Military command casts broad net with homeland security operations

A recent article by The Colorado Independent reported that the U.S. Northern Command, a military entity created in 2002 for homeland defense missions and based in Colorado Springs, plans to activate and train an estimated 4,700 service members for specialized domestic operations inside the United States.

But figuring out what the military will be doing with those troops is very difficult to determine considering that the command has already conducted a diverse array of operations since its creation, including anti-drug efforts at the Mexican border, natural disaster responses and assisting the federal Secret Service with political convention security.

What’s next for the Northern Command? So far the federal government is keeping details relating to the planned troop activation vague, but claims the service members will only be used for humanitarian purposes.

“I hope there are increasingly small numbers of people who don’t know what the Northern Command does,” Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, commander of U.S. Northern Command, said at the annual National Homeland Defense and Security Symposium held in Colorado Springs a few weeks ago.

Renuart noted that he was glad to think of the Northern Command as an affective and quiet operation working in the background and keeping the country safe.

Civil liberties advocates, on the other hand, are quick to raise questions about what role the domestic troops will have in interfering with state law enforcement operations:

“One of our founding touchstones of democracy is that the military is not to be used against the American people. Over a hundred years ago that sentiment was put into law in the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibited the military from being involved in law enforcement functions,” [Mike German, national security counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative office in Washington., D.C ] said. “Our hope is to find as much information as we can to challenge whether this is appropriate or not and to create some public awareness about what’s going on”

Here are a few examples of what the Northern Command does and how it works:

-Is integrated with 45 other federal agencies at its headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base

– Tracks down “intelligence information that might identify networks of terrorists” according to Gen. Renuart

-Assists law enforcement with anti-narcotics operations in at the Mexican border

-Was directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to provide support and materials to the US Secret Service planning efforts during the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August.

-Shared national security intelligence with 55 government agencies at the Multi-Agency Communication Center (MACC) that was set up during the Democratic National Convention, according to Timothy Koerner, an assistant director with the Secret Service who testified at a congressional Homeland Security hearing in 2007.

-Shared logistical intelligence and maps with the Colorado National Guard during the twin blizzards of 2006

-Assisted in evacuating people and conducted search and rescue efforts during hurricanes Gustav and Ike

-Participated in a field exercise this May in Washington simulating a chemical terrorist attack.

-Will be conducting an exercise this month simulating a massive earthquake disaster in southern California.

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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