Monday, May 6, 2013

Operation Urban Shield: Protecting the Homeland

As if the recent NSA revelations were not reason enough to worry about the Federal government's drift toward an authoritarian state, shortly after the bombing of the Boston Marathon that took three lives and seriously injured scores of others, three black helicopters, accompanied by heavily armed soldiers, were spotted buzzing downtown Chicago.   Independent research confirmed that the exercise was conducted by the Pentagon utilizing a combination of special force troops and local law enforcement, similar to a drill that took place prior to NATO ‘s Chicago conference in 2012 described by City Hall as a ‘routine military training exercise.”

So how ‘routine’ is it for military drills to occur in highly populated, dense metropolitan neighborhoods that includes simulated gunfire and strafing runs, troops rappelling out of helicopters, building breaching for practice amidst assorted flares and smoke bombs?   Although the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibits military forces from acting as civilian law enforcement on American soil, similar full-scale military exercises, known as Operation Urban Shield (OUS),  continue to occur in many of the country’s  largest municipal areas including Miami, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.
While OUS exercises are conducted by ”military personnel, designed to ensure the military’s ability to operate in urban environments,” its roots can be traced to Presidential Policy Directive #8 of 2011 entitled “National Preparedness.  The Directive provided the framework to create the Urban Security Areas Initiative (USAI) dedicated to  provide “support for high-threat, high-density urban areas to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from threats or acts of terrorism.” As an agency within FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), USAI is funded by the Department of  Homeland Security 
The City of Boston’s Urban Shield drills in May, 2011 and another in November, 2012, present an ideal opportunity  to consider how well the program functioned during that city's recent true-life emergency and whether it is a valuable tool in terrorist situations to justify the dismantling of the nation’s once-sacrosanct civil liberties.  We now know it was the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) that issued the ‘shelter-in-place’ order on April 19 that challenged the fourth amendment with house-to-house searches.   Utilizing a high-tech ‘wireless emergency area’ message system, described as ‘phone sirens”, MEMA sent a media advisory announcing the upcoming search as part of its ensuing tracking operation.  

Despite those earlier drills and a massive 9,000 member dragnet with every technological advantage at its fingertips,  a wounded, unarmed 19 year old amateur-terrorist who had no after-plan or escape route managed to elude the manhunt until he was discovered in a boat by an observant neighbor. 
Not surprisingly, our well-funded intel agencies appear to have been caught flat-footed by not more closely following up on earlier alerts from the Russian government warning about Tamerlan Dzhokhar - although details about the nature of the relationship of those agencies with the older brother are still ambiguous.   While authorities remain tight-lipped about the details of the Thursday night shoot-out that killed Tamerlan, it would be essential to know if Urban Shield recommends a ‘no kill’ order or use of a sophisticated laser stun-gun to subdue a critically-valuable suspect.  If so, we might have considerably more relevant information than we have today. 
Since there was no way for OUS to predict the bombing, the inescapable conclusion is that such full-scale military trainings are of limited use after a ‘situation’ has occurred, therefore, leaving open the question of why military training needs to take place in urban areas and where and when will such training be necessary.   The argument that Urban Shield will prevent a future attack neglects the reality that OUS was not directly responsible for the capture of the suspect.  More to the point, the intel game plan that asserts Operation Urban Shield strategic value has apparently failed to calculate the inherent complexity of conducting a house-to-house search and a massive dragnet within the tight confines of a densely crowded urban neighborhood.
 Despite the advantages of Federal government largesse of unlimited funding and manpower  and an enormous bureaucracy, there remains a fundamental question of whether any amount of money, training or preparation can defend against or anticipate a lone-wolf, homegrown kind of attack – and at what cost to the Bill of Rights.


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