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Context of 'May 8, 2001: Cheney to Oversee National Effort for Responding to Domestic Attacks, but No Action Is Taken before 9/11'

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), known best as a relief agency for victims of natural disasters, is secretly dedicated to the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is meant to ensure the survival of the federal government in times of national emergency. Upon its establishment, FEMA absorbs the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (DCPA) and the Federal Preparedness Agency (FPA), which were previously responsible for the top-secret plans (see April 1, 1979). During the 1980s and into the early 1990s, FEMA’s budget and workforce are overwhelming geared towards the COG program (see 1982-1991 and February 1993). FEMA remains in charge of overseeing the government’s continuity plans up to present day. According to FEMA’s website, the agency’s Office of National Continuity Programs (NCP) is currently the “Lead Agent for the Federal Executive Branch on matters concerning continuity of national operations under the gravest of conditions.” [fema.gov, 6/4/2009]

Entity Tags: Office of National Continuity Programs, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, Federal Preparedness Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The National Program Office (NPO), which is responsible for the highly classified Continuity of Government program, establishes a secret line of presidential succession for certain “narrowly defined” emergency situations. According to the traditional legal line of succession, should the president of the United States be killed or incapacitated, he is to be replaced by the vice president, followed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, then by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, then each cabinet member from the Secretary of State down. The alternative succession plan developed by the NPO, known officially as the Presidential Successor Support System, or “PS cubed,” would suspend these traditional rules and allow a small group of officials to appoint a new government. A source with knowledge of the plan says it would “suspend that natural succession and these individuals would have the right to appoint, virtually appoint, a new government.” The program, according to author James Mann, calls for “setting aside the legal rules of presidential succession in some circumstances, in favor of a secret procedure for putting in place a new ‘president’ and his staff.” The idea is to “concentrate on speed, to preserve ‘continuity of government,’ and to avoid cumbersome procedures; the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the rest of Congress would play a greatly diminished role.” The alternative succession plan allows the presidency, the vice presidency, and each cabinet position to be filled by individuals from both inside and outside the active government. In 1991, CNN will list the names of several people that may assume power should the plan be put into action, including Dick Cheney, Howard Baker, Richard Helms, Jeane Kirkpatrick, James Schlesinger, Edwin Meese, Dick Thornburgh, and Tip O’Neill. Some participants say the alternative succession plan is absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of the federal government, but others argue the secrecy of the program undermines its credibility. “If no one knows in advance what the line of succession is meant to be,” says a constitutional scholar from Duke University, “then almost by hypothesis no one will have any reason to believe that those who claim to be exercising that authority in fact possess it.” [CNN Special Assignment, 11/17/1991; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Jeane Kirkpatrick, Edwin Meese, James R. Schlesinger, Thomas Phillip ‘Tip’ O’Neill, Jr, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Helms, National Program Office, Richard Thornburgh, Howard Baker

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975.Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Gerald R. Ford Library] (click image to enlarge)Throughout the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are key players in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Presently, Cheney is working as a Republican congressman, while Rumsfeld is head of the pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle. At least once per year, they both leave their day jobs for periods of three or four days. They head to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, and along with 40 to 60 federal officials and one member of the Reagan Cabinet are taken to a remote location within the US, such as an underground bunker. While they are gone, none of their work colleagues, or even their wives, knows where they are. They are participating in detailed planning exercises for keeping government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Unconstitutional 'Continuity of Government' - This highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) program is known as Project 908. The idea is that if the US were under a nuclear attack, three teams would be sent from Washington to separate locations around the US to prepare to take leadership of the country. If somehow one team was located and hit with a nuclear weapon, the second or third team could take its place. Each of the three teams includes representatives from the State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and various domestic-policy agencies. The program is run by a new government agency called the National Program Office. Based in the Washington area, it has a budget of hundreds of million dollars a year, which grows to $1 billion per year by the end of Reagan’s first term in office. Within the National Security Council, the “action officer” involved in the COG program is Oliver North, who is a key figure in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush, also supervises some of the program’s efforts. As well as Cheney and Rumsfeld, other known figures involved in the COG exercises include Kenneth Duberstein, who serves for a time as President Reagan’s chief of staff, and future CIA Director James Woolsey. Another regular participant is Richard Clarke, who on 9/11 will be the White House chief of counterterrorism (see (1984-2004)). The program, though, is extraconstitutional, as it establishes a process for designating a new US president that is nowhere authorized in the US Constitution or federal law. After George H. W. Bush is elected president in 1988 and the effective end of the Soviet Union in 1989, the exercises continue. They will go on after Bill Clinton is elected president, but will then be based around the threat posed by terrorists, rather than the Soviet Union (see 1992-2000). According to journalist James Mann, the participation of Rumsfeld and Cheney in these exercises demonstrates a broader truth about them: “Over three decades, from the Ford administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never too far away; they stayed in touch with its defense, military, and intelligence officials and were regularly called upon by those officials. Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States.” [Mann, 2004, pp. 138-145; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004; Washington Post, 4/7/2004; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 85]
