William Arkin comes back on the show to discuss continuity planning in the U.S. government. He notes that the measures being taken in Washington D.C. to ensure the integrity of a constitutional government during an emergency are somewhat at odds with the steps that the highest ranking politicians are themselves taking. For example, even as helicopter teams stand at the ready to evacuate the chain of command at a moment’s notice, President Trump and Vice President Pence have not separated themselves in the way that might usually be expected during a crisis. In addition to evacuation, there are many other measures being taken that the the public isn’t aware of in the slightest. This leads to a tension that is of great concern to Arkin: If continuity of government is not a pressing concern right now, why are we devoting so much money and so many greatly needed personnel to the effort? And if it is something we should be worried about, why is it being conducted so secretly that it seriously undermines public confidence that the rule of constitutional law will be upheld?
Discussed on the show:
- “Exclusive: As Washington DC Faces Coronavirus Spike, Secret Military Task Force Prepares to Secure the Capital” (Newsweek)
- Rex 84
- Operation Garden Plot
- Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy
William Arkin is a military intelligence analyst, activist, author, journalist, academic and consultant. His award-winning reporting has appeared on the front pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He is the author of American Coup: How a Terrified Government Is Destroying the Constitution. Follow him on Twitter @warkin.
This episode of the Scott Horton Show is sponsored by: NoDev NoOps NoIT, by Hussein Badakhchani; The War State, by Mike Swanson; WallStreetWindow.com; Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom; ExpandDesigns.com/Scott; Listen and Think Audio; TheBumperSticker.com; and LibertyStickers.com.
The following is an automatically generated transcript.
Scott Horton 0:00
For Pacifica radio, April 19 2020. I’m Scott Horton. This is anti war radio.
All right, you guys, welcome to show. It is anti war radio. I’m your host, Scott Horton. I’m the editorial director of anti war calm and author of the book fool’s errand time to end the war in Afghanistan. If I my full interview archive, or the 5000 of them now going back to 2003 for you at scotthorton.org dot org. All right, you guys introducing William Arkin, this time writing for Newsweek, of course author of the book, American coup, and we spoke about a month ago about the military’s preparedness for the worst case scenario with outbreak of the Coronavirus here. And now he’s got a follow up article about it in Newsweek as Washington in DC faces Coronavirus, Spike secret military Task Force prepares to secure the Capitol. Welcome back to the show. Bill. How are you doing?
William Arkin 1:08
Hey, thanks for having me on. Again, Scott.
Scott Horton 1:10
Very happy to have you here and very interested in this piece. It seems like possibly the worst case scenario with the virus outbreak, at least for this spike has not come true. New York, of course, has been hit really hard and a lot of people have died. But I think we’re probably expecting things to be probably a bit worse than they are. And yet in this article, it doesn’t sound like that is reflected in the government’s plans here. They seem to be what it begins, you say that, you know, they’re worried about the plague crippling the capital, but I clicked on the Johns Hopkins map and it seems like the deaths are still in the low double digits over there. So I wonder about that. First of all,
William Arkin 1:56
well, I didn’t really write about what the conditions are necessarily. Rarely in Washington DC or the Capitol area, it was coincident with the fact that the mayor of DC and the governors of Virginia and Maryland in this week have also extended their states of emergency through the 15th of May. So, obviously, they see a persistence behind Coronavirus. And I’m now prognosticators as to what’s going to happen or what will happen to create the conditions under which our society will return to normal. But clearly the Washington DC area is different in two regards, one, that it is the confluence of three different jurisdictions and two that it is the seat of government. As a seat of government, I should also say where the White House is, at least in the form of the President and the Vice President doesn’t seem to be taking Coronavirus very seriously that is in terms of their own protection. As say, for instance, we saw after 911, where the President and the Vice President were virtually separated, and really severe continuity measures were put into effect. So right now we have this weird disconnect between the preparations of the military and civil government agencies responsible for continuity. That would be mostly FEMA, and what the White House is doing or not doing to make those preparations more relevant, more more capable. I wrote about the militaries contingency plans associated with Coronavirus Can continuity and mostly those plans manifest themselves in terms of the responsibility of the military to transport the Washington leadership out of Washington DC in the disaster now that is obviously a plan that is rooted in nuclear warfare or some kind of a W m d attack on the nation’s capital. The idea that the the leadership would have to be removed, whisked away from the city, but that but that also happens to be the plan that they’re implementing right now. And I write about how the helicopter force in the Washington DC area has been increased. In order to prepare for what is called the joint emergency evacuation plan. And for more secretive plans to evacuate the leaders of The executive branch, Congress and the judiciary, and then also how the air defense screen around Washington has been increased which is, is is like, I think the best example we can give you of sort of the disconnect between what are our actual threats, that is what Coronavirus actually means, versus what the military plans sort of prepare the military to do. So there they are. f 16th on alert and air defense units deployed to the Washington DC area to be ready to shoot down a hijacking plane when I would imagine that that’s the last thing that could possibly happen at this moment.
