of meeting the critical needs of the people, it found time to put 164 armed thugs on the ground “dressed in full battle gear,” who “patrolled the streets in SUVs with tinted windows and the Blackwater logo splashed on the back,” while “others sped around the French Quarter in an unmarked car with no license plates.” At some point, “they congregated on the corner of St. James and Bourbon in front of a bar called 711, where Blackwater was establishing a makeshift headquarters. From the balcony above the bar, several Blackwater guys cleared out what had apparently been someone’s apartment,” throwing “household items from the balcony to the street below.” They also “draped an American flag from the balcony’s railing”—an irony given the fact that Americans fought a revolution in part to put a halt to troops taking over their homes. Incidentally, according to the Nation report, “more than a dozen troops from the 82nd Airborne Division stood in formation on the street watching the action.”
Along with cutting deals with private mercenary outfits like Blackwater, FEMA officials also found time to do a number of other things consonant with their true mission. According to published reports, FEMA turned away experienced fire fighters, turned back Wal-Mart supply trucks, prevented the Coast Guard from delivering diesel fuel, blocked a 500-boat citizen flotilla from delivering aid. According to Bob Herbert, (NY Times, Sept. 15, 2005), “when the out-of-state corporate owners” of a hard-hit Methodist Hospital “responded to the flooding by sending emergency relief supplies, they were confiscated at the airport by FEMA and sent elsewhere.” In another instance, FEMA wouldn’t even let the Red Cross deliver food! Renita Hosler, spokeswoman for the Red Cross, stated to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Sept. 3, 2005) that “the Homeland Security Department has requested and continues to request that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans… We have been at the table every single day asking for access. We cannot get into New Orleans against their orders… We have 51 emergency canteens on the ground in the other affected areas, but where the need is greatest, in downtown New Orleans, there just is no access. That is the problem every relief group is facing.”
In fact, the only FEMA person “pre-positioned” in New Orleans when Katrina hit was one Marty J. Bahamonde. In a highly instructive New York Times piece (Oct. 21, 2005), which made use of a series of Bahamonde’ increasingly desperate e-mails to FEMA/DHS officials in DC, we learn that during the early afternoon of Aug. 29, the “north side of the city” was under “11 feet of water in a heavy residential area.” Well, that’s interesting. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, said that he did not know about the flooding until Aug. 30, explaining in part why he went to a meeting that day in Atlanta to jump-start the avian flu panic. According to the Times report, on Aug. 31, Bahamonde decided to send an e-mail message directly to FEMA Secretary Brown in which he said, “I know you know… The situation is past critical… Hotels are kicking people out, thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water.” An aide to Brown responded hours later that the director would be at a restaurant in Baton Rouge that night and that “it is very important that time is allowed for Mr.Brown to eat dinner.”
Even more startling, “FEMA News,” out of headquarters in Washington DC, dated Aug. 29, the day Katrina hit, put out the following incredible alert: “First Responders Urged Not to Respond to Hurricane Impact Areas Unless Dispatched By State, Local Authorities.” This despite the fact that FEMA’s 426-page National Response Plan states that “Federal support must be provided in a timely manner to save lives, prevent human suffering and mitigate severe damage,” which “may require mobilizing and deploying assets before they are requested via normal NRP protocols.” In other words, as journalist Chris Strohm pointed out in a Sept. 8 report on the Government Executive website, „Homeland Security had [the] power to bypass states in hurricane response.”
And it‚s not like they didn’t have some time to figure this all out. After all, Bush had issued an “emergency declaration” on Katrina dated Aug. 27. So, first responders were told by FEMA not to respond, while on the ground the agency was deploying mercenaries and blocking access to aid at the gates. But why? In order to facilitate, along with the military, the forced removal of hundreds of thousands of people from the region, abetting the dispersal and resettlement of a whole population through force, herded into detention disguised as “shelter,” only later to be ghettoized in 100,000 trailers scattered across numerous states‚ disenfranchised, situated in remote, undesirable areas, far from home. And after 18 months they throw you out.