No Role for Congress - According to one participant, “One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them.” Thus the decision is made to abandon the Constitutional framework of the nation’s government if this plan is ever activated. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 198]
Reactivated after 9/11 - The plan they rehearse for in the COG exercises will be activated, supposedly for the first time, in the hours during and after the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/1/2002] Mann subsequently comments, “The program is of particular interest today because it helps to explain the thinking and behavior of the second Bush Administration in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Oliver North, National Program Office, James Woolsey, Kenneth Duberstein, Donald Rumsfeld, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), known best as a relief agency for victims of natural disasters, spends the majority of its budget on secret “doomsday” preparations. Since its creation, FEMA has been secretly dedicated to the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, which is meant to keep the government functioning in times of national emergency (see April 1, 1979-Present). Over a 10-year period, from 1982 to 1991, FEMA spends $2.9 billion—about 78 percent of its total budget—on classified national security programs. As Cox News Service will later note, “That’s roughly 12 times more than the $243 million FEMA spent during those 10 years preparing for natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods.” [Cox News Service, 2/22/1993]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Clinton administration reorganizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), shifting resources away from secret projects and into disaster relief programs. During the previous two administrations, FEMA’s resources were overwhelmingly geared towards the highly classified Continuity of Government program, meant to keep the government functioning in times of extreme national emergency (see April 1, 1979-Present). The changes to the disaster agency are prompted by strong criticism of FEMA’s response to Hurricane Andrew (see August-September 1992). The secret COG programs are scaled back, but not totally discontinued. The newly appointed director of FEMA, James Lee Witt, eliminates FEMA’s secretive National Preparedness Directorate and shifts its responsibilities to other sections of the disaster agency. FEMA’s budget shows a dramatic drop in funding for secret projects, from about $100 million in 1993 to only $7.5 million in 1994. “What [Director Witt has] done is put FEMA in an all-hazards approach and put it aboveboard,” says FEMA spokesperson Morrie Goodman. “There are, of course,” Goodman adds, “certain areas that can’t be discussed or even acknowledged. That’s just the nature of the beast.” Indeed, uncertainties remain regarding the true extent of FEMA’s reformation. As Mother Jones magazine notes, the reduced classified budget “reflects only a fragment of FEMA’s investment in doomsday preparations, given that many former projects have been redesignated as ‘dual-use’ responses for both natural disasters and national security emergencies.” According to Mother Jones, “much of the doomsday bureaucracy remains intact, parts of the fifth floor are still restricted, and there has been no concerted effort to declassify the underground command posts.” Government officials will claim in 1994 that the COG program is coming to a total end (see April 18, 1994), but FEMA will continue to pursue its secret agenda for years to come (see April 1, 1979-Present). [National Academy of Public Administration, 2/1993 pdf file; Gup and Aftergood, 1/1994; New York Times, 4/18/1994; Sylves, 5/1994]

Entity Tags: James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Preparedness Directorate, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), known best as a relief agency for victims of natural disasters, is preoccupied with preparations for a nuclear doomsday, according to Cox News Service. FEMA employees planning for natural disasters are outnumbered more than three-to-one by those working for the agency’s National Preparedness Directorate, which is responsible for overseeing preparations for nuclear war. Since its creation, FEMA has been secretly dedicated to the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program, meant to keep the government functioning in times of national emergency (see April 1, 1979-Present and 1982-1991). Cox News Service finds: “Only 20 members of Congress—those with adequate security clearance—know that rather than concentrating on natural disasters such as last year’s Hurricane Andrew, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been gearing up for Armageddon. While a small group [of FEMA employees] is responsible for helping victims of natural disasters, most of the agency is preoccupied with developing high-tech gadgets for a nuclear doomsday.” [Cox News Service, 2/22/1993]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Preparedness Directorate

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Gary Hart (left) and Warren Rudman (right) testify before a Senate committee in 2002.Gary Hart (left) and Warren Rudman (right) testify before a Senate committee in 2002. [Source: Reuters / Win McNamee]The final report of the US Commission on National Security/21st Century, co-chaired by former Senators Gary Hart (D-CO) and Warren Rudman (R-NH), is issued. The bipartisan panel was put together in 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Hart and Rudman personally brief National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell on their findings. The report has 50 recommendations on how to combat terrorism in the US, but all of them are ignored by the Bush administration.