Scott Horton 5:49
And yeah, now to that what you mentioned about Trump not really being that engaged with all this it really sounds like it’s kind of all on autopilot but at the White House, they don’t really plan on following With any of this stuff?
William Arkin 6:02
Well, I think that that’s basically true that it’s that Donald Trump, the President of the United States, probably is disconnected from continuity and couldn’t care less, that he is gonna continue to be the performer on the stage. And that’s all that he’s focused on
Scott Horton 6:22
there in the F 16. Squad. They’re just they couldn’t care less that we’re at war with a tiny little germ and that their f6 teams are completely useless, and that they are useless and should have to get real job so they go on their stage and do their thing just like him. Well, the thing is just everybody going to work
William Arkin 6:42
does have some real consequences. And when the government puts the money and effort into the preparation of continuity plans and keeping those in a what are called a warm bass, so sort of warming them up, ready to implement Not only is it taking people away from Coronavirus work, but it also at the same time as is, is flirting with the idea that if there were a true disaster, that those who are responsible for continuity would in fact be the government. That is if the civil authorities themselves didn’t take continuity seriously. So we have this dangerous situation. I think it is dangerous, where you have this entire continuity of apparatus that’s working. And that apparatus is assuming that the leadership of the country that the constitutional government is going to follow through on the plans that have been written then on what they are preparing for, when in fact, the constitutional government is disconnected from those plans. So if there were an emergency, if there were disaster, I could imagine where the continuity operation would continue, where, let’s say second tier or third tier government officials would be evacuated. And that there would be even some friction between the constitutional rulers of our country and the continuity rulers of our country. So I want to see greater harmony between these two efforts. I want it to be more transparent. And I want it to be something that is well understood by the simple leaders and by the public, both so you can have greater confidence that continuity is meaningful and important, but also so that you preserve the very thing that you say you’re hoping to preserve, which is the rule of law and constitutional government.
Scott Horton 8:57
Hey guys, just real quick if you listen to the interview, Use only feed at the institute or at Scott Horton. org. I just want to make sure you know that I do a q&a show from time to time at Scott Horton. org slash show the old whole show feed. And so if you like that kind of thing, check that out there. Hey, guys, here’s how to support this show. You can donate various amounts at Scott Horton. org slash donate. We’ve got some great kickbacks for you there. Shop amazon.com by way of my link at Scott Horton. org, leave a good review for the show and iTunes and Stitcher. Tell a friend. Oh, yeah, and buy my books, fool’s errand time to end the war in Afghanistan and the great Ron Paul, the Scott Horton show interviews 2004 through 2019 and Thanks. Hey, guys, check out listen and think audio books. They’re listening think.com and of course on audible.com and they feature my book fool’s errand time to end the war in Afghanistan as well as brand new out in inside Syria by our friend Rhys, Eric, and a lot of other great books, mostly by libertarians there, Reese might be one exception. But essentially, they’re all libertarian audio books. And here’s how you can get a lifetime subscription to listen and think audiobooks. just donate $100 to the Scott Horton show at Scott Horton. org slash donate. So this thing really, I guess, it depends on who you’re reading about these kinds of things a lot of the time where sometimes, like, especially if you go back to the 1980s, and Rex 84, and garden plot and all that, and they’re talking about mass arrests. And, as a congressman jack Brooks put it, you know, at least in essence, suspending the entire constitution, and really having sort of a takeover of the government by this shadow government. And then other times, it’s just Donald Rumsfeld playing the president and they’re, they seem to just be screwing around practicing for nuclear war with Russia and all this kind of stuff like an Andrew Coburn’s book about Rumsfeld In the 1990s, where they were running these drills, and it seems like not serious in a way, but then the way you’re talking now It reminds me more of that earlier take on what Oliver North and them were up to in the 1980s, where this shadow government really is a threat to anything like whatever semblance of a constitutional government we still have in the presidency in the Congress and so forth.
