During the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration activated a highly clandestine program known as Continuity of Government (COG). The emergency program, sometimes referred to as the "shadow" government, was later extended indefinitely and is believed to still be partially active as of this writing.
Although the details regarding the COG operations are classified, executive orders and past investigative reports indicate the protocols could be used to override some of the nation’s most fundamental laws.
In November of 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12656, assigning sweeping emergency powers to the President and each cabinet member. The document offers a rare glimpse of the government’s continuity plans.
Executive Order 12656 advises government leaders to supersede conventional laws in order to carry out the emergency procedures. The order instructs each department head to identify “areas where additional legal authorities may be needed” and “consistent with applicable Executive orders, take appropriate measures toward acquiring those authorities.”
The special protocols, the presidential order states, “will be designed and developed to provide maximum flexibility to the President.”
In the event of an emergency, Executive Order 12656 may alter the traditional rules governing domestic military operations.
Existing laws, such the Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act, strictly regulate the use of military forces on U.S. soil. Executive Order 12656, however, calls on the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General to establish emergency rules outlining “specific procedures by which military assistance to civilian law enforcement authorities may be requested, considered, and provided.”
The Attorney General is to plan for “emergency law enforcement activities that are beyond the capabilities of State and local agencies." The Justice Department is to prepare for emergency “civil disturbances” and “terrorism incidents,” as well as create special procedures for the “custody and protection of prisoners and the use of Federal penal and correctional institutions.”
Executive Order 12656 calls on the government to take control of essential resources, including water, food, land, energy, transportation systems and even a civilian workforce.
Managing the nation’s water supply would be the responsibility of the Secretary of Defense. Acting through the Army, the Secretary of Defense is to have plans for the “management, control, and allocation of all usable waters from all sources within the jurisdiction of the United States.”
Similarly, the Secretary of Agriculture is to have plans to secure the nation’s food supply and agricultural resources. Under the protocols, the Department of Agriculture would be responsible for distributing seed, feed, fertilizer, and farming equipment to agricultural producers.
In the early 1990s there were even reports of a food rationing program that would allocate calories for each citizen.
Executive Order 12656 calls for emergency regulation of the nation’s energy supplies. The Energy Secretary is instructed to create “energy supply and demand strategies to ensure continued provision of minimum essential services.”
Executive Order 12656 calls on the Secretary of Transportation to be able take control of the nation’s transportation resources, including privately owned automobiles, urban mass transit systems, trucks, water vessels, and railroads.
Executive Order 12656 instructs the Selective Service System to prepare for an emergency military draft, while the Office of Personnel Management is to have procedures ready for the conscription of federal civilian employees.
According to a 1992 report by TIME magazine, the emergency plans once included a standby national censorship office, the Wartime Information Security Program (WISP), that would be responsible for restricting news coverage during a crisis. The censorship unit was allegedly shut down after being exposed by press reports, but according to TIME, “its duties were discreetly reassigned to yet another part of what an internal memo refers to as the ‘shadow’ government.”
Executive Order 12656 prioritizes the development of government relationships with private corporations. “Federal plans,” the documents states, “should include appropriate involvement of and reliance upon private sector organizations.”
The Secretary of Defense is instructed to work with private industries to develop “capabilities for the rapid increase of defense production.”
The Secretary of Commerce is to assist the Defense Secretary to “improve the international competitiveness of specific domestic industries and their abilities to meet defense program needs.”
The Secretary of Commerce is also to formulate plans for regulating imports and exports. Any materials considered to be “critical and strategic” are to be stockpiled by the Department of Defense and other federal agencies.
Executive Order 12656 instructs the Secretary of the Treasury to establish emergency plans for “encouraging capital inflow and discouraging the flight of capital from the United States.”
The Secretary of the Treasury is also to provide for the "preservation of, and facilitate emergency operations of, public and private financial institution systems, and provide for their restoration during or after national security emergencies."
The Secretary of Health and Human Services is instructed to have emergency plans for eliminating the hazards caused by biological, chemical, and radiological agents.
The Secretary of Health and Human Services is to establish plans to provide emergency civilian services, “including lodging, feeding, clothing, registration and inquiry, social services, family reunification and mortuary services and interment.”
Executive Order 12656 appears to call for special foreign policy initiatives. The Secretary of State is vaguely called upon to provide “overall foreign policy coordination in the formulation and execution of continuity of government and other national security emergency preparedness activities that affect foreign relations.” The Secretary of State is also obscurely called upon to assist the “appropriate agencies in developing planning assumptions concerning accessibility of foreign sources of supply.”
The special procedures outlined in Executive Order 12656 are intended for any national emergency, which the document broadly defines as “any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological emergency, or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States.”
Days after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush officially declared a national emergency that remains in effect to this day. This September the President is expected to extend the state of emergency for the seventh consecutive year.
Executive Order 12656 outlines just some of the extraordinary authorities the government may assume under the President’s declaration.
The government has been developing highly secretive emergency programs for over half a century, but until recent years most of these plans were thought to be reserved for the worst of disasters, primarily nuclear war. Now the extra-constitutional protocols could become official policies at any time.
Executive Order 12656 remains valid and is being used by the Bush Administration to formulate policy. The document was cited as recently as February of this year in two “Federal Continuity Directives” issued by the Department of Homeland Security.
Executive Order 12656
"The Doomsday Blueprints," TIME Magazine, August 10, 1992
National Emergency Declaration, September 14, 2001, Latest Continuation Notice
NSPD-51 and HSPD-20, May 9, 2007
Federal Continuity Directives, February 2008