Shelved by White House - According to Hart, Congress will begin to take the commission’s suggestions seriously in March and April, and legislation is introduced to implement some of the recommendations. Then, “Frankly, the White House shut it down.… The president said, ‘Please wait, we’re going to turn this over to the vice president‘… and so Congress moved on to other things, like tax cuts and the issue of the day.” The White House will announce in May that it will have Vice President Dick Cheney study the potential problem of domestic terrorism, despite the fact that this commission had just studied the issue for 2 1/2 years. Interestingly, both this commission and the Bush administration were already assuming a new cabinet level National Homeland Security Agency would be enacted eventually, even as the public remained unaware of the term and the concept. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Salon, 4/2/2004]
Cannot Get Meeting with Bush - At the meeting with Rice, Rudman says he wants to see President Bush, and is planning to deliver a “blunt and very direct” warning to him that he needs to deal early in his presidency with the question of domestic terror threats. Rice initially agrees to pass on Rudman’s request for a meeting with Bush, but nothing happens. Rudman will contact Rice’s office several times, but still no meeting is arranged. Rudman will later say he is “disappointed” by this, adding, “There’s no question in my mind that somebody at the White House dropped the ball on this.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 56-57]
Ignored by 9/11 Commission - Hart will be incredulous that neither he nor any of the other members of this commission are ever asked to testify before the 9/11 Commission. [Salon, 4/6/2004] The 9/11 Commission will later make many of the same recommendations as this commission. However, it will barely mention the Hart/Rudman Commission in its final report, except to note that Congress appointed it and failed to follow through on implementing its recommendations. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 107, 479]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Newt Gingrich, Warren Rudman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Gary Hart, Commission on National Security/21st Century, Bush administration (43), 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Vice President Dick Cheney on television, May 8, 2001.Vice President Dick Cheney on television, May 8, 2001. [Source: CNN]In a brief statement, President Bush announces that Vice President Dick Cheney will oversee a “coordinated national effort” aimed at integrating the government’s plans for responding to the use of a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapon within the United States. Bush declares, “Should our efforts to reduce the threat to our country from weapons of mass destruction be less than fully successful, prudence dictates that the United States be fully prepared to deal effectively with the consequences of such a weapon being used here on our soil.” Bush says a new agency within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), known as the Office of National Preparedness, will be “responsible for implementing the results of those parts of the national effort overseen by Vice President Cheney that deal with consequence management.” The Office of National Preparedness appears to be a reincarnation of FEMA’s old National Preparedness Directorate (NPD), which was disbanded by the Clinton administration in 1993 (see January 1993-October 1994). During the 1980s and early 1990s, the NPD secretly spent billions of dollars preparing for nuclear war and other national emergencies as part of the highly classified Continuity of Government (COG) program (see February 1993, 1982-1991, and April 1, 1979-Present). [Cox News Service, 2/22/1993] Under the Bush administration, the Office of National Preparedness (ONP) will apparently take over where the National Preparedness Directorate left off. According to Bush, the ONP “will coordinate all Federal programs dealing with weapons of mass destruction consequence management within the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies.” Cheney, who played a central role in the COG program during the Reagan administration (see 1981-1992 and 1980s), informs CNN, “[O]ne of our biggest threats as a nation” could be “domestic terrorism, but it may also be a terrorist organization overseas or even another state using weapons of mass destruction against the US.… [W]e need to look at this whole area, oftentimes referred to as homeland defense.” According to FEMA, the ONP will be up and running as early as the summer of 2001. President Bush says he “will periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts.” [CNN, 5/8/2001; White House, 5/8/2001; New York Times, 7/8/2002] Cheney is meant to head a group that will draft a national terrorism response plan by October 1. [Chicago Sun-Times, 5/5/2001; Insight on the News, 6/18/2001] But, according to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, “Neither Cheney’s review nor Bush’s took place.