William Arkin 11:27
Well, I think that a lot of the what’s written about continuity from the 1980s and before is really no longer relevant. That scheme of continuity is completely different today than it was during that time period. continuity is sort of been updated for the post nuclear era. And though it is still governed by and kind of influenced by the nuclear idea of a The obliteration of washington dc as a physical entity, the truth of the matter is that today, continuity is kind of a cottage industry that persists because it’s the responsible thing to do to have an ability to reconstitute the government, where it to be disabled, and also the constitutional thing to do, which is to ensure that there are lawful successors to the presidency. What we have instead is this hyper secret world, that that most people don’t understand that there’s a lot of rumor about that, that you and other people toss around Rex, alpha 84 and toss around Oliver North and Donald Rumsfeld, and they’re not really relevant today. what’s relevant today is that there is a constitutional apparatus that has been put in place and there is a continuity apparatus which has been put in place. And really the only question that any sane American should be asking is, are the two at odds with each other? Is there a scenario that could occur in which this so called shadow government, as you call it, what I’ll call the continuity system feels that it has either the need or the authority to take over. Now, that’s not going to be in the form of a lawful successor. We sort of saw that on 911. When in fact that the legal successors to the presidency, that is the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate, were really ignored. And that and that, if, in fact, the President and the Vice President had been killed, we probably would have been faced with a constitutional question. ISIS in which some military officer or some representative of the military, and that includes Donald Rumsfeld, which I should remind the listeners is the fifth in line to be the president, not the second after the vice president becomes the president. So Donald Rumsfeld is not really even wouldn’t have really been in the chain of command in the constitutional way. And so today, again, we have a situation where I could imagine that the White House might look at the rules that relate to continuity and say to themselves, well, we had better prepare to make sure that Nancy Pelosi is protected and survives under all circumstances. Because if The President and the Vice President are disabled, she is the next in line to become president. That’s the lawful system which exists in our nation. But I think instead what has happened is we have this sort of secret continuity apparatus, which sees itself as being in charge, which sees itself as being important. And that apparatus is disconnected from the reality of what is happening in Washington. So I write about the creation of joint task force National Capital Region, which is sort of the wartime manifestation of the military’s presence in Washington DC. And I write about the real decisions and real orders that have gone out to ready the continuity, movers and the continuity, protectors of the middle Terry, to ready them to implement continuity if necessary. And yet at the same time, I feel like that apparatus is completely disconnected from both political reality and of course, whatever would happen in Washington. So either it’s a complete and utter waste of time and money and people, or it’s an extremely dangerous apparatus that needs to be smoked out, because we need to understand whether, in fact, it has powers that we’re not aware of.
Scott Horton 16:40
Alright, so before we get into the current orders as they’re being implemented right now, can we go back to 2001 for a second there, where he talked about, you know, the way that the continuity government plans were used at that time, that if cheney and bush had both been killed in the attack that it would not have gone to Dennis has The Speaker of the House at that time that it would have gone to this separate chain of command. But then the way you worded it was a little confusing to me. And I’m gonna get the quote, not perfectly right. But it was, I think the way you said it was as it was implemented. But as it was implemented, Bush and Cheney had both lived, and cheney was certainly the top dog in the pile of any big decisions like that being made. And so little just clarity there, if you could, if, who would have been in charge of deciding whether to go ahead and hand the keys over to Dennis Hastert or whether to give them to whoever they had in the separate chain of command here?
