On August 2, 1990, as Saddam Hussein's army was consolidating control over Kuwait, President George Bush responded by signing two executive orders that were the first step toward martial law in the United States and suspending the Constitution.
On the surface, Executive Orders 12722 and 12723, declaring a "national emergency,: merely invoked laws that allowed Bush to freeze Iraqi assets in the United States.
The International Emergency Executive Powers Act permits the president to freeze foreign assets after declaring a "national emergency," a move that has been made three times beforeagainst Panama in 1987, Nicaragua in 1985 and Iran in 1979.
According to Professor Diana Reynolds, of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Boston's Tufts University, when Bush declared a national emergency he "activated one part of a contingency national security emergency plan." That plan is made up of a series of laws passed since the presidency of Richard Nixon, which Reynolds says give the president "boundless" powers.
According to Reynolds, such laws as the Defense Industrial Revitalization and Disaster Relief Acts of 1983 "would permit the president to do anything from seizing the means of production, to conscripting a labor force, to relocating groups of citizens."
Reynolds says the net effect of invoking these laws would be the suspension of the Constitution.
She adds that national emergency powers "permit the stationing of the military in cities and towns, closing off the U.S. borders, freezing all imports and exports, allocating all resources on a national security priority, monitoring and censoring the press, and warrantless searches and seizures."
The measures would allow military authorities to proclaim martial law in the United States, asserts Reynolds. She defines martial law as the "federal authority taking over for local authority when they are unable to maintain law and order or to assure a republican form of government."
A report called "Post Attack Recovery Strategies," about rebuilding the country after a nuclear war, prepared by the right-wing Hudson Institute in 1980, defines martial law as dealing "with the control of civilians by their own military forces in time of emergency."
The federal agency with the authority to organize and command the government's response to a national emergency is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This super-secret and elite agency was formed in 1979 under congressional measures that merged all federal powers dealing with civilian and military emergencies under one agency.
FEMA has its roots in the World War I partnership between government and corporate leaders who helped mobilize the nation's industries to support the war effort. The idea of a central national response to large-scale emergencies was reintroduced in the early 1970s by Louis Giuffrida, a close associate of then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan and his chief aide Edwin Meese.
Reagan appointed Giuffrida head of the California National Guard in 1969. With Meese, Giuffrida organized "war-games" to prepare for "statewide martial law" in the event that Black nationalists and anti-war protesters "challenged the authority of the state." In 1981, Reagan as president moved Giuffrida up to the big leagues, appointing him director of FEMA.
According to Reynolds, however, it was the actions of George Bush in 1976, while he was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), that provided the stimulus for centralization of vast powers in FEMA.
Bush assembled a group of hawkish outsiders, called Team B, that released a report claiming the CIA ("Team A") had underestimated the dangers of Soviet nuclear attack. The report advised the development of elaborate plans for "civil defense" and post-nuclear government. Three years later, in 1979, FEMA was given ultimate responsibility for developing these plans.
Aware of the bad publicity FEMA was getting because of its role in organizing for a post-nuclear world, Reagan's FEMA chief Giuffrida publicly argued that the 1865 Posse Comitatus Act prohibited the military from arresting civilians.
However, Reynolds says that Congress eroded the act by giving the military reserves an exemption from Posse Comitatus and allowing them to arrest civilians. The National Guard, under the control of state governors in peace time, is also exempt from the act and can arrest civilians.
FEMA Inspector General John Brinkerhoff has written a memo contending that the government doesn't need to suspend the Constitution to use the full range of powers Congress has given the agency. FEMA has prepared legislation to be introduced in Congress in the event of a national emergency that would give the agency sweeping powers. The right to "deputize" National Guard and police forces is included in the package. But Reynolds believes that actual martial law need not be declared publicly.
Giuffrida has written that "Martial Rule comes into existence upon a determination (not a declaration) by the senior military commander that the civil government must be replaced because it is no longer functioning anyway." He adds that "Martial Rule is limited only by the principle of necessary force."
According to Reynolds, it is possible for the president to make declarations concerning a national emergency secretly in the form of a Natioanl Security Decision Directive. Most such directives are classified as so secret that Reynolds says "researchers don't even know how many are enacted."
Throughout the 1980s, FEMA was prohibited from engaging in intelligence gathering. But on July 6, 1989, Bush signed Executive Order 12681, pronouncing that FEMA's National Preparedness Directorate would "have as a primary function intelligence, counterintelligence, investigative, or national security work." Recent events indicate that domestic spying in response to the looming Middle East war is now under way.
Reynolds reports that "the CIA is going to various campuses asking for information on Middle Eastern students. I'm sure that there are intelligence organizations monitoring peace demonstrations." According to the University of Connecticut student paper, the Daily Campus, CIA officials have recently met there to discuss talking with Middle Eastern students.
The New York Times reports that the FBI has ordered its agents around the country to question Arab-American leaders and business people in search of information on potential Iraqi "terrorist" attacks in response to a Gulf war.
A 1986 Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) document entitled "Alien Terrorists and Other Undesirables: A Contingency Plan" outlines the potential round-up and incarceration in mass detainment camps of U.S. residents who are citizens of "terrorist" countries, chiefly in the Middle East. This plan echoed a 1984 FEMA nationwide "readiness exercise code-named REX-84 ALPHA, which included the rehearsal of joint operations with the INS to round up 40,000 Central American refugees in the event of a U.S. invasion of the region. One of the 10 military bases established as detainment camps by REX-84 ALPHA, Camp Krome, Fla., was designated a joint FEMA-Immigration service interrogation center.
Recently, FEMA has been criticized in the media for inadequate response to the October, 1989 San Francisco earthquake. What the mainstream press has failed to cover is the agency's planned role in repressing domestic dissent in the event of an invasion abroad.