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Former Senator Gary Hart (D-CO) later implies that Bush assigned this specific role to Cheney in order to prevent Congress from enacting counterterrorism legislation proposed by a bipartisan commission he had co-chaired in January (see January 31, 2001). [Salon, 4/2/2004; Salon, 4/6/2004] In July, two senators will send draft counterterrorism legislation to Cheney’s office, but a day before 9/11, they are told it might be another six months before he gets to it (see September 10, 2001). [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] Cheney’s “National Preparedness Review” is just beginning to hire staff a few days before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). [Congressional Quarterly, 4/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Gary Hart, George W. Bush, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Office of National Preparedness, National Security Council, National Preparedness Directorate, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Big Sky Resort, Montana.Big Sky Resort, Montana. [Source: FedCenter.gov]Emergency managers from around the US, including Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director Joseph Allbaugh and representatives from the emergency management agencies of 47 states, are in Big Sky, Montana, attending the annual conference of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), where the main focuses include the issues of domestic terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Most State Emergency Managers in Attendance - Conference attendees include around 350 government and industry emergency specialists. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file] Among them are almost all of America’s state emergency management directors and most of the senior FEMA staff. [Stateline (.org), 9/13/2001] They are there, reportedly, “to hear briefings on the latest issues in domestic preparedness, improve state and local capabilities, address energy shortages, and discuss lessons from the February 2001 Nisqually earthquake.” [State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file] The attendees discuss anti-terrorism planning courses, and the status of federal aid and cooperation efforts. [Stateline (.org), 9/10/2002] Allbaugh is the event’s keynote speaker and gives his talk on September 10, in which he describes his focus on improving emergency capabilities and preparing for disaster. [New York Times, 9/12/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file]
Conference Ends Early Due to Attacks - The NEMA conference is originally scheduled to run until September 12. [Natural Hazards Observer, 3/2001; National Emergency Management Association, 8/15/2001] But because of the terrorist attacks on September 11, it ends a day early (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [119th Fighter Wing, 10/25/2001] Special arrangements are then made for some of the emergency managers in attendance to be flown home on military aircraft, while others have to drive long distances back to their states (see (After 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (After 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (After 4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Stateline (.org), 9/13/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file]
Timing of Attacks Inconvenient - In May this year, President Bush put FEMA in charge of responding to any terrorist attacks in the United States, charging it with creating an Office of National Preparedness to coordinate the government’s response to such attacks (see May 8, 2001). [White House, 5/8/2001; Los Angeles Times, 5/9/2001] Following the attacks on September 11, FEMA spokesman Mark Wolfson will note the inconvenience of these attacks occurring at the same time as the NEMA conference. He will say that FEMA officials do not know whether the attacks were timed to catch emergency officials off guard, but “it is something that law enforcement investigators might be looking at.” [Stateline (.org), 9/13/2001] NEMA is the professional association of state emergency management directors. [Natural Hazards Observer, 3/2001] Its annual conference is being held in Montana this year because its president, Jim Greene, is the administrator of the state’s Disaster and Emergency Services Division. [Billings Gazette, 10/5/2000; National Journal, 1/16/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mark Wolfson, Joseph M. Allbaugh, National Emergency Management Association