William Arkin 17:41
Well, if we can put ourselves back on to that day, Scott. And let’s remember, there was like, an hour long period where the President was out of touch with, with society with the news media. dick cheney was in a bunker deep under the White House, if you could imagine for a moment that follow on attacks had occurred or different type of attacks had occurred. It was possible that on September 11 2001, that the President and the Vice President would have both been disabled, killed, separated, unable to communicate.
Scott Horton 18:24
Yeah, the fourth plane was said to be headed toward the White House. So
William Arkin 18:27
right. And so on that day, dinner had Dennis Hastert who was the then speaker of was actually evacuated from Washington. And in the afternoon, he was taken to out whether that that’s a fact, there was a little bit of a tussle as to whether or not he wanted to go and then there was a question of, well, once he was there, what was his ability to even assert that he was The lawful successor to the presidency. The next in line was Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. He was the president pro tem of the Senate. He refused to be evacuated, when in fact, I think he spent 911 at his townhouse on Capitol Hill watching television. So we we, we certainly faced the situation on 911. Where had there been this greater disaster actually contacting and giving those two successors to the presidency, the tools and the the means to be the lawful leaders of our country. We’re not in place. Now. We learned those lessons. And so therefore, in theory, we now have an apparatus that’s a post 911 apparatus, not a nuclear apparatus. One that has taken into consideration all of the lessons learned, if you will from from 911. And that apparatus today is very focused on making sure that it can evacuate leaders from Washington. That’s why the joint emergency evacuation plan and the Atlas plan are so important because those are practiced and ready to ensure that the successors to the presidency are evacuated from Washington if necessary. But I think a lot of people just don’t understand the system. And I think that there is a disharmony if you will, between the preparations that this apparatus goes through and, and and prepares for and and our acknowledgement that indeed, we would want to or would Hand over the country to to these people. So, so, again, I can’t imagine under the conditions, let’s say for instance where Congress were in session that Nancy Pelosi would somehow survive if if Donald Trump and Mike Pence were both disabled by Coronavirus. I mean, we’re talking then therefore about some, some extreme virus spread in the city. And, and so, really you have to ask the question, why do we even have this apparatus? what what what’s it even for? Because, because it’s not nimble enough to take into consideration what really needs to be done to protect the government and protect the government leadership. It’s kind of off in its own world and that’s why I like to write about It and to reveal as much about it as I can. Because it’s important that we understand this apparatus, and we understand that it sort of exists in its own world. Because I think that a big part of it existing in secret and in its own world, is that the actual plans and the actual procedures that would be implemented are unclear and perhaps even not what we would want. So to me, if you said to me today, well, Bill, you’re just speculating about continuity because they haven’t really done anything. I would say, okay, you’re right, Scott, that this, this is just a non issue. They don’t see an issue of continuity associated with Coronavirus and they haven’t implemented any of their plans or made any preparations. But the truth of the matter is that on March In March, in order was that when I went out to activate Joint Task Force National Capital Region, the continuity system was put in place in order to bring the base the continuity base up to this warm state, if you will. And the military units were put in place to evacuate the leadership if necessary, and those military units have been sequestered and protected and separated in order to ensure that they’re operating 24 seven, so they are implementing some kind of continuity scheme, and yet they’re not willing to talk about it. I when I talked to and reasoned with government officials to give official comment on what they’ve done. The answer I get is, well, we keep it secret because we don’t want the enemy to know it’s like not wanting the virus. To know, but also, they keep it secret because that’s the habit associated with these secret operations. And when I say to them, that greater transparency would give the public greater confidence that the government knew what it was doing, and that was doing something that was lawful. I just get back from people. Yeah. Okay, that makes some sense. But still, it’s gonna be super secret what we do in terms of continuity, and I don’t think that you can square those two, I think you either have to have transparency in which you admit that you’re fearful enough that you’re actually implementing continuity plans, or that you’re not fearful. And therefore, you’re not implementing continuity plans, because you don’t believe that we’re ever going to get to the point where we need to devolve the leadership of the country to other people.
