Tuesday, June 26, 2007

NORTHCOM's domestic special operations

Back in February last year I asked what Canadian defence minister Gordon O'Connor had actually agreed to with respect to the expansion of NORAD to include a maritime component. The problem was the establishment by the US of NORTHCOM and the folding in of NORAD into that exclusive US command.

While I have no difficulty with bi-national defence treaties, the question of operational control of Canadian assets has not been publicly answered. Perhaps that's less of a problem than some may expect. NORAD has always had the ability to quickly split into "national" entities, as occurred during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, where Nixon put NORAD on alert to signal the Soviet Union that interference in the Arab-Israeli conflict would not be tolerated. Canada, wishing not to take a side, was absolved of a posture in kind with the United States and the US took over NORAD's warning and attack assessment role. For a very brief time, Canada's role in NORAD was subordinated to that of an observer.

After Sept. 11th, 2001, the US reorganized their theater command structure, particularly around homeland defence. NORTHCOM became the homeland defense command encompassing a wider array of resources than NORAD. NORAD continued but the line between the two has become murky. The commanders and staff of NORTHCOM and NORAD are the same people, in the same physical location, except that NORAD includes a Canadian Lt. General as deputy commander. From the US point of view NORAD, although tacitly a separate entity, belongs to NORTHCOM. NORTHCOM however, with no Canadian participation beyond observation and liaison, has an area of responsibility (AOR), air, land and maritime, which according to their own website is:
USNORTHCOM’s AOR includes air, land and sea approaches and encompasses the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, Mexico and the surrounding water out to approximately 500 nautical miles. It also includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida. The defense of Hawaii and our territories and possessions in the Pacific is the responsibility of U.S. Pacific Command. The defense of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is the responsibility of U.S. Southern Command. The commander of USNORTHCOM is responsible for theater security cooperation with Canada and Mexico.
The theater security cooperation occurs by way of both Canada's inclusion in NORAD and Bi-National Planning Group. Canada's deputy commander of NORAD is the head of the BNP and is responsible to both Canadian and US governments, has the deputy commander of NORTHCOM as a co-authority and both report to the commander of NORTHCOM/NORAD in their respective roles as deputy or vice commander of NORAD.

Everyone is wearing so many hats that one is bound to put the wrong one on leaving the party, but the point is, NORTHCOM has included in its area of responsibility, Canadian sovereign territory, without Canadian co-command.

If you're bored, have a little stretch because the best part is coming.
The U.S. Northern Command, the military command responsible for "homeland defense," has asked the Pentagon if it can establish its own special operations command for domestic missions. The request, reported in the Washington Examiner, would establish a permanent sub-command for responses to incidents of domestic terrorism as well as other occasions where special operators may be necessary on American soil.

The establishment of a domestic special operations mission, and the preparation of contingency plans to employ commandos in the United States, would upend decades of tradition. Military actions within the United States are the responsibility of state militias (the National Guard), and federal law enforcement is a function of the FBI.

Employing special operations for domestic missions sounds very ominous, and NORTHCOM's request earlier this year should receive the closest possible Pentagon and congressional scrutiny. There's only one problem: NORTHCOM is already doing what it has requested permission to do.

Domestic special operations missions?

Now to the average Canadian, the concept of the regular armed forces being used domestically isn't that much of leap of imagination. Under Canadian law the armed forces can be used for domestic law enforcement in aid to the civil powers, essentially as a posse comitatus. In the United States, use of the national armed forces in such a role is prohibited by the Posse Comitatus Act.

So here's the rub.
When NORTHCOM was established after 9/11 to be the military counterpart to the Department of Homeland Security, within its headquarters staff it established a Compartmented Planning and Operations Cell (CPOC) responsible for planning and directing a set of "compartmented" and "sensitive" operations on U.S., Canadian and Mexican soil. In other words, these are the very special operations that NORTHCOM is now formally asking the Pentagon to beef up into a public and acknowledged sub-command.

NORTHCOM's compartmented and sensitive operations fall under the Joint Chiefs of Staff "Focal Point" program, a separate communications and planning network used to hide special operations undertaken by the Joint Special Operations Command, headquartered in North Carolina, and by CIA and other domestic compartmented activities.

Since 2003, the CPOC has had a small core of permanent members drawn from the operations, intelligence and planning directorates. In an emergency, the staff can be expanded. According to NORTHCOM documents, CPOC is involved in planning for a number of domestic missions, including:

-- Non-conventional assisted recovery -- Integrated survey programs -- Information operations/"special technical operations" -- "Special activities"

Special activities, as William Arkin says, is a euphemism for covert operations and intelligence gathering. In the United States that job belongs to the FBI. In Canada it belongs to the RCMP and CSIS.

Non-conventional assisted recovery is the use of indigenous populations or surrogate forces, led by special forces to rescue hostages. Again, in the US that is an FBI function. In Canada it belongs to the RCMP.

All of this involves domestic intelligence gathering, covert operations and analysis. It includes operations in the United States which, unless specifically authorized by the Congress, would be illegal and, given NORTHCOM's area of responsibility, would include the same activities in Canada without necessarily notifying Canadian authorities.

Pehaps Gordon O'Connor can come out of his hole and explain what precisely is going on.

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