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who, with Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), has sent a copy of draft legislation on counterterrorism and national defense to Vice President Cheney’s office on July 20, is told by Cheney’s top aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby on this day “that it might be another six months before he would be able to review the material.” [Dianne Feinstein, 5/17/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Jon Kyl, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Dianne Feinstein, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Joseph Allbaugh.Joseph Allbaugh. [Source: Greg Schaler / FEMA]Joseph Allbaugh, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is flown back to Washington, DC, after leaving a major conference he has been attending in Montana. [State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file; CNN, 10/4/2001; 119th Fighter Wing, 10/25/2001] Allbaugh was one of hundreds of emergency management officials from around the US attending the annual conference of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) in Big Sky, Montana, which began on September 8 and was originally scheduled to continue until September 12 (see September 8-11, 2001). He was the keynote speaker at the conference, and in his speech the previous day, September 10, talked about his focus on improving capabilities and preparing for disaster. [National Emergency Management Association, 8/15/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file]
Allbaugh Sees Second Attack on TV - Allbaugh will later recall that on this morning, he “turned on CNN” and “actually saw the second plane hit the tower.” He will comment, “I thought it was a movie clip,” but then “reality started sinking in.” When he learned that the plane was the second to have hit the World Trade Center, he knew “immediately it was terrorism.” [CNN, 10/4/2001] Allbaugh went into the meeting he was due to attend and announced: “You all will have to excuse me. I have more pressing matters.” [Associated Press, 9/8/2002] He was then one of the first to leave the NEMA conference. [New York Times, 9/12/2001]
Conflicting Accounts of Flight - Allbaugh is subsequently flown back to Washington, although there are conflicting accounts of his journey. Allbaugh will later recall that after leaving the conference, he moved on to the city of Bozeman, Montana, and then “waited a couple of hours for a plane.” Finally, he will say, a KC-135 military tanker plane flies him back to the capital. [CNN, 10/4/2001] According to another account, Major Rick Gibney, a pilot with the 119th Fighter Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard, was originally tasked with flying Allbaugh home in his F-16 fighter jet, but, instead, an Air Force C-17 cargo plane is diverted to transport the FEMA director back to Washington. [119th Fighter Wing, 10/25/2001] But the Gainesville Sun will report that Allbaugh initially headed out from the conference with Craig Fugate, the director of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management. Fugate rented a car to drive back to Florida and Allbaugh joined him as a passenger. Allbaugh was then dropped off in Missouri, from where he is flown back to Washington. [Gainesville Sun, 10/22/2005] Other emergency management officials that were at the NEMA conference are also flown home on military aircraft throughout the day (see (After 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (After 4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Stateline (.org), 9/13/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 pdf file; Stateline (.org), 10/11/2001]
Allbaugh Joins President and Others at the White House - Allbaugh will recall that his flight to Washington takes four and a half hours. After arriving back in the capital, he heads directly to the White House, where he spends the evening with the president, vice president, and many others. [CNN, 10/4/2001] It is unclear when exactly Allbaugh arrives in Washington, though he will be at the White House by 7:15 p.m., when he gives a press briefing. [White House, 9/11/2001]
Allbaugh in Charge of Responding to Domestic Terrorist Attacks - In May this year, President Bush put Allbaugh, as FEMA director, in charge of “consequence management” in response to any terrorist attacks in the United States. Allbaugh was charged with creating an Office of National Preparedness to coordinate the government’s response to any such attack (see May 8, 2001). [White House, 5/8/2001; Los Angeles Times, 5/9/2001] FEMA plays an important part in the government’s response to the attacks in New York and Washington on this day. It puts its “federal response plan” into effect, which involves coordinating with 28 other federal agencies and the American Red Cross; it dispatches eight urban search and rescue teams to New York to search for victims in the rubble of the WTC; and it has four urban search and rescue teams sifting through the remains of the crash at the Pentagon. [Government Executive, 9/11/2001; White House, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Craig Fugate, Joseph M. Allbaugh, National Emergency Management Association, Rick Gibney, Federal Emergency Management Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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