The Homeless as Targets of Counter-Insurgency
These “FEMA-villes,” controlled by private rent-a-cops, check points and surveillance, are a form of ghetto-warehousing of vulnerable, traumatized men, women and children. Some historical background: Following the 1967 urban uprisings (“riots”) in over a hundred cities, President Lyndon Johnson created, by way of executive order, a federal commission on “civil disorder.” Meant to uncover both the origins of and antidotes to “riots,” the so-called Kerner Commission, named after it’s chair, former Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner, issued its final report in June 1968, in which it recommended a solution to the urban “riot problem.” It advocated dispersing the poor from the cities. Chapters 16 & 17 of the report stated that: “By 1985, the Negro population in central cities is expected to increase by 68% to approximately 20.3 million… This growth will produce majority Negro populations in many of the nation’s largest cities. The future of these cities is grim.” The study found that “the underlying forces” of “disorder” “continue to gain momentum.”
“Unless there are sharp changes in those cities in the factors influencing Negro settlement patterns within major metropolitan areas,” the report warned, “there is little doubt that the trend towards Negro majorities will continue”—a dangerous trend from the government’s point of view, given that this urban “majority” “plays the most significant role in civil disorders.” The solution, as set forth by the 1968 commission, lies in “creating strong incentives for Negro movement out of central city ghettos.” The aim was clear. By 1985, the population of the urban poor had decreased drastically—they’d been forced out by banks and cops, priced out, drugged, bought and burnt out of the cities in massive numbers.
“As all of us saw on television, there is some deep, persistent poverty in this region [that] has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America.” Bush said that a few weeks after Katrina hit. “We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.” (Washington Post, Sept. 16, 2005) Is displacement of the poor one means of boldly “confronting this poverty”?
On Sept. 23, 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and with the looming devastation of Hurricane Rita, President Bush paid a visit to FEMA’s Washington DC offices, in order, presumably, to oversee the managing, monitoring and resettlement of hundreds of thousands of New Orleans refugees—a portion of roughly a million people displaced from 90,000 square miles of the Gulf Coast, who according to Michael Ignatieff (NY Times, Sept. 25, 2005) represent “the largest population of internally displaced people since the Civil War.”
We may infer some of what was discussed from documents issued in the following days. In an Oct. 18, 2005 FEMA communique headlined “Katrina Victims Need to Stay in Touch with FEMA,” Senior Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer Mike Bolch stated that although “we understand that people move around a lot as they adapt to new situations,” the displaced “always need to know current addresses and contact phone numbers.” FEMA was obsessed with its ability to track the displaced—strewn throughout forty states, transported there against their will, with no destination announced.
On his way out FEMA‚s door, Bush made it known that he was heading to the Pentagon’s Northern Command, located in Colorado Springs—the mother of all “domestic war rooms.”
Posse Comitatus and the New Military State
NORTHCOM, the Pentagon’s Northern Command, is responsible for military operations within the United States of America. Set in motion prior to 9-11, the domestic military command oversees all “assistance to law enforcement” and is the executive in any operations dealing with so-called “civil disorder.”
Ostensibly, Bush was stopping in at NORTHCOM, blowing off a pre-planned photo-op in Houston, in order to “better understand the relationship that the federal government’s role is to support state and local governments.” (AP, Sept. 23) “I want to watch that happen,” he said. “It’s an important relationship, and I need to understand how it works better.”
The “relationship” between the military and the police is lawfully governed by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which mandates a clear separation between the two “entities of force.” What Bush wanted to watch, and have the American people acquiesce to, is the process whereby the military becomes the police in America, wherein the complete symbiosis between the military and the police is effectuated—a defining characteristic of military dictatorships.
By coincidence, the day before Bush’s FEMA visit, National Public Radio had aired a Morning Edition “politics & society” piece entitled “Military Ban on Law Enforcement Questioned,” which reminded us that “federal troops assisting local governments with disaster relief,” in New Orleans “are not allowed to engage in law enforcement, according to the 1878 law known as the Posse Comitatus Act.” But “the Bush administration, the Pentagon and members of Congress are considering loosening that longstanding restriction.” Bush stated that “the US military should play a bigger role in major disasters.” The administration, has had Posse Comitatus “under review” for a few years now.