Scott Horton 24:59
Yeah. All right. Well, so the last time we talked and in your last article, you explored kind of the nth degree of how far these powers could go, including martial law under the control of the Northern Command and that kind of thing. And now in this piece, it’s clear that it doesn’t look like we’re headed that far at all. But mostly you’re focused on this Atlas program and these things surrounding in DC. But so can you tell us, you know, more specifically what you learned other than what you were saying about the F 16, practicing intercepting cessnas and all this stuff?
William Arkin 25:30
Well, so we do have a continuity apparatus. It’s real. FEMA controls it at the civil level. And the Defense Department through Northern Command northcom controls it at the military level, the responsibility of the military is to transport and secure the successors under the continuity system. And so Joint Task Force National Capital Region, which has been Created is responsible for implementing the continuity plan and also for protecting the federal government’s workings and Washington DC. So not just the evacuation of leadership from the city but also if there were to be civil unrest in Washington DC. Now, you talk Scott as if Coronavirus is plateaued and finished and I don’t think we’re anywhere close to that. I think that life is going to return to normal anytime soon. So this ratcheting up of our preparations for continuity which means essentially, the evacuation of pockets of the government to alternate facilities outside of Washington DC and the preparation of a successor or alternate line of command than the president than the Vice President is going to continue. So no one is giving an order that saying okay, false alarm, guys Coronavirus is not so bad, you can stop doing what you’re doing in terms of preparing for continuity. In fact, it’s just the opposite. These units are becoming more and more separated and sequestered and protected in order to ensure that they’re able to carry out their wartime plans. So, to me, you have real plans, real units, real people, thousands of people who are now on alert, ready to implement continuity, when I think the public is completely and utterly in the dark and very confused as to why we would even need to have such emergency preparation
Scott Horton 28:00
Yeah, well, no, I didn’t say that the problem with the virus is solved. But at the same time, though they were talking about, you know, 10s and 10s and 10s of thousands more dead by this time, a month ago. And so it hasn’t gotten to the point where people are being triage out in the hallways in the parking lots and that that kind of crisis, obviously, lots of people are dying and are going to continue to die. But it doesn’t seem like there’s any threat to a single governorship or the rule of any state legislature, much less the White House and the Congress over the government. So it doesn’t seem
William Arkin 28:41
to disagree. You Scott, but then again, if you were interviewing the head of FEMA right now or the command or joint task force for National Capital Region, the question you would ask is, so why are you doing what you’re doing?
