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Originally Published: 6/6/2007


By The Issue Wonk



On May 9, 2007, the White House issued National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD) 51. This directive establishes “a comprehensive national policy on the continuity of Federal Government structures and operations” in case of a “catastrophic emergency.” This kind of directive is not new. But the particulars of this directive are, and we, as citizens, should be very concerned.


It states as its purpose:


This directive establishes a comprehensive national policy on the continuity of Federal Government structures and operations and a single National Continuity Coordinator responsible for coordinating the development and implementation of Federal continuity policies.  This policy establishes “National Essential Functions,” prescribes continuity requirements for all executive departments and agencies, and provides guidance for State, local, territorial, and tribal governments, and private sector organizations in order to ensure a comprehensive and integrated national continuity program that will enhance the credibility of our national security posture and enable a more rapid and effective response to and recovery from a national emergency.


This isn’t new. Most of these plans already exist. Since Truman, presidents have been issuing plans for national security measures in the event of a catastrophe. These directives have been known by various names over the years. (Wikipedia gives a list of the names used by the different administrations.) NSPD 51 revokes the Enduring Constitutional Government and Continuity of Government Operations (Presidential Decision Directive 67) issued by President Bill Clinton in 1998. But there are two (2) issues in NSPD 51 that we should be concerned about: It moves responsibility for running the government to the White House and it re-defines “catastrophe.”


Paragraph (6) of the Directive states:


The President shall lead the activities of the Federal Government for ensuring constitutional government. In order to advise and assist the President in that function, the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism (APHS/CT) is hereby designated as the National Continuity Coordinator. The National Continuity Coordinator, in coordination with the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs (APNSA), without exercising directive authority, shall coordinate the development and implementation of continuity policy for executive departments and agencies. The Continuity Policy Coordination Committee (CPCC), chaired by a Senior Director from the Homeland Security Council staff, designated by the National Continuity Coordinator, shall be the main day-to-day forum for such policy coordination. [Emphasis added.]


In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this Directive assigns sole power to run the federal government to the executive branch. The legislative and judicial branches of government become irrelevant. In effect, we have a dictatorship.


When can the president invoke this Directive? In the case of a “catastrophe.” This is the second item we need to be concerned about. Paragraph (2) (b) says:


“Catastrophic Emergency” means any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions; [Emphasis added.]


And paragraph (2) (d) goes on to state:


“Continuity of Operations,” or “COOP,” means an effort within individual departments and agencies to ensure that Primary Mission-Essential Functions continue to be performed during a wide range of emergencies, including localized acts of nature, accidents, and technological or attack-related emergencies. [Emphasis added.]


In other words, it won’t take something as catastrophic as another 9/11 to trigger this Directive. Hurricane Katrina could have triggered it or a California earthquake. I don’t even want to speculate on what “disruption of the economy” or “technological emergencies” may entail. Clearly, this is wide-sweeping and gives the president the power to take over the government under just about any circumstance in which he sees fit.


While the Directive refers to “Ensuring the continued functioning of our form of government under the Constitution, including the functioning of the 3 separate branches of government;” [see paragraph (5)(a)] it also states, at paragraph (2) (e):


“Enduring Constitutional Government,” or “ECG,” means a cooperative effort among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal Government, coordinated by the President, as a matter of comity with respect to the legislative and judicial branches and with proper respect for the constitutional separation of powers among the branches, to preserve the constitutional framework under which the Nation is governed and the capability of all three branches of government to execute constitutional responsibilities and provide for orderly succession, appropriate transition of leadership, and interoperability and support of the National Essential Functions during a catastrophic emergency; [Emphasis added.]


You’ll notice that NSPD 51 doesn’t state that the 3 branches will work closely together. It just says that there will be a “cooperative effort” and this “effort” will be “coordinated by the President.” And, among those “efforts” is “orderly succession” and “transition of leadership.”


To put this in a nutshell, when the president determines a “catastrophe” has occurred, he can declare all powers to run the government and business activities until the emergency is declared over, at which time we will emerge with an “enduring constitutional government.”


A Congressional Research Service (CRS) study1 noted that under the National Emergency Act, the president:


may seize property, organize and control the means of production, seize commodities, assign military forces abroad, institute martial law, seize and control all transportation and communication, regulate the operation of private enterprise, restrict travel, and, in a variety of ways, control the lives of United States citizens.


However, the CRS study notes that this Act also sets up Congress as a balance empowered to “modify, rescind, or render dormant such delegated emergency authority,” if Congress believes the president has acted inappropriately.


NSPD 51 appears to supersede the National Emergency Act by creating the new position of National Continuity Coordinator without any specific act of Congress authorizing the position. According to Jim Corsi:2


NSPD-51/HSPD-20 also makes no reference whatsoever to Congress. The language of the May 9 directive appears to negate any requirement that the president submit to Congress a determination that a national emergency exists, suggesting instead that the powers of the executive order can be implemented without any congressional approval or oversight.


What happens to oversight? Most of the functions of the federal government, situated in the executive branch, are accountable to the legislative branch. They approve their budgets and approve the appointment of much of the leadership. This Directive moves the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the position of assistant to the president. There is no more accountability or oversight.


Maybe this Directive wouldn’t be so frightening if it wasn’t for other actions that have recently been taken. Last year Congress modified the Insurrection Act as part of the 2007 Defense Appropriations Bill to expand the President’s ability to deploy troops as a police force during various conditions when the President determines that the authorities of the state are incapable of maintaining public order, and orders that the President notify Congress of his decision “as soon as practicable after the determination.” The bill also modified Section 334 of the Insurrection Act by giving the President authority to order the dispersal of either “insurgents” or “those obstructing the enforcement of the laws” and also changed the name from “The Insurrection Act” to “Enforcement of the Laws to Restore Public Order.” (See Martial Law.)


Also last year the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contracted with Halliburton subsidiary KBR to support its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities “in the event of an emergency.”


The contract, which is effective immediately, provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to expand existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs, KBR said. The contract may also provide migrant detention support to other government organizations in the event of an immigration emergency as well as the development of a plan to react to a national emergency, such as a natural disaster, the company said.3 [Emphasis added.]


There has been little attention to this Directive by the national media. In fact, there has been little attention paid by anyone. However, a letter from a New York resident to his/her representatives, Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jerrold Hadler, indicates that citizens are concerned.4 It says:


I urge you to take immediate action on this administration’s attempt to set in motion the apparatus for a complete takeover of this nation by the President. (NATIONAL SECURITY PRESIDENTIAL DIRECTIVE/NSPD 51, HOMELAND SECURITY PRESIDENTIAL DIRECTIVE/HSPD-20). With the possible exception of the Cuban Missle Crises (sic), nothing as potentially catastrophic to our nation and our way of life has ever been proposed by anyone in an American administration. The ramifications of this power-grab, which essentially amount to a preemptively arranged government coup, are monumental. Please bring make (sic) this an issue that everyone knows about, particularly as the corporate media are doing NOTHING to report on it!


I think that says it all.




1  Relyea, Harold C. November 13, 2006. National Emergency Powers. Congressional Research Services, The Library of Congress.


2  Corsi, Jim. Bush Makes Power Grabe, World Net Daily, May 30, 2007.


3  Hunt, Katherine. KBR Awarded Homeland Security Contract Worth up to $385M. MarketWatch, January 24, 2006.


4  Representative Jerrold Nadler. Website.



© The Issue Wonk, 2007



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