Commandos Get Duty on U.S. Soil as Antiterror Efforts Expand

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Sun Jan 23 05:15:10 PST 2005


The New York Times

January 23, 2005

Commandos Get Duty on U.S. Soil as Antiterror Efforts Expand

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 - Somewhere in the shadows of the White House and the
Capitol this week, a small group of super-secret commandos stood ready with
state-of-the-art weaponry to swing into action to protect the presidency, a
task that has never been fully revealed before.

 As part of the extraordinary army of 13,000 troops, police officers and
federal agents marshaled to secure the inauguration, these elite forces
were poised to act under a 1997 program that was updated and enhanced after
the Sept. 11 attacks, but nonetheless departs from how the military has
historically been used on American soil.

 These commandos, operating under a secret counterterrorism program
code-named Power Geyser, were mentioned publicly for the first time this
week on a Web site for a new book, "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military
Plans, Programs and Operation in the 9/11 World," (Steerforth Press). The
book was written by William M. Arkin, a former intelligence analyst for the

The precise number of these Special Operations forces in Washington this
week is highly classified, but military officials say the number is very
small. The special-missions units belong to the Joint Special Operations
Command, a secretive command based at Fort Bragg, N.C., whose elements
include the Army unit Delta Force.

 In the past, the command has also provided support to domestic law
enforcement agencies during high-risk events like the Olympics and
political party conventions, according to the Web site of, a research organization in Alexandria, Va.

The role of the armed forces in the United States has been a contentious
issue for more than a century. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which
restricts military forces from performing domestic law enforcement duties,
like policing, was enacted after the Civil War in response to the perceived
misuse of federal troops who were policing in the South.

Over the years, the law has been amended to allow the military to lend
equipment to federal, state and local authorities; assist federal agencies
in drug interdiction; protect national parks; and execute quarantine and
certain health laws. About 5,000 federal troops supported civilian agencies
at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City three years ago.

 Since Sept. 11, however, military and law enforcement agencies have worked
much more closely not only to help detect and defeat any possible attack,
including from unconventional weapons, but also to assure the continuity of
the federal government in case of cataclysmic disaster.

 The commandos here this week were the same type of Special Operations
forces who are hunting top insurgents in Iraq and Osama bin Laden in the
mountainous wilds of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But under the top-secret
military plan, they are also conducting counterterrorism missions in
support of civilian agencies in the United States.

 "They bring unique military and technical capabilities that often are
centered around potential W.M.D. events," said a senior military official
who has been briefed on the units' operations.

 A civil liberties advocate who was told about the program by a reporter
said that he had no objections to the program as described to him because
its scope appeared to be limited to supporting the counterterrorism efforts
of civilian authorities.

Mr. Arkin, in the online supplement to his book
(, says the contingency plan, called JCS
Conplan 0300-97, calls for "special-mission units in extra-legal missions
to combat terrorism in the United States" based on top-secret orders that
are managed by the military's Joint Staff and coordinated with the
military's Special Operations Command and Northern Command, which is the
lead military headquarters for domestic defense.

 Mr. Arkin provided The New York Times with briefing slides prepared by the
Northern Command, detailing the plan and outlining the military's
preparations for the inauguration.

 Three senior Defense Department and Bush administration officials
confirmed the existence of the plan and mission, but disputed Mr. Arkin's
characterization of the mission as "extra-legal."

 One of the officials said the units operated in the United States under
"special authority" from either the president or the secretary of defense.

 Civilian and uniformed military lawyers said provisions in several federal
statutes, including the Fiscal Year 2000 Defense Department Authorization
Act, Public Law 106-65, permits the secretary of defense to authorize
military forces to support civilian agencies, including the Federal Bureau
of Investigation, in the event of a national emergency, especially any
involving nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

 In 1998, the Pentagon's top policy official, Walter B. Slocombe,
acknowledged that the military had covert-action teams.

 "We have designated special-mission units that are specifically manned,
equipped and trained to deal with a wide variety of transnational threats,"
Mr. Slocombe told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "These units,
assigned to or under the operational control of the U.S. Special Operations
Command, are focused primarily on those special operations and supporting
functions that combat terrorism and actively counter terrorist use of
W.M.D. These units are on alert every day of the year and have worked
extensively with their interagency counterparts."

 Spokesmen for the Northern Command in Colorado Springs and the Special
Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., the parent organization of the Joint
Special Operations Command, declined to comment on the plan, the units
involved and the mission.

 "At any given time, there are a number of classified programs across the
government that, for national security reasons, it would be inappropriate
to discuss," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman. "It would be
irresponsible for me to comment on any classified program that may or may
not exist."

 But the Northern Command document that mentions Power Geyser is marked
"unclassified." The document states that the purpose of the Department of
Defense's contingency planning for the inauguration is to provide "unity of
D.O.D. effort to contribute to a safe and secure environment for the 2005

 The Northern Command missions include deterring an attack or mitigating
its consequences, and coordinating with the Special Operations Command.

 In a telephone interview from his home in Vermont, Mr. Arkin said the
military's reaction to the disclosure of the counterterrorism plan and its
operating units reflected "the silliness of calling something that's
obvious, classified."

 "I'm not revealing what they're doing or the methods of their contingency
planning," he said. "I don't compromise any sensitive intelligence
operations by revealing sources and methods. I don't reveal ongoing
operations in specific locales."

 Mr. Arkin's book is a glossary of more than 3,000 code names of past and
present operations, programs and weapons systems, with brief descriptions
of each. Most involved secret activities, and details of many of the
programs could not be immediately confirmed.

 The book also describes American military operations and assistance
programs in scores of countries, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The murky
world of "special access programs" and other secret military and
intelligence activities is covered in the book, too. Some code names
describe highly classified research programs, like Thirsty Saber, a program
that in the 1990's tried to develop a sensor to replace human reasoning.
Others describe military installations in foreign countries, like Poker
Bluff I, an electronic-eavesdropping collection station in Honduras in the

 Many involve activities related to the survival of the president and
constitutional government. The book, for instance, describes Site R, one of
the undisclosed locations used by Vice President Dick Cheney since the
Sept. 11 attacks.

 Site R is a granite mountain shelter just north of Sabillasville, Md.,
near the Pennsylvania border. It was built in the early 1950's to withstand
a Soviet nuclear attack.

The book also describes a program called Treetop, the presidential
emergency successor support plan, which provides survivors of a nuclear
strike or other attack with war plans, regulations and procedures to
establish teams of military and civilian advisers to presidential

 A White House spokesman declined to comment on the continuity of
government activities cited in the book.

 People who advocate that the government declassify more of the nation's
official documents said the book would fuel the debate over the balance
between the public's right to know and the need to keep more military and
intelligence matters secret in the campaign against terror.

 "This is part of an ongoing tug of war to define the boundaries of public
information," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American
Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy. "There has been a steady
withdrawal of information from the public domain in the present
administration, and a reluctance to disclose even the most mundane of

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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