Scott Horton 28:54
Right, well, but as we started with, it’s just a government job. They’re gonna show up and do their best 16 practice, even if there’s not a virus in the air anywhere, just because, you know, that’s their deal until their orders change. But it’s a I think, Well, as you said, it’s either meaningful or it’s not. And if it’s not, you know, why are we doing it? I think it’s probably not that meaningful is my gut. Because the people who would they would be taking the power from, have no interest in giving it up? I mean, if we, we could have this conversation in a month and both Trump and Pence are in the ICU and things have changed. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s impossible. But does it seem like we’re headed that way? You know, right now, so if they haven’t called Fars false alarm yet, I think they’re eventually going to, but I’m glad you’re concerned about it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to play it down. It’s certainly I think, a threat to constitutional order, such as it is. But I’m not sure how immediate of one really
William Arkin 29:56
Well, again, I wouldn’t have written the article. I wouldn’t be concerned if it weren’t the case that they hadn’t expended millions of dollars and allocated thousands of people in order to be ready to implement these plans. So, especially at a time when the military itself is struggling with Coronavirus cases in their own ranks at a time when the National Guard and the military is itself suffering from Coronavirus. I mean we now have I think, as of today 600 plus members of the National Guard who have contracted Coronavirus and, and I think it’s well over 6000. Now in terms of military do DEA personnel so at a time when Human Resources are precious, allocating hundreds or thousands of people to emergency continuity plans in Washington DC is if nothing else, a monumental waste of money and resources, right? I would much prefer to see those people doing something else. But I do think it infects us. It infects our government with a certain presumption that there will always be some shadow government you call it you know, some people call it the deep state that will be available, regardless of what the contingencies are. And, and that theory of continuity, the one that does go back to the Eisenhower era when continuity first began and does go back to The nuclear era, this idea that somehow we need to have an extra constitutional apparatus is really what is most corrosive to the rule of law in our country, either we don’t need to have an extra constitutional apparatus and shouldn’t have one. And so therefore, we should have a continuity system that’s completely transparent and open. Or we do need to have an extra constitutional apparatus. And if we do, then I would like it to be constituted under the laws of our nation and not something that’s the product of secret orders. Right. So either way, we have a disconnect in terms of continuity. It’s like one of the one last bastions of actually Extra constitutional law which exists in our nation. And it’s either required because they can actually concoct scenarios in which it will be needed, in which case then let Congress deliberate and set the rules, or it’s something that has a life of its own and should be disbanded. Because we don’t live in a society where the threat of nuclear war is such anymore, that we need to have an extra constitutional structure.
Scott Horton 33:35
Now when Let’s hope it stays that way, as far as the cold war with Russia and China, but yeah, nothing like the old days, that’s for sure. Let me ask you one more thing, just almost as a note that I’m just curious, when they talk about the interagency This is a phrase that you cite in the piece, and it’s something that was made famous during Vin mins testimony during the impeachment hearings that the interagency had decided this and had decided that and I guess I just interpreted that to mean, like the deputies committee of the National Security Council, sort of deciding that this is what we’re doing, unless they can agree in which case they kick it upstairs kind of thing. But is that really right? or What is it? What exactly does that term mean to you?
William Arkin 34:19
Well, when people in the military say, interagency, they mean all that isn’t the military. When the media says interagency I think they mean what you just said, some deputies committee or principals committee of those people have all of the national security departments and agencies meeting together and, and, and making policy. So it can mean two very different things. When the military talks about interagency, the interagency as it relates to continuity. What they mean is all of the aspects of continuity that is what’s called the National continuity system. Of course the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategic Command etc, has their own internal continuity system and generally, in order to make the distinction between national continuity and internal continuity, internal continuity is called continuity of operations coop and national continuity is called continuity of government cog. And so when you when I talked about continuity in this regard, I mean national continuity, we already know that Northern Command that’s the US base domestic command responsible for North America has sent an alternate staff to Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado and buttoned up and closed up And sequestered themselves away from Northern Command. That’s a continuity measure taken by northcom to ensure that there would be an alternate command structure word general O’Shaughnessy and others disabled. Similarly, Strategic Command has created an alternate command structure. And as far as I’m aware, the Pentagon has as well. So internal to each government agency, there’s sort of a responsibility to ensure continuity. And then at the national level, there’s a separate program, which exists to ensure succession to the presidency and the ability of a cabinet to deliberate the affairs of government.
Scott Horton 36:46
Okay, right on Well, I’ll let you go but thank you very much for your time bill. It’s been great.
William Arkin 36:51
Thank you for having me on again, Scott.
Scott Horton 36:53
Aren’t you guys that is William M. arkin from Newsweek newsweek.com exclusive, as watching in DC faces Coronavirus, Spike secret military Task Force prepares to secure the Capitol. Alright you guys and that has been anti war radio for this morning. Thanks very much again for listening. I’m your host, Scott Horton. I’m an anti war calm and the author of the book fool’s errand time to end the war in Afghanistan by my full interview archive more than 5000 of them now going back to 2003 at scotthorton.org. I’m here every Sunday morning from 830 to nine on kpfk 90.7 FM in LA. See you next week.