Recent Executive Orders
Finally, just a few months back, on April 23, 2008, President Bush issued Executive Order 13463. The little-noted EO amends two earlier Executive Orders, 13389 and 13390, which, respectively, created the 2005 “Gulf Coast Recovery and Rebuilding Council” and established the position of “Coordinator of Federal Support for the Recovery and Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast Region.” Most prominently, the new EO replaces the “Chairman of the [Rebuilding] Council”—formerly the President’s “Assistant for Economic Policy”—with his “Assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.”
In a Jan. 31, 2006 statement to a bi-partisan select committee investigating the “Preparation and Response to Hurricane Katrina,” Col. Terry Ebbert had some revealing things to say regarding his response to Katrina. After dutifully offering “public thanks to Gen. Russell Honore, Vice Admiral Thad Allen, Admiral Robert Duncan, Captain Tom Atkin, General William Caldwell and his magnificent warriors from the 82nd Airborne Division as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the other federal law enforcement officials,” for their performance in Katrina, he stated that he and his people had “dedicated great time and effort in planning for hurricanes.” Tellingly, he pointed out that “the basis of our efforts has been to develop effective evacuation plans.”
Continuing his statement, Ebbert noted that “this phase was designed to begin once Contaflow [?] was discontinued and a dusk curfew was to be implemented. The plan utilized RTA buses, moving throughout the city, picking up citizens at preestablished checkpoints and transporting them to the Superdome. All citizens were thoroughly searched by National Guard troops upon entering the dome. Security was provided by both the National Guard and the New Orleans Police Department.” But “further evacuation with federal assets would be required.” According to Ebbert, the plan “was a success.” Building on that success, Ebbert promoted “the Urban Area Security Initiative” “as a mechanism to provide federal funding to specific metropolitan areas having a disproportionate share of the nation’s critical infrastructure and, therefore, at greater risk to attack.” The intent of the program, according to the Colonel, “was and is to enhance the capacity to prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks employing weapons of mass destruction.”
Ebbert noted: “The four parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines and St. Bernard have been formed into Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Region One for joint planning, training, and exercising of the Department of Homeland Security defined events. This includes WMD, all acts of terrorism and natural disasters.” This program, according to Ebbert, “also provides a desperately needed and long overdue source of critical funding whereby economically challenged metropolitan areas can substantially increase the level of protection.” Protection from whom? And who is the former director of oil security really interested in defending?
Col. Ebbert concludes by stating that we must “find a way to immediately utilize the only organization with the leadership, command and control capability, equipment and training to accomplish large scale response—the Department of Defense.”
In conclusion, the federal response to Katrina has been a racist military operation in defense of oil infrastructure. As in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, the people and their suffering mean nothing. Simply put, it’s been about Big Oil versus the Big Easy, a war against the people of New Orleans, a domestic counter-insurgency masked behind the facade of “counter-terrorism.” The right of return, with all the reparations due, to all those forced to leave their homes, is not only the most morally precise remedy, but is also the strategic means through which to reclaim the land called New Orleans, in the name of the people of New Orleans, in the name of peace.
This story first appeared in the summer 2008 edition of The Shadow, NYC.
BUSH MOVES TOWARD MARTIAL LAW
2007 Defense Authorization Act Guts Posse Comitatus
by Frank Morales
World War 4 Report, November 2006
From our Daily Report:
NSPD-51: Bush prepares martial law
WW4 Report, May 24, 2007
Ethnic cleansing in New Orleans: it’s official
WW4 Report, Oct. 11, 2005
Iraq mercenaries deployed to New Orleans
WW4 Report, Sept. 11, 2005
Urban “combat” in New Orleans —and ethnic cleansing?
WW4 Report, Sept. 6, 2006
From our Archive:
Homeland Security Act Passes
WW4 Report, Nov. 26, 2002
Pentagon Command Structure Re-Organized
WW4 Report, July 28, 2002
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Sept. 1, 2008
Reprinting permissible with attribution